Economy Size Geek - A Desktop for Our Little Penguin

How to make the perfect desktop for young kids.
Installation Day

I already had the Sugar thumbdrive, so I moved on to getting the other two installed. My goal was to have a run-off. I would install all three and play with them. Once I got comfortable, I would unleash Max on each and see which one was the winner.

I installed Jaunty (9.04) onto the computer. I also partitioned the drive into three different parts. That way, I could install each OS on its own partition. Once the install was complete, Ubuntu reminded me that Karmic (9.10) had been released. I decided to upgrade to Karmic, as the Edubuntu site said it supported it. After a long wait, everything was installed. Then, I added on the Edubuntu package:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-edu-preschool

It installed without any problems. The only issue was it did not change anything about the look and feel of the system. Max does well, but I think it will be a little while before I have him navigate to different menus to find Tux Paint.

Undeterred, I went through the install process for Qimo. Again, things were very straightforward, but I made two mistakes in this portion. I did not install a bootloader. I figured I'd let the GRUB2 installed in Karmic handle the booting. (It turns out I should have installed it just to have easy GRUB menu files to crib from.) Second, I filled out the information about an account on the system. I clicked Auto login, because I assumed it was silly to make Max log in. That turned out to be a mistake. Because the system was set to log in as me, it would not log in as the qimo user.

Now I had all three ready for testing. As they say in the UK, things went pear-shaped. I have only two USB ports on the workstation, and they are used up by the keyboard and mouse. That left me nowhere to plug in the Sugar thumbdrive. I booted up Karmic, and in the process of trying to add Qimo as a boot option, I went down the path of upgrading to GRUB2. In the process, I blew up my ability to boot anything.

That basically wasted an entire afternoon. This was all meant to be a project to introduce my son to the wonderful world of Linux—not an exercise in hair pulling. I took a step back and looked at the Sugar Web site to see if there was another way to run it. Then, everything clicked into place. Sure, these are different “products”, but they still are open-source software. Everything I was working on was a package at some point. So, rather than thinking of it as “here are three choices, pick one”, I decided to install Qimo as the base, and then put Edubuntu and Sugar on top. That meant I could play with all of it.

Installation, Take Two

I installed Qimo again. This time, I had it take over the entire drive. I also left the Auto login box unchecked. As I started poking around, I found that Qimo actually is based on Intrepid (8.10). I decided to use the onboard Ubuntu tools to upgrade it to Jaunty, so that it would be easier to bring in Edubuntu and Sugar, which was a very straightforward process. The only issue I ran into was with the custom GDM configuration file. I ended up hand-merging the original version from Qimo with the new one.

Once it was up and running, I added the Edubuntu package. Because it is available as a single package, it didn't take very long. So, that just left Sugar.

There are some known issues with Sugar and Jaunty. The Sugar Wiki pointed me to a PPA (personal package archive). I added to my sources.list. Then, I authorized the archive by adding its signing key:

sudo apt-key adv --keyserver 
 ↪--recv-keys F265806A9BFFF0F4

I had to remove a package that caused a conflict and then was able to install Sugar:

apt-get remove etoys-doc
apt-get install sugar-platform

To run Sugar, you run sugar-emulator. I played with it briefly. There were two problems. One, the version I installed seemed to need other things installed to get it to do anything. The second issue was even bigger than the first. The Sugar environment expects to be the desktop. That means it would like to take over the mouse and the display. It seems like it has potential, but it adds too much complexity for what I was trying to do for Max.

Next up, I added an MP3 player (Max loves to play music) and the Flash plugin. It turns out every kid Web site I could find requires Flash to see or do anything. I added links to his favorite Web sites to the desktop. I modified the display a little. I doubled the size of the mouse cursor and expanded the space between launchers on the main panel. Just to make things a little more solid, I zip-tied the mouse and keyboard so they can move, but not be removed. I contemplated setting up an auto off/on using Wake on LAN, but decided Max needs some more time before he can use his workstation unsupervised.

Once all that was done, I turned it over to Max. He played with Tux Paint for a little while. I turned on Proton Radio in the background for him, which he really likes. After a short time of moving the mouse, he anchored himself to the keyboard. Much like his father, he seems to prefer the keyboard as his input device of choice.

Figure 2. Max at His Workstation—Pre-Cable Cleanup



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Rockstar idea

vincentjorgensen's picture

I've been dying to build a machine for my now eighteen-month-old daughter since I saw this article. I'm happy to say that I've finally acquired some hardware for the project. Screen, an old P4 box, with keyboard and mouse on the way. According to the reviews on Amazon, don't get the Crayola mouse, as it's H2O feature is susceptible to rupturing all over the upholstery.

Ubuntu 10.04 is now installed, and I'm about to APT ubuntu-edu-preschool.

My hope is that my daughter will use this box instead of mine, so I can finally get some work done :-)

I'm also happy to report that my old machine, the one I originally slotted for this purpose, is in the hands of _my_ grandmother, and she's over 90 years old and using Ubuntu linux to look at pictures of her great-granddaughter.

Qimo FTW

Anonymous's picture

Good day. I got Qimo a couple of months back. Used the ubuntu usb-creator on my laptop to make a bootable stick and then boot up either my wife's laptop, my netbook or my work laptop from Qimo whenever my son wants to play.

My son was about 3 at the time. Took him about 15 minutes to get the hang of the mouse, but then was exploring without any help.

My son is now 4, and still asks often to play Qimo. To the Qimo developers: A very well done, and thank you.

A visit to the Qimo site is well worth your time, to see how it came about.




Anonymous's picture

I also suggest that you take a look at Kiddix. My kids been happy users of their OS for a couple of years now. I definitly find it to be the best thought out OS for kids on the market, and it's 100% Linux at its core. It seems to me that they have spent a long time figuring out how children use computers and built that into their desktop environment. Kiddix also comes with some top notch parental controls. My little ones haven't ran into any problems on the internet since we installed it on our family PC.

Thanks for the Kiddix recommendation. I'll take a look.

Anonymous's picture

We are experiencing Linux growing pains. Management seems to get the whys they just don't understand the nuts and bolts and are afraid of something new. I know that if the kids get it and the moms like it the dads will follow. So...I'll try Kiddix but I will wait to see if anyone has a response to my inquiry on Qimo. I emailed the developers but they must be very busy as I have not received any response. Oh, to be popular! GO TUX!

About the Qimo article. How to merge the custom GDM and...

tgoatley's picture

Hello Dirk,
I am trying to setup Qimo for the library system here in Reno, NV. I would really like to know how you merged the GDM's after the upgrade. I need to maintain the upgrades on my machines. Can you forward (or post) a copy of the completed file(s)?
Also, I want to offer just 1 hour sessions (to save us from any bickering amongst the little tykes) so I'll be using timekpr. The timekpr works if you login straight away but if not the login timeout takes you straight into the default Qimo user. I would like to inhibit this from taking place so a user can login with a predetermined user name and password other than Qimo. Any suggestions here as well?
I have modified the /etc/gdm/PostLogin/Default.sample file. Named a copy as Default (per instructions) and setup for multiple users using the Qimo profile as my base. But the Qimo profile does not carry over well as the base profile for my other login profiles. A little frustrating because I really need to turn these things out as soon as possible. Any insight and or directions you can offer would be great.
Thank you,
Todd Goatley

PS Great and timely article!

Todd Goatley

So what exactly DID Max wind up with?

RO's picture

I read the article with an eye to seeing if it had a suitable model or template for setting up a PC for our grandsons (6, 4, 13 months) when they are over visiting, which is often since they live near us. It appears you went with Qimo in the 2nd installation, upgraded it to 9.04 (think that's what "Jaunty" equates to - please use version numbers instead of, or in addition to those goofy Ubuntu version names - I get lost now that there are so many), added Edubuntu for preschool, and tweaked it a bit from there, but the narrative form makes that my "best guess" of how it transpired.

Interesting that you could upgrade Qimo. I tried it again recently (after a shot at it when it first came out nearly a year ago), but I could not get it to connect to whatever repositories it was pointing to for updates. I did not check out the contents of /etc/apt/sources.list, but something made me think they were using a custom repository that had been abandoned since there did not seem to be any recent news on the Qimo site.

I also have an OLPC XO, and that Sugar interface seems to almost require a degree in the Piaget/Papert theories of education. My wife did not have much use for it (nor our 2 older grandsons), and has been teaching the primary grades for 30+ years. During that time she has gone through many different teaching methods du jour (schools systems are like big businesses in always looking for the next holy grail to achieve their goals without focusing on using intelligence with tried and true hard work and discipline to get it done by actually mastering anything that could work with "due diligence", and wasting huge amounts of money and time on fads), so she is used to looking at new teaching ideas (and usually debunking most, but not all, of them ;-).

What would really be helpful would be more details on your setup, and periodic "progress reports" on how Max fares with it. Watching young children learn is fascinating, and can be quite satisfying from a parental perspective.

Comparing notes: Kiddix, Edubuntu, Grubby Games

kendricbeachey's picture

I did not see a mention of Kiddix in your article...wondering if you gave it a look? ( Apparently it costs money, but it seems like an interesting product. Maybe for a little bit older kid though. I have my kids on Edubuntu...they like it fine. My 6-year-old really likes FizzBall and the other Professor Fizzwizzle games, as well as MyTribe, all available for a newly cheap price at .