The Linux for Kids Experiment
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.
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.
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.