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Re: OpenClassroom - A GNU/Linux distribution for Education.

On Thu, 5 Aug 1999, Ray Olszewski wrote:

> In all, it has some promise. I'd encourage others to take a look and see
> what you think. Getting this from the present concept stage to a real
> working program would take some effort, but the resulting products could be
> very attractive.

My normal reaction is "Oh no, not another distribution" but this one seems
to be very different. But we probably ought to be aware of a semantics
problems. An "educational Linux distro" as we think of it is a
distribution that can be readily adapted to educational settings, as
opposed to a distribution of Linux designed to teach Linux and Unix.

That aside, the discussion of the 486 machines keeps bringing back visions
of a 386 running in 132x50 text mode (in the style of the old Cubic
Player) running a text-based GUI in which multiple resizable text-based
windows can coexist on a desktop, using GPM as an interface and having the
options of using curses or direct to frame-buffer device for rendering the
screen. This just feels sooo much cleaner than X on these types of
machines, one reason I keep having flash-backs to the DOS days. Text-mode
stuff feels very clean compared to GUIs, probably in part due to the
higher refresh rates and less visual distractions.

Then in that vain, simple word processors and spreadsheet applications
that are text based could be developed (in color, not just gray text on
black). I imagine developing a simple word processor w/o tons of bells and
whistles would be relativly easy. Text editors might be adequate for
technical people, but the ability to justify, word-wrap, underline,
bold-face, interface cleanly with the mouse, spell-check, and autosave
[all in an easy manner, don't tell a 3rd grader to ESC |ispell to run a
spell check, much less the 3rd grade teacher :) ] are rather important and
I for one feel that given this type of word processing environment I could
be more productive than I would be in some incarnation of Word. Too many
distractions in Word, too much to do. What font do I want? What are my
margins? What color do I want the text in? Should it be this size or that? 
Simplicity and elegence have been sacrificed in Word, etc. for an extremly
large feature set that even power users rarely come close to using all of. 

It reminds me of the ancients. They used Apple ][s before the invention of
the abacus quite successfully. The word processors on those machines were
functional and did the basic things that needed to be done. I wrote
several stories in those basic word processors when I was in grade school
and really enjoyed working on the computer, because it enabled me to
communicate in a manner I hadn't before. I was able to unleash my
creativity. But Word on the other hand, unless I was typing a paper or
writing for a class, I don't think I ever used it. I can not think of any
writing I did for pleasure with it. I might have on occassion, but nothing
particularly memorable.

[As an aside, WordPerfect sucked :) Using the control keys and function
keys to perform every function was a bad idea. And I could never remember
was it F3 or F7 that was help and the other was quit... Just because it's
in textmode doesn't mean it can't have mouse-clickable buttons... perhaps 
WP6 was better at that but I've already digresed enough. WP is too
complex as well.]

If a distro included this type of software I think it would rock :) But
yet enother thing to think of would be a way to link up Apple ][s as
terminals and use software like this. I know I've mentioned it before and
Douglas found some interesting hardware that did it but I just think this
would be cool. If the distro supported this, that would be cool too.

There's a lot of good software in Linux already for straight textmode
stuff but a lack of consistency (and of color). Lynx is a good browser for
getting content but it's not very easy to use. Pico is a very nice easy to
use text editor but it's not a word processor (and it's not in color),
it comes bundled with pine, and from what I understand the code is rather
complex for what appears to be lightweight editor. Similiar complaints
about pine (that and the developers aren't extremly friendly to Cyrus
IMAP). And in text mode, the "Program Menu" paradigm is passe' :)
"Available programs: 1) Email 2) Word Processing 3) Web Browser. Choice?"
Is there something like a text-mode windowing system like what I
described, that gives you the feel of GUI multitasking in a text mode?

Also, with an education oriented distribution, I think a lot of the
functions could be more turn-key. Like if it came with Cyrus IMAP and
Postfix working out of the box, it'd be a lot easier to configure than
RedHat's default of WU mail server and Sendwhale (which isn't a piece of
cake to set up, not by a longshot). I think this is similiar to my earlier
idea of 'machine roles' that could be selected during installation, but a
bit more refined. With a lot of configuration software installed and
already working, this would be an easier setup than tweaking a RedHat
system, or even adding a set of seul-edu patches.

On workstations though, as long as they have a working MMU, I would prefer
to stick to a straight Linux solution, and only mix DOS in when neccessary
(like for 286s, etc). I mean, if the Linux community can create a pair of 
floppy disks that connect to the network and start the VGA16 X server,
surly this wouldn't be a problem :)

My last idea for tonight... go to a school and find out, as in get an
inventory with descriptions, of software that is regularly being used in
the school, whether it be Oregon Trail for Apple ][ or Visual J++. Not a
laundry list of software that might *happen* to have educational value
that they use, but software that is used regularly and not just sitting on
a shelf. The easiest way to do this would be to visit the computer lab and
find the floppies with the most worn out labels :) I think this step would
go a long way to giving seul-edu a purpose statement.

Sorry for the long one, it's late at night and I type more when I'm tired.
Normally I try to be concise as possible. Insert a typical disclaimer
here :)

Michael Hamblin            http://www.utdallas.edu/~michaelh/
michaelh@utdallas.edu      http://www.ductape.net/
UTD Linux User Group       Engineering and Computer Science Support x2997
                           "Two, Four, Six, Eight - SMP is really great!"