New Linux distro for high school education

A Clone on a Mission

Article from Issue 247/2021
Author(s):

EdUBudgie Linux is an Ubuntu clone created by a teacher and aimed directly at the education market.

EdUBudgie Linux [1] is a distribution based on Ubuntu Budgie [2] but specifically tailored for use in high schools. I am an English teacher, and I put this project together with high school education in mind – although many first and second year university students may also find it suitable.

I started with the standard Budgie offering and added or removed packages based on their applicability to high school education. The education-focused IT market is a crowded one, and in deciding how to build and market this distribution I carefully considered package selection, initial setup, post-install system administration, the learning curve needed, and finally performance and longevity. With all that in mind, I did make some compromises in the build that I will discuss shortly.

I have intended EdUBudgie Linux to be as simple to learn as possible and not a distracting or overly complex distribution. My goal was to offer an operating system that could be used out of the box without needing to use the command line for setup, while still including all of the programs and pre-configured settings needed by a typical high school student or teacher.

Of course, EdUBudgie Linux should be used as part of a school or school district's carefully thought out, multi-generational IT plan. But by including EdUBudgie Linux in that plan, a school can expect to benefit from a free and simple alternative to Windows or Chrome OS. EdUBudgie Linux can be installed on new or old devices (including most x86-based Chromebooks) and can help solve many common problems plaguing students, teachers, and IT administrators.

While many readers will argue that any IT team with Ubuntu experience could put this package together, this distribution aims to take some of the guesswork out of the equation. The idea is not to limit the freedom that Linux users love, but rather to avoid choice paralysis. EdUBudgie Linux should also be suitable for Linux novices, which will be especially helpful in the many schools worldwide that have relied upon the Windows ecosystem for years.

Installation

As previously mentioned, EdUBudgie Linux is an Ubuntu Budgie clone, and it uses the typical Ubiquity installer with a few small changes.

The most important change is the difference between the Normal and Minimal installations. Typically, a Normal Budgie install would include all programs, and that is still true of EdUBudgie. However, the EdUBudgie Minimal installation option will include many education-oriented programs alongside the typical Budgie accoutrement. The Normal installation option is typically recommended.

While the installation ISO occupies a rather incredible 5.8GB of space, the complete installation falls within 20GB. This allows EdUBudgie Linux to fit within a 32GB drive with a bit of extra space for files, so that it may be installed onto out-of-support Chromebooks without having to rely entirely on cloud storage options (see the "System Requirements" box). Many Chromebooks (especially older models) have replaceable solid state drives, and this upgrade may be needed to fit an EdUBudgie Linux onto some Chromebook models.

System Requirements

Minimum System Requirements

  • 1.4GHz dual-core Nehalem microarchitecture 64-bit processor
  • 2GB system memory
  • 32GB drive
  • Intel-integrated graphics

Recommended System for Average Performance

  • 2.4GHz dual-core or 2.0GHz quad-core Sandy Bridge microarchitecture 64-bit processor or newer
  • 4GB system memory or greater
  • 64GB drive or larger
  • AMD Radeon dedicated graphics of at least R7 class or better

A few other factors should be considered when deciding whether EdUBudgie is a suitable replacement for Chrome OS on a school's existing devices. While I tailored this distribution with Chromebook conversions in mind, not all Chromebooks are the same, and the installation techniques needed may vary from one manufacturer or model to another. Given my limited resources in developing this distribution, you will need to test it on your school's specific devices, and you may need to research how best to install it on them.

I developed this project with the aging Acer C720P in mind, as it is a commonly used Chromebook in schools. After changing from a 16GB disk to a 32GB disk, installation was straightforward. Specific and detailed instructions can be found from a number of sources, but essentially, for the C720P model it required removing the 13 screws on the bottom of the device to access and replace the 16GB SSD with a 32GB one, as well as accessing and removing the write protect screw that serves as a security feature on some Chromebook models. After completing these hardware changes, it was a matter of enabling developer mode, the developer BIOS (SeaBIOS), and USB boot so that EdUBudgie Linux could be permanently installed [3]. To be clear, the method for doing this will vary based on the specific device you're using, and that will void any remaining device warranty from Google.

My hope is that schools with budget concerns may be able to extract a few more precious years out of the devices they have already purchased. If well-planned, this can fall in line with a school's overall technology plan. An administration may choose to utilize tablets or iPads through say, 6th grade, then transition students to supported Chromebooks, and finally use older Chromebooks and laptops with EdUBudgie installed for students from perhaps 9th grade on up. This segmentation makes sense in terms of a student's development. Younger students are able to easily produce quality work with simple devices, while they are less likely to divert their time away from work toward games. Middle school-aged students would benefit greatly from becoming accustomed to using full keyboards on a minimal OS like Chrome OS. Finally, high school-aged students need a full suite of programs to prepare them for university.

Included Programs

Aside from the desktop environment, package selection is the major differentiating factor between EdUBudgie Linux and any other Ubuntu clone or education-focused operating system in general. More than anything else, this is what will make or break the distribution, and therefore I have put much thought into package selection.

Quite likely the first thing that comes to mind when choosing an operating system for education is office software, and the particular needs will vary greatly from school to school. For this reason, EdUBudgie includes LibreOffice and WPS Office and can of course be used with online office suites such as Google Workplace and Microsoft 365.

LibreOffice has some unique features that teachers and students may want to use, such as the LibreOffice Math component. However, WPS Office is often perceived as more familiar and inviting, especially when migrating from Microsoft, the de facto standard for office programs. Additional office-like or office-adjacent programs included are FocusWriter (Figure 1), Dia (Figure 2), Scribus, and MindMaster.

Figure 1: The FocusWriter program encourages distraction-free writing.
Figure 2: The Dia diagraming program is useful for brainstorming and creating all sorts of systems.

The default browser is Chrome – we can pause here for gasps, curses, and cleaning up spilt or spit coffee – but for good reason. I did not intend EdUBudgie to be a completely FOSS offering at present, and simply put, it cannot be. Any time teachers or students spend installing extensions, or researching and learning workarounds on Chromium or Firefox, is time that could be spent on education. Other browsers cannot offer the practicality that Chrome does at the time of this writing. Chrome OS cemented Chrome's position as the dominant browser in education. While the Linux community yearns for and works toward an acceptable open alternative, none currently exists. This should be looked at in a positive light: As soon as a suitable alternative exists, it will be incorporated into EdUBudgie Linux. Until then, education relies heavily on Chrome.

Along with Chrome come many web apps commonly used in the classroom. Additionally, Geary can be used for email, and the Gnome Calendar allows for easy integration with Google Workplace. EdUBudgie Linux installs OpenDrive by default for those who prefer to have local copies of the files they are working on, and the Online Accounts section of Settings (Figure 3) allows for seamless Google Drive integration in the file explorer. Using a Windows 10-like set of icons should make file and folder manipulation second nature for those migrating from Windows-based machines.

Figure 3: A typical Gnome/Budgie Settings interface.

For most schools these will be the most-often used programs, but many others will be installed by default. I selected many programs because of their relation to specific disciplines. Among many other programs, these include the following:

  • Gimp, Inkscape, and darktable for art classes
  • Blender, LibreCAD, and FreeCAD for engineering and other technical disciplines
  • KdenLive, OpenShot, OBS, Kazam, and Cheese for video production and editing
  • Scratch, Atom, Geany, and Basic-256 for coding
  • GeoGebra (Figure 4), KAlgebra, Tilink, and Qalculate for mathematics
Figure 4: The GeoGebra program is useful for mathematics classes.
  • Kalzium for chemistry
  • KGeography for social science classes
  • Calibre for language classes

Conclusions

The intent of EdUBudgie Linux is to offer a complete Linux distribution for education and to hopefully bring many new users into the Linux community. The open source model relies upon a vast community of intelligent and creative individuals to advance the cause. Unfortunately, Android and Chrome OS have somewhat obfuscated in the minds of many what is and what is not Linux. Most students who own a Samsung phone have no idea that it has any relationship to Linux. EdUBudgie Linux is clearly, unabashedly, unapologetically, Ubuntu Linux.

The vision of EdUBudgie Linux is twofold – to expand the Linux and open source communities so that future creators can rely less or, ideally, not at all on giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple, while also offering high school students of all socioeconomic backgrounds equal access to the latest that the community has to offer.

Infos

  1. EdUBudgie Linux: https://www.edubudgie.com/
  2. Ubuntu Budgie: https://ubuntubudgie.org/
  3. Installing Ubuntu on the Acer Chromebook C720P: https://samsclass.info/128/proj/chromebooks3.htm

The Author

Adam Dix is a mechanical engineer and Linux enthusiast posing as an English teacher after playing around a bit in sales and marketing. You can check out some of his Linux work at the EdUBudgie Linux website.

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