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Re: Science live DVD

On Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 9:06 AM, Chris Walker
<chrisw@chiark.greenend.org.uk> wrote:

> The use cases I'm envisaging are:
> A scientist wanting to try out all the cool Debian stuff before
> actually installing it on their PC (in which case perhaps including
> the ability to install would be useful too). Eg "Why don't you try
> Debian - all you need to do is download this live image" or perhaps as
> a conference freebie - (which would presumably have to include source).

In general, people will be more interested if there is some specific
app they want.  This usually means the live image has to be
generated for each conference/subject area.

> A scientist visiting another lab for a short period wanting to take a
> familiar debian environment with them - or when my laptop stopped
> working, I could use this on a borrowed laptop.

A scientist visiting my lab brings their win32 laptop but needs to run
debian to use our tools.

> One thing that would be nice is to provide a DVD/usb image on the
> website that you can simply point people to and say - "try this". In
> this case, we might as well fill the DVD with stuff that might be
> useful - though we want to leave space for user customisation and for
> the science packages to grow.

Each web site that hosts a significant application can provide a live
image to run the application.   The stuff that might be useful is
problematic -- some applications that need ancillary data already
have trouble fitting on a DVD or 3 or 4.

> For custom images, then clearly you want choice and I guess the
> GNOME/KDE/XFCE-desktop images would be the way to go.

There is often a need to run a workshop to teach some methodology.
Typically you look for a PC lab at a university and try to get the
required software installed, but unless the software runs on Win32,
that can be difficult.   I once tried a setup with diskless PC's booting
linux with apps and data on an NFS server, but in a course environment
people want to follow along, so everyone tries to load the same .dll's
and data at once and server falls down.  With live DVD's, software and
data can be local, and students can take them home to run stuff on
their own systems.    In general, the teaching examples have to be kept
small, and students are told they will need to do a  proper install to run
real problems.   There is a big problem with many of these workshops
where only a few of the students manage to get the software working
at their home sites.   Using free software helps a lot -- by the time a
student has convinced the boss to purchase a commercial app they
have forgotten much of the course material so run into problems
getting back up to speed.  Many configuration issues become simple
to resolve if you can do a side-by-side comparison between a working
example and the one you are trying to set up.

I have done a few exercises using a standard Knoppix DVD with data
and a few additional packages that are copied to the student's USB key.
For each boot the student runs a simple script that installs the extra
packages.   I suspect that many student lab servers would be able to
handle small data sets and package installs as long as most of the
software is loaded from a live DVD.

In the long run, I think debian needs to move to a model where end
user applications aren't mingled with the base system.  Many sites
are starting to restrict what can be done by "root", and charging for
root's time.  Putting together a live DVD would be easier if you could
have a clean split between a base system and a set of applications
that are mounted as a separate partition (/opt?).   For testing you
would put /opt on whatever and run it against the same system (and
constraints) you will have with the final DVD.

George N. White III <aa056@chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia

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