The Linux for Kids Experiment

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

Thankfully, there are no show-stopper problems to report. The Warty Warthog release of Ubuntu did have some problems with sound. After a restart or a new login, the sound configuration would be lost, resulting in no more sound. Upon investigation, I discovered that the GNOME volume controls were being set automatically to zero. To fix this temporarily, I popped a shortcut to the GNOME Volume Control applet on the desktop and then used it to reset all the volume sliders. This fixed the sound problem, until the next restart or login, of course. I planned to research a permanent fix but then quickly realized that the complaints about the new computer having no sound had stopped. It turned out that Aaron had watched me fiddle with the volume controls, he'd told his siblings what to do, and all three of them had developed the habit of sliding up the volume controls immediately after logging in.

Upgrading Ubuntu

In the last few weeks, I upgraded the PC to the most recent release of Ubuntu, Hoary Hedgehog. This resulted in much merriment, primarily because of the inclusion of a newer release of Super Tux that, I'm told, is much better, has improved graphics, animation and sound. Speaking of sound, this Ubuntu release is better but still has a few problems. Any that surfaced were all fixable, permanently, and all I needed to do was search the Ubuntu support wiki for sound and the name of the program that was misbehaving. The fixes found in the wiki worked, and sound is no longer a problem.

With the upgrade, Joseph asked if the shared login ID could be replaced by individual IDs, which I did. This is less to do with privacy and more to do with his little sister's fondness for pressing the Delete key when viewing Joseph's K Tuberling Tux family collections. By the way, Tux's family has been extended to include cousins, friends and neighbors.

Once the novelty factor started to wear off, I began to get requests for some of their older software titles. Most of these, despite being targeted to Mac OS, did come in dual-install format, in that they can be installed on Windows too. In an effort to see how much work was involved, I decided to play around with Wine in an attempt to install some of the titles the kids were asking for. After a few hours of research on the Internet and some reading, I spent about a day trying to get the latest release of Wine to work on Ubuntu. I managed to run the installers successfully for a lot of the Windows titles that the kids had, but none of the programs would run properly once installed, so I had to abandon the effort. Since giving up—and since the upgrade to the latest Ubuntu—the requests for the older titles have become less frequent; although Aaron misses one of the freebie, cereal-pack soccer games that he used to play on his Mum's laptop. As I finish off this article, I'm in the process of downloading and evaluating a small collection of Linux soccer games from The Linux Game Tome. The Eat The Whistle technology looks the most promising. If this does not satisfy Aaron's craving for a soccer game, I plan to dedicate additional time to configuring Wine.

Is Linux Ready for Kids?

The answer is yes, of course it is! It's not that Linux is a better platform than the others for kids to use, it's that Linux is as good as any other. Children are happy to sit down and play with most any computer as long as the software titles provided are engaging and fun. This is true of Linux, Windows and Mac OS. Of course, the point to make is that if Linux is as good as the others, there's nothing stopping anyone from using Linux as a primary OS for children. It's not a case of “is Linux ready for kids?” but rather “why not Linux for kids?”

The Barry household has made the move to Linux and won't be turning back. The wealth of software available on the Internet and within Ubuntu's Debian archives has been only scratched. There's loads out there for me to evaluate and install for my kids as they grow out of the programs they currently are enjoying. If you have any suggestions for programs you think they might like, drop me a note and we'll take a look.


Thanks to Peter Garrett from Marcel Gagné's WFTL-LUG mailing list for suggesting I use Nautilus to mimic the Mac OS Launcher application.

Paul Barry ( lectures at the Institute of Technology, Carlow, in Ireland. Information on the courses he teaches, in addition to the books and articles he has written, can be found on his Web site,



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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