April 11, 2012

DoudouLinux: A Starter Distro Where Baby Linux Gurus are Born

Where do Linux gurus come from? From baby newbies. How do baby newbies become gurus? One good way is with the help of the best child- and beginner-oriented distribution, DoudouLinux.

Where do Linux Gurus Come From?

Linux gurus do not emerge fully-formed from special factories, though one could easily form this impression from employers who expect the impossible, and Linux/FOSS project leaders who don't understand that it takes more than Holy Rock Star Coders to create and support great software.

It takes coders, admins, artists, musicians, documentation writers, designers, bugfinders and fixers, community managers, and translators. It takes engaged users and an infrastructure that supports development, distribution, and interaction between users, developers, upstream developers, hardware vendors, and related projects. If devs don't want to spend a lot of time dealing with users and upstreams then they need to have someone (like a community manager) to do this job.

I'm sure this sounds all horrible and complicated, and the neat thing about Linux and FOSS is anyone can do whatever they want, like write code and throw it out the door without a second thought. It all depends what your goals are. If "world domination" is the goal, that takes planning and a long horizon. The first wave of Linux users and gurus came from Unix and academic backgrounds. The second wave were Windows and Apple refugees.

Linux is now 20-plus years old and overdue for a third wave that got their start in Linux and Free software. So where will these people come from? An overlooked, obvious, and valuable user demographic is children. Microsoft and Apple know this: capture the children and you capture your future customers.

A second valuable user demographic to woo is adult beginners, people who are not very experienced with computers. Children-oriented distributions like DoudouLinux are great for adults because they teach the fundamental skills that we take for granted. It's all abstract, and it's intimidating. We know it's not hard to learn, and that the main barrier for adults is disbelief in their ability to learn how to use computers. It's not a technical problem but a social problem.

In case you're wondering about the name? Doudou is a French word that means "wubby", or teddy bear.

Another Kiddie Distro?

Linux offerings for children are meager but excellent, and DoudouLinux has several features that set it apart from the others. It has several ambitious goals:

  • A safe computing environment for children
  • Make computers accessible to all children on Earth
  • Copy and share freely
  • Carry it anywhere and use safely on any computer
  • The operating system children prefer

Safety means two things. It means system safety, because even though DoudouLinux can be installed to a hard drive, it's really intended to run from a CD or USB stick without making any changes to the host system, and without access to the host system.

It can't be used as a rescue distro or interfere with the host system in any way. There is no console and no command line. It is very simple, with a limited tightly-focused set of applications, and no modifications without rebuilding the system image. If you want to save your data then you need a USB stick or drive to store your data on. The main DoudoudoLinux menu.

It also means Web safety, with built-in Web content filters based on Dan's Guardian. DoudouLinux doesn't use URL blocklists, but content analyzers for blocking potentially objectionable stuff. The filters are built-in to DoudouLinux and can't be easily modified or bypassed.

You can install DoudouLinux to a hard drive if you really want to. It has no partitioner and will take over a whole hard drive, and there are no user accounts. The main thing to keep in mind with DoudouLinux is simplicity. It is not designed to be a typical Linux distribution full of software and endless configuration options. Rather, it is extremely stripped-down to a very simple interface, application-oriented, and comes with about 50 graphical applications. You're supposed to boot it and use the applications, and not bother with all kinds of system tweaks other than adjusting the sound volume.

DoudouLinux supports networking, so you can surf the Web and use networked printers. It supports multimedia, so you can play CDs and DVDs. It does not come with an office suite, because what do children need with office suites? Their little spirits will be broken soon enough; let them enjoy being kids while they can.

It comes with the excellent Gcompris and Childsplay suites of educational software, Gamine and Pysycache for learning to use a mouse, Tux Paint the superior drawing and painting program, and a number of KDE educational games. It includes some wonderful audio applications like the Hydrogen drum kit, the GNOME sound recorder, and the Timidity software MIDI sequencer. Wallace and Gromit fans get Stopmotion for making their own stop-motion movie epics. Also included are OpenDict, Gcalc, Gedit, Eye of GNOME image viewer, and the Evince document viewer. And of course many more, all crammed onto into a 694MB image.

System Requirements

DoudouLinux is guaranteed to run on PCs made after 2006, and has modest requirements: 256MB memory, 800MHz CPU, and 800x600 display. Some of the applications support multiple display resolutions. It's based on Debian Squeeze with minimal modifications to core files, and most of the effort put into the interface and package selection.

Multiple Languages

In keeping with making it as easy as possible for the end user, DoudouLinux supplies both CD and USB images in multiple languages, from Arabic to Ukrainian. There is a pretty good user manual that is built-in, and also downloadable in several languages.

Three Interfaces

Figure 1 shows that there are three ways to interact with DoudouLinux: directly from the main screen, Mini DoudouLinux, and Whole DoudouLinux. Mini DoudouLinux is a tabbed screen with two tabs: the Learn tab and the Tune tab. Learn contains a small set of applications including Childsplay, Tux Paint, Potato Guy, and Piano Keyboard. The Tune tab has controls for setting volume level, printers, and mouse settings. The Whole session has five tabs and gives access to all applications (figure 2).  Nice simple tabs and icons for accessing all applications.

To switch between sessions click the Shutdown button and then click Close Session.


As much as I like Qimo, which is also a superior distro for children, I think DoudouLinux hits the mark better for young children and adult beginners. Unlike certain Linux projects that that don't understand the difference between simplicity and stripping away essential functionality, DoudouLinux is a beautiful example of functional simplicity.

For more information on learning Linux, you can also check out Linux training opportunities from The Linux Foundation.

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