tuXlab Linux release targets education

By   |  December 7, 2006

Inkululeko Technologies will this week release the first public release of tuXlab, a GNU/Linux operating system for schools based on the popular distribution used by the Shuttleworth Foundation to provide low-cost Linux computer laboratories around South Africa.

Inkululeko’s Jonathon Carter says “the goal of the tuXlab operating system is to provide a user friendly, support friendly, localised, feature rich environment for schools. It forms part of the tuXlab model, which aims to develop a sustainable open source ICT model for the education- and development sector.”

tuXlab has been used extensively in the Shuttleworth-backed schools Linux project originating in the Western Cape but until now has not been available as a product. Carter says that it was the Foundation’s policy not to fund software development internally, but that it is now possible to release and support tuXlab software since it is managed by Inkululeko Technologies, which provides Linux services to the education, development and commercial sectors.

tuXlab is largely an Edubuntu derivative but draws extensively on the full range of Ubuntu-based operating systems. Carter says that with tuXlab they are able to offer a localised version of the OS as well as making it easier to integrate third party content.

One of the primary concerns as well, says Carter, is that tuXlab is aimed at school environments which often have older or lower specification machines. “In tuXlab we have opted for the lightweight XFCE desktop, which proves to be an excellent alternative to the Gnome desktop environment in a thin client environment.

tuXlab is pre-installed with the LTSP, which allows users to boot diskless machines from a centrally installed server. The “thin client” model has proved very popular in the education sector where diskless (often second hand) machines are used to provide low-cost computer laboratories to schools that do not have the resources to administer a traditional computer lab.

tuXlab uses a modified version of the Ubiquity installer which asks users as few questions as possible during the installation process. The localised version of the installer, for example, assumes that users are in South Africa, and does not ask for location or timezone details. The simplified installation routine means it is possible to install the entire tuXlab distribution with just four clicks.

This version of tuXlab also includes a live CD version which has also been customised to allow users to install the operating system without needing to log into the graphical environment, useful for users needing to install the system on older hardware with lower memory.

As far as educational material goes tuXlab includes a mini-Wikipedia distribution compiled by the SOS Children’s project which contains essential articles that are useful in a school environment, adapted from the main Wikipedia project.

Schooltool, a school administration suite which is still in development, has been included in tuXlab so users can experiment and provide feedback to the Schooltool project.

“The overwhelming majority of educational content available in South Africa is of a proprietary nature, which means that it cannot be distributed with the tuXlab system. However, we are working on a simple framework that will allow us to work with content providers and get their software packages for tuXlab, and make it easily installable,” says Carter.

Current content partners include Computers4kids and Learnthings.

tuXlab includes the best educational free software that you’d expect to in an educational distribution including the KDE edutainment suite, GCompris, Tuxpaint, Tuxmath and Pysycache.

For school laboratory administrators tuXlab includes a web based tool, Xola, that aims to assist in solving problems. “[Xola] asks the user questions and determines possible causes of the problem. It also includes a simple diagnostics page which is useful for support calls,” says Carter.

“The latest version of Xola also includes a new tool that provides statistics on the lab usage, which will become much more feature rich in upcoming releases.”

Standard GNU/Linux tools include the OpenOffice.org office suite, Mozilla Firefox web browser and the Novell Evolution calendar and e-mail client. tuXlab also includes Freemind, an easy mindmapping tool, as well as Scribus for desktop publishing, Inkscape for vector image editing and the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) for image editing and retouching.

tuXlab includes a range of language options provided by the Translate.org.za project. Many of the application included in tuXlab are available in Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. More languages are becoming available and the list of supported applications are growing fast.

tuXlab will soon be available for download from the tuXlab website and from Freedom toasters. tuXlab discs will also be available from tuXlab marketplace, an online service where users can order tuXlab DVDs, related products and 3rd party content that will be launched early next year.

Hilton Theunissen of Inkululeko says, “our aim is to always inspire others to replicate the model and the tuXlab software we belief will allow like-minded individuals, schools and organisations to install or migrate to open source technology with peace of mind.”

The existing tuXlab version is not ideally suited to home users, says Carter. However, a home edition is planned for early in 2007.

The initial 200 tuXlab schools will have their discs and upgrades sponsored by the Shuttleworth Foundation.

Inkeululeko will offer upgrades and commercial support to users.

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