Archive for Education

Edubuntu Live Welcome

// January 10th, 2011 // 2 Comments » // Education, Free Software

Simple Greeter for Live Systems

During the last development cycle we launched Edubuntu WebLive, which uses a Drupal module to create remote users on an application server and connect the user via NX. We thought of popping up a web page when the user logs in, explaining what it is that they have logged in to and how to get around.

We then moved to make it a bit more simpler with a Webkit/PythonGTK interface that displays the slides on login. It loads a bit faster than a full browser and there are less buttons and things that could potentially get in the way.

We need some nice slides

The messages we want to convey, as seen in the screenshots above are quite simple, but as you can see in these screenshots they are quite crude and definitely early work. I seem to be running low on creative juices on this and have asked for feedback on the edubuntu-devel mailing list but haven’t gotten much response yet, so I thought I’d post this to Planet Ubuntu and try to get some wider feedback. If you have some ideas or would like to propose some slides (it doesn’t have to be anything like mine), feel free to do so. Natty’s artwork hasn’t been finalised yet, which also makes it a bit harder, but it would be nice to get it right at least in concept for now. Feel free to comment here or through the usual Edubuntu contact points, or submit a patch!

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Fonts in Edubuntu

// December 21st, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Education, Free Software

Every now and again, educators ask me where they can get more fonts for Edubuntu. We include great desktop publishing software (scribus-ng, inkscape, gimp, etc) in Edubuntu, but our default font selection is rather dry and uninspiring. A few weeks back I looked whether there are some nice fonts in the Ubuntu archive that we could include. I figured that even if there’s one or two good ones available that we could ship, then it would at least be some improvement. The results were quite surprising, there are a wealth of fonts available in the archives.

I added many of them that seemed useful at face value to the edubuntu-fonts meta-package now available in PPA and soon in Natty. It installs quite a lot of font packages currently. The idea is to cut it down a bit and probably split it into 2 to 4 meta-packages, possibly in the categories I listed below. I’ll include some excerpts from package descriptions, and a few examples too. I can’t possibly list them all, it would make this post way too long.


Font packages currently included: ttf-essays1743, ttf-junicode, ttf-levien-typoscript, ttf-linex, ttf-marvosym, ttf-oflb-asana-math, ttf-oflb-euterpe, ttf-sil-andika, ttf-ancient-fonts, ttf-inconsolata, otf-stix


Upstream Homepage

Andika (“Write!” in Swahili) is a sans serif, Unicode-compliant font designed especially for literacy use, taking into account the needs of  beginning readers. The focus is on clear, easy-to-perceive letterforms that  will not be easily confused with one another. A sans serif font is preferred by some literacy personnel for teaching  people to read. Its forms are simpler and less cluttered than some serif fonts can be. For years, literacy workers have had to make do with fonts that were available but not really suitable for beginning readers and writers. In some cases, literacy specialists have had to tediously cobble together letters from a variety of fonts in order to get the all of characters they need for their particular language project, resulting in confusing and unattractive publications. Andika addresses those issues.


Upstream Homepage:

A collection of fonts including hand-writing simulation typographies, ancient Greek and Roman typographies, institutional fonts from the Extremadura regional government and other elegant fonts.


Upstream Homepage:

The mission of the Scientific and Technical Information Exchange (STIX)  font creation project is the preparation of a comprehensive set of fonts that serve the scientific and engineering community in the process from  manuscript creation through final publication, both in electronic and print formats.

Substitutes for popular Non-Free fonts

Font packages currently included: ttf-liberation, ttf-century-catalogue, ttf-mgopen, ttf-beteckna, ttf-droid, ttf-ecolier-court, ttf-ecolier-lignes-court, ttf-bpg-georgian-fonts, ttf-adf-verana, ttf-goudybookletter, ttf-levien-museum, ttf-linux-libertine, ttf-adf-universalis, ttf-adf-tribun, ttf-adf-switzera, ttf-adf-romande, ttf-adf-oldania, ttf-adf-libris, ttf-adf-irianis, ttf-adf-ikarius, ttf-adf-gillius, ttf-adf-berenis, ttf-adf-baskervald, ttf-adf-accanthis, otf-freefont, ttf-symbol-replacement


Upstream Homepage:

This is one of the most well-known sets of substitution fonts. It’s sponsored by Red Hat and includes a set of fonts that are metrically similar to the Times, Arial and Courier fonts. It’s great for document compatibility and can act as a drop-in replacement without requiring the installation of Microsoft fonts.


This is a replacement for the Symbol font as commonly found on Windows systems. It’s from the Wine project and should work as a drop-in replacement.

Desktop Publishing

ttf-engadget, ttf-okolaks, ttf-opendin, ttf-radisnoir, ttf-rufscript, ttf-sil-gentium, ttf-tomsontalk, ttf-atarismall, ttf-breip, ttf-staypuft, ttf-aenigma, ttf-fifthhorseman-dkg-handwriting, ttf-isabella, ttf-sjfonts, ttf-georgewilliams, ttf-femkeklaver, ttf-adf-mekanus, ttf-dustin

These are all font packages that might be useful for desktop publishing in a school or educational environment. The ttf-aenigma font package alone includes more than 450 thematic fonts that could be used for posters, brochures, etc!

Enhanced Usability or Accessibility

Font packages currently included: ttf-tiresias


Upstream Homepage:

This is a family of realist sans-serif typefaces that were designed for best legibility by people with impaired vision at the Scientific Research Unit of Royal National Institute of the Blind in London. This is a family of realist sans-serif typefaces that were designed for best legibility by people with impaired vision at the Scientific Research Unit of Royal National Institute of the Blind in London.

Oh, is that all?

Nope, that’s the beginning. Once we have a good selection of fonts in Edubuntu based on what’s in the archive, we should also extend and find more good fonts to include in the Ubuntu archives.Getting the fonts from the Google Font Directory packaged would be a good next step. If you know of any other sources that we should look into please comment here or on one of the usual Edubuntu communication channels.

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How do LTSP Fat Clients work?

// November 24th, 2010 // 32 Comments » // Education, Free Software

(Edit 2014-06-29: This entry is now nearly 4 years old, rather please use the LTSP documentation instead as it will be more up to date)

What are LTSP Fat Clients anyway‽

Thin clients are a great way to lower initial deployment as well as running costs in classrooms, libraries and similar organisations, but they have some limitations, especially when it comes to graphical and CPU intensive software. Even playing a video on one or more thin clients can often be enough to drag the network performance to crawling speeds. In recent LTSP versions, it became possible to run some applications locally, making it possible to use the local CPU/GPU/memory and drastically improve performance all-round. Since LTSP 5.2.1 (that ships with Ubuntu 10.04), it’s been possible to also run everything locally. This essentially makes a terminal a complete fat client that simply uses the network as a storage device. It combines many of the benefits of thin clients and fat clients, while also requiring a less powerful server since it basically becomes just a file server.

Installation is easy

Step 1: Install the ltsp-server-standalone package

Install it from the command line using apt-get install ltsp-server-standalone or by installing it from the Ubuntu Software Centre. If you’d like to configure a DHCP server seperately, then you should use the ltsp-server package instead.

Step 2: Configure your networking

LTSP will work out of the box if you have an interface configured on the range. If you would like to use another IP range, you will have to edit /etc/ltsp/dhcpd.conf and adjust it to your needs. Usually LTSP is run from a separate network interface that connects to the rest of the network. If it’s not yet configured, you can add the configuration for a second interface to the /etc/network/interfaces file. Example:

auto eth1
iface eth1 inet static

Step 3: Build Fat Client Image

An LTSP fat client image can be used for both thin clients and fat clients alike. This is useful if you have a mixture of newer, more powerful machines as well as very old machines that can be used as thin clients only.

ltsp-build-client --fat-client --fat-client-desktop edubuntu-desktop --arch i386 --skipimage

Edubuntu-desktop can also be replaced with kubuntu-desktop, ubuntu-desktop  or xubuntu-desktop. The Edubuntu one is probably most tested though. It’s recommended that you use the i386 architecture for the thin client environment (you can do this even if your server is amd64), the reason for this is that many machines (such as Intel Atom based thin clients) are not 64bit capable. The skipimage switch will prevent the image from being built now, since we want to install other software on it first. You can get all ltsp-build-client options by entering “ltsp-build-client –extra-help”.

chroot /opt/ltsp/i386 apt-get install htop openarena stellarium vlc

The example above will change-root to the ltsp environment and install htop, openarena, stellarium and vlc. These are just examples, you can choose any other software that you intend to run on your LTSP fat client. Next, sync the ssh keys (used for logins) and update the LTSP image:


Step 4: Restart Services

Restart networking:

/etc/init.d/networking restart

Restart the DHCP server:

/etc/init.d/dhcp3-server restart

That’s it, your LTSP Fat client server is now installed and ready for use. All you need to do now is connect one or more machines to the configured network and set them to boot from PXE or Etherboot.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does this take up a lot of RAM on the workstations? Does it take long for the initial image to download?

The diskless workstation will use the LTSP image in a similar way as a local hard disk and will only read the information over the network as required. It doesn’t download the whole image at boot time, so it doesn’t slow down the boot process by installing more software and it doesn’t use any additional RAM either.

2. How do I set a machine to be a thin client instead of a fat client?

Create a file called /var/lib/tftpboot/ltsp/i386/lts.conf if it doesn’t exist already. lts.conf is the configuration file for LTSP. The [default] section contains settings that apply to all machines on the network. You can specify exceptions to this by specifying the mac address between brackets:



LDM_DIREXTX disables SSH encryption of thin client sessions. It is insecure, but boosts performance and might be required for very old machines or of you have limited CPU power on the server. The machine with the MAC address 00:A1:08:EB:43:27 will function as a thin client instead of a fat client. For more settings available in lts.conf, refer to the manual page.

3. Edubuntu integrates with LTSP, why not also DRBL?

DRBL is an alternative to LTSP that does diskless fat clients only. LTSP already matches all the functionality of DRBL, and on top of that supports multiple architectures, mixed thin/fat environments, individual client configuration as well as being properly packaged in Debian and Ubuntu already. Spending more valuable resources on supporting DRBL in Edubuntu wouldn’t bring any benefit to any of our users, although if someone wants it really badly, we’ll be happy to review any packages that they submit through the usual process.

4. Hardware is getting really cheap, is there still a future for LTSP?

The cool kids these days walk around with dual-core ARM based devices with 2GB of RAM in their pockets. With computing becoming so ubiquitous, does it make sense for schools and other organisations to still make use of LTSP? I’m quite sure that the way we use computers over the next few years is going to change drastically, but for now LTSP still offers a great way to cut down on administration and maintenance costs with very little compromise.

5. What effect will Wayland have on LTSP thin clients?

LTSP uses the X Window System to display applications that run on a remote application server. The X Window System is planned to be replaced by Wayland in the near future. Wayland offers better and simpler means to write new software on top of it, which will allow developers to write great software faster and with less trouble than before. In order to achieve this simplicity, Wayland had to drop the network transparency features that is present in the X Window System. This will certainly bring on some required changes on how LTSP is implemented, but at least there are already some options available that the LTSP team will investigate, and there’s no reason why Wayland should mean an end to LTSP.

Want to know more? Just ask!

  • ltsp-discuss – General LTSP related help and support mailing list
  • Edubuntu ships with an LTSP Live mode that you can try from the Live CD before installing if you’d like to try it out. The Edubuntu documentation page may also be useful.
  • edubuntu-users – Edubuntu users mailing list, feel free to use it for LTSP related issues on Edubuntu
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Ubuntu in Education OpenWeek Session

// October 14th, 2010 // No Comments » // Education, Free Software

I’ll be standing in for Belinda Lopez for the Ubuntu in Education session for Ubuntu Open Week today. I don’t have anything special prepared, but feel free to join in and ask any Ubuntu in Education or even Edubuntu related questions! It’s at 17:00 UTC, Details are on the Ubuntu Wiki.

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Edubuntu Maverick News

// September 27th, 2010 // 7 Comments » // Education, Free Software

Close to the end of the Lucid release cycle, I posted an update of what’s been happening in the Edubuntu project. Now seems like a good time to do it again! This release wasn’t as big shake-up as the last one, but it’s still a very good release for Edubuntu that builds on the work we did in the previous release.

New Website

A few weeks ago we silently launched a new website. It’s not that great yet, but it’s already a big improvement over our old one. We also now have Facebook, Identica and Twitter profiles, as well as a YouTube channel. The next step is to get lots of user stories, photos and videos on the site. In particular, we’ll try to include informative videos on how people used Ubuntu in their institution to deliver education.

Better LTSP and Netbook installers

For Lucid we moved completely to a graphical installation. After installation a user could choose from the Live CD to install LTSP and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix interface. It worked great but it wasn’t very intuitive. Many users who meant to install LTSP didn’t quite know about it and hit the reboot button at the end of the installation and completely missed it. We decided to do it properly for Maverick and have it integrated right there in the installer. Below are links to Glade mockups I made earlier. Unfortunately there just wasn’t time to implement everything, especially with a lot going on in my personal life and work in the first half of the release cycle.

About two weeks ago I told Stéphane that I don’t feel up to getting the Ubiquity changes all done in time and that I’m going to revert back to how we did it in Lucid, and defer the installation improvements for Maverick. Within a day or two he had it already working properly:

It’s now the easiest LTSP installation ever. You literally just choose that you want to install it, and which interface it should run on.

Gnome Nanny

Gnome Nanny is a relatively new addition in the Gnome family of tools. I came across it in this Tectonic article and thought that it would be a great addition to Edubuntu. It works good for home or small classroom use, but it doesn’t support groups yet so it’s not particularly useful for large deployments yet. It has some good potential though and I hope it will just keep on getting better!

New Wallpapers Collection

The default wallpaper stayed pretty much the same, but we added some more wallpapers to make things a bit more exciting. Some of them are especially nice, you can get them directly from the Edubuntu website if you don’t want to install the edubuntu-artwork package. For Natty we’ll most likely split the wallpapers off in an edubuntu-wallpapers package.


Documentation can be somewhat of a challenge. There’s been several projects before to write a complete big Edubuntu handbook that explains the A-Z of everything you need to know about using Ubuntu in educational environments. That approach didn’t quite work.  For Maverick we basically just link to all the upstream versions of the documentation and wrote documentation for the Edubuntu specific parts that don’t exist yet. We’re currently also working on the Edubuntu 10.10 installation guide that’s currently still very much work in progress, but viewable. For Natty I hope that we’ll be able to properly revitalize our documentation efforts and also work closer with the Ubuntu documentation team.

Easter Eggs

Ubuntu 10.10 will be released on (20/)10/10/10. The date was chosen because 101010 is 42 in binary, which happened to be the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HHGTTG) series, which happens to be quite popular amongst Ubuntu folk. An easter egg is a hidden feature in a program, quite often a joke that is meant to be accidentally or sometimes even never to be discovered. The vim text editor has a HHGTTG easter egg that you can access by typing “:help 42″

I guess no one would ever notice it if I don’t point it out, but the background of the Edubuntu Ubiquity Slideshow happens to be #424242. There are at least 2 other HHGTTG easter eggs planted in Edubuntu, but I’d be a spoil sport if I revealed them now already :)

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Edubuntu Bug Day

// April 1st, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Education, Free Software

Ben Crisford is hosting an Edubuntu bug day on Tuesday, 6 April on #edubuntu and #ubuntu-bugs on freenode. The plan is to triage and squash some of the 330 or so bugs assigned to packages that we include in Edubuntu so that we can give Edubuntu some final polish before the release at the end of the month.

If you can drop by during the day for even just a few hours or minutes, please do so! And if you could even give one bug a little attention, that would be great.

Happy bug squashing!

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Edubuntu Wiki Hug Day

// January 18th, 2010 // No Comments » // Education, Free Software

As Scott posted before, the Edubuntu Bug day went quite well last week. This coming Thursday (21 January) we’re doing a Wiki Hug Day to to focus our efforts on fixing things in the Edubuntu wiki namespace, it includes:

  • Fixing broken links
  • Removing horribly obsolete or broken pages
  • Moving pages which are in the wrong place
  • Prettifying pages
  • Mark pages that may need to be on the Edubuntu website instead
  • Any other improvements we can think of :)

We’ll officially be starting the wiki hug day from around 12:00 UTC to accommodate the time-zones of our current contributors. It will be co-ordinated in #edubuntu on the freenode network. If you’re familiar with Edubuntu and know a thing or two about wikis, feel free to join in and get involved!

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