I currently have a small set of netbooks with Ubuntu Netbook Remix (download) installed that I use for various projects. If I were to set up a classroom netbook/laptop cart for a K-12 class or a school-wide 1-to-1 netbook/laptop program, I would follow what Jim Klein did as part of the SWATTEC program at the Saugus Union School District. They also used Ubuntu Netbook Remix, but with nice extras like a nice 10 second recovery system (by keeping system files in a read-only partition using UnionFS) and battery-life optimizations. The philosophy is, instead of locking down the machine, make it easy to recover from any mistakes (even the teacher can recover a netbook without needing tech support).
Karl Fisch blogged about how he implemented a variation on Jim’s program.
By the way, if you are in the market for school netbooks, or suffering from iPad envy, you might check out the $500 Eee PC T101MT touchscreen netbook, described in this liliputing post. It’s been reported to work perfectly fine with the latest version of Ubuntu (10.04, Lucid Lynx, due out later this April). Students can draw notes and pictures on the device (with a stylus), plus it has USB ports and a webcam, unlike the iPad.
I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux as my sole operating system for two years now, ever since before I became a professor. The switch was completely painless as I had already been using the same software on Windows and the Mac for years (such as OpenOffice, Firefox, VLC, Pidgin, Netbeans, Eclipse, JEdit, Inkscape, Gimp, etc.). I wrote about making the switch to Linux gradually over 6 years ago, and I dual-booted to Windows and Linux for a long time, but Windows was still my primary OS until 2 years ago.
There was some software I had to change when I made the switch, but I was planning to do so anyway. For data analysis instead of SPSS, I learned R, which is more powerful (see these notes for getting R and a GUI interface installed on Ubuntu). I had to find a different tool to make screencasts. Luckily they are all free in Linux. I used gtk-recordmydesktop, but there are also Istanbul, WebcamStudio, and others. For music instead of Winamp there was the winamp-clone xmms (and now Audacious). Of course there are itunes alternatives too. Wine can be used to run any Windows-specific software, including games. Second Life has a Linux version that works just fine, too, and Adobe AIR applications like Tweetdeck, Thwirl, and Seesmic Deskop work just fine. All web-based applications from Youtube to Google Apps to whatever work great in Firefox – you can install the latest Adobe Flash and Sun Java 6 plugins too.
The only reasons I’ve been still booting to Windows occasionally now are to make screencasts that show how to do things in Windows (which most students are using), and also to use the Wimba whiteboard/chat application that our university uses. Wimba is a Java applet-based application and should work on Linux fine, but it runs a “check my system” test first which complains and fails.
Also, our university stopped its proxy server that I was using to get off-campus access to journal articles in favor of a VPN instead that doesn’t work in Linux, but now I just use an ssh tunnel to campus instead which works just fine (see these instructions for ssh tunneling).
Here’s an update to my previous instructions on getting R set up and working in Ubuntu. These work for Ubuntu Intrepid, but won’t work for Ubuntu Jaunty (due out next month) until you see “jaunty” in this list.
R is a free, open source software package for performing statistical analyses. It is an alternative to commercial tools such as SPSS, SAS, and S. I recommend using the RSeek search engine to search for help and 3rd party libraries.
To install R, open the Terminal console and run these commands:
gpg –keyserver subkeys.pgp.net –recv-key E2A11821
gpg -a –export E2A11821 | sudo apt-key add -
Then open up your apt-get sources list for editing:
sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list
Add this line to the bottom of the sources.list file:
deb http://rh-mirror.linux.iastate.edu/CRAN/bin/linux/ubuntu intrepid/
Note the trailing slash at the end of “intrepid/”. Also you can replace “rh-mirror.linux.iastate.edu” with another mirror server of your choice. Save the file and go back to the Terminal.
Now type this in the terminal to update apt-get’s database before you install R:
sudo apt-get update
Install R with this command:
sudo apt-get install r-base r-base-dev r-recommended
Then run “R” to start R, and “q()” to quit it.
To get JGR, the Java GUI interface working (requires you have java installed, see the sun-java6 package), run this on the command line:
sudo R CMD javareconf
Then run “R” and re-install the JavaGD package (because of a bug). Inside R run:
Assuming that succeeds, install JGR now too:
All this should be installing under your home folder:
You can run JGR now with these commands:
In the future, you can run JGR with a single click by going to the folder where the JGR run script was created and dragging that script to your top Ubuntu panel bar: