September 8, 2006

Linux4Kids: Tools and toys for all ages

Author: Lisa Hoover

Linux4Kids is a collection of more than 80 GPL-licensed "edutainment" games and educational software available to download for free from the FileGate File Distribution Network.

Linux4Kids applications include flashcard creators, basic and scientific calculators, typing tutors, and an assortment of other useful programs. VBuilder, a vocabulary skills testing tool, is ideal for students learning a new language, while Wikindx is a browser-based index card system useful for organizing research notes and bibliographic information.

There are also several learning tools cleverly disguised as games, including Math Scrabble and the humorously titled Dominoes on Acid, a single-player variation on the popular matching game that strengthens a player's natural deduction skills. For straight-up fun, Nineword is based on the anagram word game Target.

The natural sciences figure prominently in many of the Linux4Kids files. XDrawChem draws chemical structures, while GenChemLab functions as a chemistry lab simulator. Amateur astronomers can try their hand at mapping the universe with Xplanet or use ORSA to perform scientific-grade celestial mechanics computations.

The Linux4Kids files are hosted at FileGate, a repository that hosts dozens of shareware and freeware projects in a variety of categories. According to Janis Kracht, international coordinator of the IFDC FileGate Project, many Linux4Kids users are the children of Linux enthusiasts, but educators will also find some useful applications. CourseForum is a tool that allows teachers to post course materials online and facilitates online class discussion and student collaboration. The Tab Completion Grade Book is a Java-based application that lets users manage multiple student and class data.

Linux4Kids got its start in 2002 when Fidonet member Sean Rima offered to find programs that would be of interest to Linux users working with children or who had children of their own. "Since I had been running Linux on my system since about 1995 (currently Gentoo), I was especially interested," says Kracht. "Currently, Gert Andersen, who lives in Denmark, is responsible for finding files for this area of the FileGate. Hopefully he will be able to continue to develop this area."

Kracht says she and Andersen are happy to test and distribute new software for children that developers would like to share. "One of the important things regarding the FileGate is that we are in this to distribute software to get it to people however we can, assuming the author has no problem with the file being distributed."

Though Linux4Kids files are currently not available as part of a distribution, Kracht says she foresees a time when that may happen. "While we encourage anyone who distributes FileGate files to do so 'freely,' we understand costs and don't have a problem with [a distributor] covering those costs." According to Kracht, no distributions have expressed an interest as of yet, but "it may be that people haven't noticed our distribution outside of Fidonet."

"With metadistributions of various Linux flavors, I could see it happening easily, with the emphasis on allowing kids in school, or better yet, instructors, to install and enjoy Linux."


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