Economy Size Geek - A Desktop for Our Little Penguin

How to make the perfect desktop for young kids.

There is a lot of software out there for kids—serious typing tutors, counting and shapes helpers, and even a Mr Potato Head simulator (KTuberling). The craziest thing I saw was eToys, which is a Smalltalk environment for teaching kids programming. It is way beyond what I learned in Logo as a kid.

Max's first “computer” was my Chumby. He spent a lot of time looking at LOLcats on there. Plus, because the Chumby has a built-in slideshow for all of the content, Max constantly would get new stuff, even if he was just looking at the Chumby. That kind of interface really works well with Max's level of attention span. I was unable to find an application to duplicate that experience for Max. Spending some time searching, I have found some Flash-based games that come close. I will keep introducing new things to Max and see what sticks.

This actually brings me to my primary lesson from all of this. When I started, I was not sure if Max was ready for a computer. To be honest, there was not a clear consensus among my friends as to when that would be. Having played with Max and his computer for a week now, I can say this: Max is ready to explore anything as long as it is on his terms. That is the real value of this desktop. Now I have a place to show Max new things. I can let him try out new software or Web sites, and he can do it at his pace, because it is his computer. Before, as soon as playtime was done, I switched my computer back to work mode. Now Max wanders into my office does a little paint or controls the volume on some music. I look forward to the day when he asks for help debugging his eToys programs. I am not sure when that will be, but I am pretty sure it will come a little sooner with this project.

Dirk Elmendorf is cofounder of Rackspace, some-time home-brewer, longtime Linux advocate and even longer-time programmer.



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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 .