Linux for Kids

My best mate dropped over on the weekend and left me an ancient Sony Vaio that he’d acquired for his 7-year-old daughter.

Doudou LinuxAfter shooting the breeze over the beer, we got to talking about his daughters computer use. Essentially he (and she) just wanted “something she can use and have for her own” – he’d already been supplied with a Live CD of Doudou Linux which she’d been booting from, yet due to the failing hard drive in the near fossilized Vaio, the machine was taking far too long to start-up – by which time her attention span was exceeded.

Step one was to figure out what was causing the errors, the hard drive was then given a jolly good beating to test the disk surface and mark as many bad blocks as possible so they could be avoided when we repartition the drive. As always, the marvelous Hiren’s Boot CD delivered the tools required to scan, mark, and low-level reformat the disk. While the disk itself is still going to fail, and fail hard – marking the bad blocks reduced the boot time delay significantly.

Step two was to grab the latest version of Doudou Linux – the download source itself was PAINFULLY slow, so I’d recommend grabbing the torrent and leaving it running after completion to give back to the community. There is a new v2.0 due out soon, but 7 year old girls being as patient as they are, that will be an exercise for another time.

Booting from the new live CD gave us a faster ready time, yet persistence was desired (the laptop is only used by the daughter, so why not let her keep her game scores & progressions, as well as her TuxPaint creations :). The optical drive was also adding a lot in terms of access time so, back to the painful DouDou site to grab the USB Image – which is required for installation to the hard drive.

Installation is simple once booted from the CD (or USB if the device supports it), yet – the install functionality is hidden behind the requirement to read the documentation, as well as interact with the terminal to install.

sudo doudou-installer

This lack of user-friendly appears to be more by design than malicious intent (or assumption of technical capability) – the premise of the Doudou distribution seems to be that of “this will be run on a system used by the family, but we don’t want to impact the normal operation of the family PC”. Everything about the distro (in the 1.2 release we were using) points toward the use case of:

  1. Borrow the family computer,
  2. Boot from the live CD
  3. Do your thing in Doudou
  4. Shutdown / Remove the CD
  5. Family computer is restored to ‘normal’

So – while not my favorite experience with Linux – the distribution certainly fits the description of kid friendly, and suits the user in this example.

I will be interested to see what v2.0 brings, but perhaps after 6 months on the current release, our 7-year-old case study will be ready for more functionality, understand the OS navigation and perhaps we will try her out on something like Edubuntu