Ramblings of a Digital Educator

November 15, 2006

My Report from UDS Mountain View

Filed under: Linux & OpenSource — dtrask @ 12:33 pm


First of all, this is MY opinion only…based on my own observations at the Ubuntu Developers Conference….which I was happy and a bit humbled to be a part of. I am not a developer in the sense that I sit down and crank out lines of code…etc. I’ve always fancied myself to be anideaguy. The smbldap_installer project is a perfect case in point. Several years ago I wrote ahow-tofor getting Samba/LDAP running on a Fedora or K12LTSP server. It was a long tedious process, but if you followed it, you would eventually end up with a single-sign-on solution for your school or organization. I even presented some workshops on it and did some consulting where I built Samba/LDAP servers for schools. One of which were the Exeter schools in New Hampshire. Earlier that same year I had met Matt Oquist when he presented a short talk on a free Linux tech support group he was starting (yes I’ve generalized here) at a week-long workshop I was conducting in Pennacook, New Hampshire. In late November, Matt and I met again at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Nashua, NH. The folks from Exeter were there as well. Steve Kossakoski, the assistant superintendent of Exeter schools, proposed the idea of scripting the Samba/LDAPhow-to. Matt was hired for that task, I collaborated, and the rest is history. Matt deserves a lot of credit for the heavy-lifting.


I am also a teacher. Yes, I stand in front of kids every day….for a living. In addition to being a network administrator and working with computers, I also teach kids ages 5-14 (grades K-8) how to use those computers. This gives me a unique perspective as to what educators are looking for when it comes to developing an OS or software geared towards education. Now that I’ve said all that, you can better understand where my opinions come from.



UDS Mountain View and my view of the future



First of all, anyone who has reservations about the development of free software should see the process at an Ubuntu developers summit. In a very short version….a person(s) comes up with an idea for a spec in the next release….that idea is posted as a spec in Launchpad…..then anyone interested in the spec subscribed to it….the spec is then reviewed to decide whether or not it warrants discussion at the next UDS. Once the UDS starts, a schedule is developed based on the various specs. Let’s say for example, that your spec is being discussed on the first day at 10:00 a.m. You and all the folks interested in that spec will meet to discuss what’s involved and the best way to implement it. This discussion often will includeupstreampeople as well. (for example, if your spec is about sound in LTSP, you might have the gstreamer and pulse-audio guys there as well) At the end of the hour….a decision is made as to whether you have gathered all the information necessary to draft the spec, or if you need further discussion. If you need more discussion then another slot is scheduled for the next day….otherwise the spec moves into the drafting phase. In drafting the spec is carefully drawn up and worded so that the reviewers can read and decide what additional information might be needed before approving the spec. This review and approval process is usually done by specific members of the distro team. Once a spec is approved, then it can be worked on over the next several months for inclusion in the next release. It’s a fantastic process…and very confidence inspiring for anyone who might be a doubter.



Ok…so what’s coming down the pike for Fiesty Fawn (Ubuntu/Edubuntu 7.04)? I can only speak definitively for the Edubuntu project as that is where most of my discussions were centered. I will say that much of what happens in Edubuntu will also either carry over to Ubuntu or will inherit from Ubuntu. Edubuntu is ready for prime-time…and will be even more so with the release of Fiesty. There will be MANY cool additions for school users.


An LTSP Management GUI for easily setting up the LTSP part of Edubuntu.


A Student Control Panel (similar to Teacher Tool) with a nice GUI to allow monitoring, observation (you’ll be able to see multiple screens at once), interaction (sending messages), signaling (kids can get the teachers attention), grouping (teachers will only be able to control their own classes), and so forth. I’ve been a long time user of TeacherTool and also have used Apple Remote Desktop and other older Windows Solutions such as Vision….thus I took the best features of each and suggested them as part of the spec. The SCP will be very cool!


Also of note is the inclusion of smbldap_installer as part of the new Edubuntu Authentication Server! This will take smbldap_installer to a whole new level with the aim of making Samba/LDAP and single-sign-on easy to deploy and manage. There are many other pieces of the Authentication server that are being discussed for Fiesty +1 (the October 2007 release) that will make things much easier for Active Directory users….this will be nice too!


LTSP thin-client sound….now there’s a topic! The LTSP portion of Edubuntu will feature a new mechanism for sound which will enable lots of cool new features and make it MUCH easier to get sound working correctly on thin-clients…ESD is going away…say hello to Pulseaudio. I’m really excited about this one.


LTSP Fat clients are also going to be easy to add and configure. If you have relatively powerful thin-clients, you’ll be able to configure it in such a way that the resources on thefat-clientwill be used rather than the server resources. More things will run locally on the disklessfat-client. This will be a great addition for schools looking to take advantage of some of thehorsepowerof the local workstations.


Local Apps was discussed and a plan is under development for the near future. There are some hurdles, but they can be overcome. Local Apps will allow you to specify certain applications that you’ll be able to run locally on the thin-client and thus utilize the resources on the local machine. One such popularuse casewould be to run Firefox and Flash locally as it’s such a resource hog on the server. Dynamic menus by groups! Now you’ll be able to create menus for different grade levels or classes….no more having everyone see everything! This will be awesome!


How about BLING! Workstation installs of Ubuntu and Edubuntu will allow users to have an incredible desktop experience with the addition of Beryl. Beryl allows all sorts ofblingon the desktop. Many eye-candy things like burning windows, funky animations, and more…however there are many useful things as well such as scaling (think Mac OS X’s Expose)…multiple desktops (cubes)….sliding task selector (ALT-tab)….specific window placement with keystrokes…and so much more!


Multimedia got a lot of attention at UDS as well. Things such as easy codec installation, solving the sound mess, and other items were hot topics being discussed.


I could go on and on, but those are the highlights as I see them. Fiesty Fawn (Ubuntu 7.04) promises to be a great release. I’m excited….you should be too! :-)



I hope that this gives you some insight as to what is on the horizon. Linux and Ubuntu are at an exciting point in time…things are changing rapidly and the advances of the next few months will be very cool! Hang on!

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