Debian for kids
Do any of us "aging" developers have an interest in making Debian
more "kid-friendly", particularly since some of us have kids ourselves?
Some specific concerns are:
- If there's a way to break your system, your kid will find it
very, very quickly. For example, it would be a good idea to use
quotas and ulimits liberally. Also, you might want to restrict
access to some tools & functions of programs that adult users take
for granted. e.g. I went thru a frustrating phase when my daughter
learned the 'passwd' command, as daily she would change her password
to something arbitrary and promptly forget it the next day ;) Oh, and
then there was the time that she insisted on using the file-browser
in pico to include every file imaginable into her buffer, including
mp3's, tarballs, the kernel and (eep) /dev/dsp, which she had
read access to so she could play games with sound ...
- Combine simplicity and power; e.g. our "menu" package makes
everything in the universe easy to access, and that's not
necessarily what you want for your kids. Some subset of
the menus is probably more appropriate.
- Some window managers & settings for window managers make it
easier for a kid to get around, whereas others are frustrating.
Although it might be argued that adults would benefit from the
same fine-tunings, I think it would be useful to provide variants
of configurations with kids specifically in mind.
- There's plenty of stuff out there, just not all packaged, and
some of it is just too hard for a kid to set up & use. For
example, xjig is fantastic! Unfortunately, it has only one
default image, and how do you get a kid to remember all the
funky switches? Some sort of front-end for browsing thru
image sources (both local and network-accessible sources)
and installing new puzzles with all the right switches into
the Debian menu system would be great! This might be run by
a parent as root to configure it system-wide, or by a
child to create their own puzzles (especially from images
drawn by themselves!)
- Also, take www.linuxforkids.com, for example. How much of that
stuff is in Debian today?
4) parental guidance
- give parents the tools to help their kids learn about computers
- although we might squirm at the thought, "net nannies" and the
like are going to be a concern of some parents; provide the
tools and let *them* make the choice
5) "kids' box"
- kids might have their own Linux box. What's the best way to
set up a kids' box and integrate it into your home network?
I'm sure there are others. This is just a short list to start people
thinking & talking about it.
I very much want to see my kids grow up using Linux because the
alternative is so odious to me. We're just beginning to see really cool
stuff for kids on Linux (grownup kids as well ;) I would like to see even
more. Although I have seen some really slick commercial stuff for Linux
(Loki comes to mind) none of it seems geared towards kids. Besides, I
want to pass my values on to my kids, and that includes my views about
Here's an anecdote which, although it involves a piece of non-free
software (xmame), illustrates why I am particularly concerned about having
my kids use Linux.
The other day, I started playing with xmame (x.mame.net) and was showing
off some games to the kids. They had great fun with it, even though some
of the games were a bit beyond their skill level. But later in the day, I
was startled to hear my daughter (9 years old) ask me this: "Can we get
this game for Windows 95?" Well, the answer, of course, is yes ... but
what was disturbing was the underlying assumption. When I asked her why,
she said she thought the game would "look better" in Win '95. Alas, my
daughter was growing up a little Windows addict right under my nose,
despite the fact that 99% of the time Linux is running on our network, not
Windows. And it's no wonder! Windows would not even be on our systems if
it were not to play the excellent "Reader Rabbit" series of games for
Windows, and others like it. Whether I like it or not, Windows is far
more geared towards kids than Linux is.
But why not? Why can't Linux be more fun for kids? There's stuff out
there. But as a home sys admin, I just haven't had the time to go hunting
for it, compiling it, debugging it ... That's where distros, like Debian,
help the most. I want to be able to say "apt-get install task-kids-games"
and "apt-get install enlightenment-kids" and then setup .xsession on each
kid's account to bring up a kids desktop, where they have a bunch of easy
to access toys, games, and educational software ready to go at their
fingertips. I want to share tips with other Debian developers and users
about configuring a system to make it "kid friendly". I want to automate
it so that parents don't have to spend forever tinkering with their
systems to make it easy for their kids to use.
Finally, I am looking for relevance in my recreational programming. What
I do at work isn't relevant to anyone else who is dear to me. It is
merely a source of income. I want to do cool stuff that matters for
people I love.
Ben (in the "over 30" bracket, married to a non-tech Linux 'power user',
and father of 4 kids: Victoria, age 9; Maria, age 8; Randy, age 5;
Jessica, age 23 months)
nSLUG http://www.nslug.ns.ca firstname.lastname@example.org
Debian http://www.debian.org email@example.com
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