The Linux for Kids Experiment

This Linux Dad got the young members of his family set up with educational software, art tools and games.
Software for the Kids

In an attempt to ease the introduction of a new—and somewhat different—computer into the house, we decided to relax our household software policy and install a few nice Linux games along with the educational software. Here's a quick rundown of the titles we decided to make available on the desktop launcher. Unless stated otherwise, these titles were downloaded into Ubuntu using the included Synaptic Package Manager. It helps to refer to Figure 1 while working through this list.

  • AisleRiot Solitaire (/usr/games/sol) is a Linux version of the classic solitaire game. It came pre-installed on Ubuntu and was elevated to the Launcher in an attempt to provide a familiar piece of software on the new desktop.

  • Bug Squish (/usr/games/bugsquish) is a bit mindless but fun all the same. Little bugs drop down and try to land on an arm. Your mission—should you accept it—is to squish as many bugs as you can by clicking your mouse on them. As I said, it's mindless, but it does allow little people to practice their mouse skills while having some fun.

  • Calculator (/usr/bin/gcalctool) is the GNOME calculator.

  • Four-in-a-Row/Connect 4 (/usr/games/gnect) is just like the board game. You can play against another human opponent or an increasingly more skillful computer user.

  • G Compris (/usr/games/gcompris) has to be the real find of the experiment. This is a single program that has many, many parts. It is an entire suite of educational tools packaged together and aimed at 3–8 year olds. Within the suite are—among many other things—word and number games, color-matching and memory exercises and geography quizzes. There's loads of educational functionality in G Compris, and it is graduated, which means the child cannot proceed to a later exercise until they have mastered the earlier ones. G Compris can be installed in one of a number of languages and has a friendly soundtrack and voice-over. I initially thought Aaron and Aideen would spend a lot of time in this program and was surprised to find Joseph enjoying it too. There's so much in G Compris that it really needs to be experienced to be believed.

  • K Tuberling, The Potato Guy (/usr/games/ktuberling) is a simple little program that provides a blank picture upon which you can place, for example, ears, eyes, noses, spectacles, hats and hair. The default blank picture is a potato, but a blank Tux also is provided. Aideen loves this program, as do the boys. The boys love it so much that they used K Tuberling to create a gallery of Tux and his family. Check out Tux's mother-in-law, as shown in Figure 3.

  • MathWar (/usr/bin/mathwar) is a simple X-based math-drill program.

  • Office Draw (/usr/bin/oodraw) and Office Writer (/usr/bin/oowriter), both part of the suite, were included primarily for Aaron, who likes to draw with the computer as well as write short stories and poems. I'd recently convinced the kids' school teacher to try for Windows in their school, in an effort to fix file format compatibility problems she was having with the school's existing choice of office suite. So, making available on the kids' PC made perfect sense.

  • Play a DVD (/usr/bin/xine) allows the kids to view any of the DVDs that they own. To get DVD playing to work on Ubuntu, I had to search Goggle for the libdvdcss library, which allows for the DVD movie encoding to be deciphered. Once the library was installed, DVD viewing worked. Xine was a big hit, not only because it supports DVD menus and the like but also because it allows viewers to capture snapshots of the currently playing movie. Once he discovered this Xine feature, Joseph wasted no time and created a gallery of snapshots of his current DVD favorite, The Incredibles. An added bonus to being able to view DVDs on the new computer is that the main household TV and DVD player are freed-up for Mum and Dad to use. Xine was chosen over the Ubuntu-installed Totem, which did not work as well as Xine in any of my tests.

  • Play a Music CD (/usr/bin/gnome-cd) turns the PC into a CD player, with the default GNOME CD player popping up whenever an audio CD is popped into the CD drive.

  • Super Tux (/usr/games/supertux) is a classic, Mario-style, jump-and-bump-level game that should be familiar to many readers. Saying that the boys love this game would be a complete understatement: they are totally besotted with it. A little animated Penguin jumps and bumps his way through increasingly difficult levels in search of his goal. The soundtrack to this game is great, as are the effects and configurability. If anything, it's a little too addictive and, of all the programs described in this article, Super Tux is the program most likely to be on-screen when I enter the playroom. This has caused Deirdre to worry that the boys are playing it too much. However, as the game allows players to design and use their own levels, and as the boys have started to do just that, I've been happy to let Super Tux survive. I figure that building a level is the first tentative step toward getting the computer to work the way the kids want it to, which isn't a huge leap away from that other popular customization technique: programming. So, highly addictive or not, Super Tux stays for now—unless the boys are cheeky to their Mum, in which case it'll be wiped from the PC faster than they can say “yahtzee!”

  • Tali - Yahtzee (/usr/games/gtali) is a nice implementation of the classic dice game. The iMac had a great version of this game that the boys always liked to play, and the GNOME version is similar and familiar.

  • Tux Kart (/usr/games/tuxkart) is an arcade-type racer game. Little Tux sits in a go-kart and races around one of a selection of pre-built tracks. The music is fun, and the game is not too hard to play, which means that even Aideen can play without too much trouble. I've seen some games of this type that take the physics to the extreme, making them incredibly hard to play well. Tux Kart, thankfully, does not fall into this category.

  • Tux Paint (/usr/bin/tuxpaint) is a great kids-targeted drawing program. The sound is great, the effects are wonderful and it is easy to use. Aideen spends more time in Tux Paint than in all of the other installed programs combined, and Aaron enjoys using it, too. The in-built collection of stamper shapes especially are appreciated by our budding Picassos.

  • Tux Racer (/usr/games/tuxracer) is the one program that's fired-up and shown-off whenever either of the boys have a friend over to play. Tux Racer is, quiet simply, one very cool program. Watching Tux slide on his belly at 90km/ph in stunning, realistically rendered graphics remains—for me, anyway—one of the best examples of just how far Linux has come as a multimedia platform.

  • Tux Type (/usr/games/tuxtype) is a fun typing tutor. All three of the kids play it, and Aideen loves the way Tux eats the letters as they drop from the sky and correctly are identified on the keyboard. Aideen especially likes the cartoon-type sound effects and animation that occur when Tux eats a fish at the last possible moment, which usually results in Tux making a mad dash across the screen.

  • X Tux (/usr/games/xtux) is a 2-D, Pac Man-type game that works well and is fun to play. Although not as popular with the boys as Tux Racer or Super Tux, it still is played quite often.

Figure 3. A Rather Cool-Looking Granny Tux



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Interested in an update also, if available..

Anonymous's picture

"Could we see an update to this, maybe? It would be cool. See if the "kids" are still using Ubuntu, or if they have chosen the way of Windows (or Mac)."


An quick update

barryp's picture

My kids have a dual-boot PC, with Ubuntu as the default OS and Windows XP as the alternative. They use both, but spend most of their time in Linux. OpenOffice is used a lot for writing up essays and such (homework). I'd say 80% if their time is spent on Ubuntu. Windows is used to load music onto their phones and play some older games.

They are still "Linux Kids". :-)

Paul Barry

Just wanted to mention Timekpr

Joachim Zobel's picture

Timekpr limits login time on a per user base. If you have kids, its obvious why.

Some details on 3D graphics and the like can be found

Childsplay is another great

Anonymous's picture

Childsplay is another great app for preschool and elementary kids.

nice apps selections's picture

i might add some of the apps into my kidsuse...

An update of the Experiment

Anonymous's picture

Could we see an update to this, maybe? It would be cool. See if the "kids" are still using Ubuntu, or if they have chosen the way of Windows (or Mac).

another linux for kids's picture

about to launch another linux for kids:

my kids are using it for a while.
now i'm preparing for public use.

Commercial Linux games for kids

Troy Hepfner's picture

Great article! For those who are looking for some good commercial Linux games that are family-friendly, visit our web site at

Ubuntu / Knoppix derivatives for kids

oeb's picture

I you are looking for an easy 'Ubuntu + Kids programs' to install I have been using Edubuntu for a couple of months now in addition to all the edutainment and games on it one can use synaptic (or apt-get install) to add games found on the liveCDs:



an italian distro (three disks or one DVD) based on Eduknoppix


which in turn is based on Knoppix. There is also another liveCD called Didatux


also italian. The Di in the name implies didactic. Since both distros are based on Debian most of the educational programs are already in the Ubuntu repositories.


Kid's Web Sites?

Chris Hogan's picture

I've been running Linux (SuSE, then Gentoo) in the house for three years now. The only complaint from the kids is lack of a Shockwave player and Microsoft-only web sites (Disney). Does anyone know of a good web site for kids that offers Java or Flash games and isn't dependent upon IE/Windows?

replacements for instant messenger apps

sunset's picture

My twelve year old would suffer severe withdrawal symptons without access to a program to talk on MSN etc. It seems half the fun is the sending of icons and short audio recordings and the nudge. Is there a modern app that can do all that sort of stuff ?

It seems that using this brings our phone bill down by half, so while cuteness is a factor, the money saved is good value...

Try using gaim, gaim

namol's picture

Try using gaim, gaim condenses all the major chat applications into one program, msn, aol, yahoo, google, jabber :)

Gaim Website

MSN Replacement

Anonymous's picture

My 13 y/o uses amsn:

I don't know whether this will do, but it's worth a look.

Thanks for the new game names

Clemens Tolboom's picture

Thanks to google (gcompris) I came along. I would never found the games mentioned above ;-)

Hopefully my daughter likes these new games.

BTW. tuxracer is re-named/placed by planetpinguin-racer

RE: The Linux for Kids Experiment

Garrit Krakusia's picture

hi there,

i tried a summer-special with a small group of five kids. we tried to
install a suse linux distribution. the kids were in the age of 8 to 12.
in the beginning they not have much fun... but after we setup the system and download a lot of games and tried them out... they all get happy
give games to the world... 8-)) cu, gk

can't seem to find the game titles listed via synaptic

swilson05's picture

thought i'd try some ubuntu, but can't seem to find these titles. tried various search options and terms. do i need to specify some sort of special repository? just trying to relax with some linux that's easy on the eyes and hassle.

Adding Repositories

barryp's picture

This should be easy enough and can be done from the Synaptic menus. I don't have it in front of me but, from memory, you need to enable the "Universe" repository. Steve Hastings review of Ubuntu (from the August issue) talks about this. Have fun.

Paul Barry
IT Carlow, Ireland

Paul Barry