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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Debian Jr. Project: Debian for children from 1 to 99.


This is a Custom Debian Distribution (CDD) project. Our goal is to make Debian an OS that children of all ages will want to use.


Our initial focus will be on producing something for children up to age 8. Once we have accomplished this, our next target age range is 7 to 12. By the time children reach their teens, they should be comfortable with using Debian without any special modifications.

News.
No items for this year.
For older news items see the Debian Jr. News Page.

Press.

Debian has set up an email list for this group. You can subscribe to it from the Mailing List subscription page or read the mail archives. 

IRC Channel.

We have a realtime discussion channel, #debian-jr on irc.debian.org. 

Community Site.

We now have a Debian Jr. community site on Alioth where developers and users alike are encouraged to contribute to the Debian Jr. project. 

What can I do to help?.

We would be interested to hear what you think Debian Jr. could be doing, particularly if you'd like to help make it happen.

Installation

The junior-doc package contains the Quick Guide, the current development version of which is linked here. Postscript and Text formats are also available. This document will guide you through the simple installation process. If you are installing Debian for the first time, you will first want to look at the Installation Manual.

Packages in Debian Jr.

  • For a brief, definitive, but un-annotated list of what is in Debian Jr., see packages.debian.org for the woody (oldstable), sarge (stable), etch (testing) and sid (unstable) listings of all junior-* meta packages.
  • To propose a change to any of these packages, file a bug against the appropriate junior-* package.
  • To propose a new metapackage, make your case for it on the Debian Jr. mailing list.
  • To propose a new package to add to Debian, and subsequently to Debian Jr., either file an ITP (intent to package) if you are packaging it yourself, or an RFP (request for package) against the WNPP (Work-Needing and Prospective Packages) list in Debian's bug database. Please let our mailing list know about any outstanding wishlists you have on the WNPP for prospective Debian Jr. packages.
  • If you have found a package in Debian that could be included in Debian Jr., but needs work to be suitable for children, please file a bug against the package at bugs.debian.orgmailing list about any outstanding bugs you have filed of this nature. describing the problem and proposing a solution. Once the bug has been closed, make a request to include the package in Debian Jr. as described above. Again, let us know on the

Affiliations

While Debian Jr. works with many other projects within Debian to varying degrees, a couple of them have special significance to us.
  • The first is Debian-custom, with which we are developing the concept of Custom Debian Distributions. We host our development activity here, and discuss issues common to all CDDs on their mailing list.
  • The second is DebianEdu, which not only does work related to our own, but also is a driving force behind the development of CDDs.
The most important peer project of Debian Jr. outside of Debian is the Open Source Education Foundation (OSEF). For years, OSEF has provided us with resources, encouragement and inspiration. We now have a seat on the board, and are committed to collaborating with them on various projects that will involve our work.
While developing Debian for use in schools is not the primary focus of our working group, it is inescapably something on which our work will touch. Those who have a part in raising children naturally care about their education. We therefore share the vision with those who are working to make free software take root and grow in our schools. Thus, we are proud to be a Schoolforge member. Schoolforge Member
We are a Friend project of Tux4Kids which provides some great packages for Debian Jr.

Debian Jr. Goals

Making Debian desirable to children

The primary goal of the Debian Jr. project is to make Debian an OS our children want to run. This involves some sensitivity to the needs of children as expressed by the children themselves. As parents, developers, older siblings, sys admins, we need to keep our ears and eyes open and discover what it is that makes computers desirable to children. Without this focus, we can easily get sidetracked trying to achieve abstract goals like "user friendliness", "simplicity", "low maintenance", or "robustness" that, while they are certainly laudable goals for Debian as a whole, are too broad for addressing the specific needs and wants of children.

Working with other child-oriented free software projects

Other projects already exist (e.g. SEUL/edu, Kids Games, and LinuxForKids) that have goals which overlap and dovetail with our own. Rather than duplicate their effort, we need to work with these groups to ensure that Debian makes the best use of their work, and makes contributions back to those efforts of our own. Debian Jr. should stay focused on (but not limited to) Debian-specific goals. Individuals from Debian Jr. are encouraged to join these other groups as time and interest allow.

Applications

Naturally, children have different needs and wants from adults in the applications they choose to run. Some of these will be games, while others will be word processors, text editors, "paint" programs, and the like. The goal is to identify the highest quality applications available within Debian that are suitable for children, add to that number by packaging ones not yet in Debian, and ensure that the chosen applications are kept in a well-maintained state. One implementation goal is to provide meta packages to make installing groups of "child friendly" applications easier for the sys admin. Another is to improve our packages in ways that particularly matter for children, which could be as simple as filling in holes in the documentation, or could be more complex, involving work with the upstream authors.

Childproofing and account management

The idea here is not to necessarily to implement tough security measures. That is beyond our mandate. The goal is simply to provide sys admins with documentation and tools for setting up their systems so that their naturally curious child users will not "break" their accounts, soak up all system resources, or otherwise do things that require constant sys admin intervention. This is a more of a concern for child users than adults, as they tend to explore and deliberately push the system to the limits just to see what happens. The messes that result can be at once both amusing and frustrating. This goal is about keeping your sanity (and sense of humor) as a child's sys admin.

Learning to use the computer

The "Childproofing" goal needs to be balanced with the goal of allowing children to try things (and yes, break things) and find solutions to their problems. Learning to use the keyboard, GUI, shell, and computer languages are all things that parents and children alike need some tips to help get them headed in the right direction.

User interface

Discover and implement both GUI and text-based interfaces that work well for and are attractive to children. The idea is not to re-invent the user interface, but to add value to existing tools and packages (window managers, menu system and so forth) by providing some convenient pre-selected configurations that we find work best for children.

Family guidance

Give parents (and in some cases, older siblings) the tools to help their children (or siblings) learn about computers and to put reasonable limits on their access, guiding them towards independent use of the computer as they mature. For example, many parents will be concerned about regulating Internet use to protect their children until they reach a suitable age to deal with mature content. The important thing to remember is that the parents will chose what they think is best for their children. The Debian Jr. group does not make this judgement, but is there to help provide the tools and documentation to help the parents with these decisions. That being said, I think this goal should focus more on the "guidance" aspect than restriction, as the former is a positive activity while the latter is negative.

Children's System

While our first goal as children's sys admins will probably be to set up the children with accounts on our own systems and populate it with applications that they enjoy, there comes a time when we contemplate getting them their own system. The most ambitious realization of this goal might be a Debian software equivalent of the "toy" computers currently on the market: brightly colored, decal-covered systems pre-loaded with software appealing to children of a specific age range. It is important to keep in perspective that this would still be a Debian system, not some fork from the Debian distribution. It is a perfectly achievable goal through the Debian package management system (via meta packages, for example) and should not require a fork in development to produce a special Debian "children's edition".

Ports

There are lots of excellent applications out there designed for or appealing to children that we wish would be ported to Linux. We can help move the process along by first, demonstrating that Debian is a viable platform for children by the work of this project, and second, by our individual and collective efforts to petition software vendors and authors to make ports of their products for Linux. If they can be convinced to make their software DFSG free at the same time, so much the better.

Internationalization

While English may be the "universal" language, not all children speak it as their mother tongue. And while internationalization should be a goal of Debian itself, language problems are amplified when dealing with children. Children will not want to use Debian if support for their language is not there, and will find it more comfortable to use other OS's where language support is better. Therefore, we do need to keep this in mind.

Marketing & PR

Once we have something to show for this project, and indeed even in the formative stages of this project, we are being watched by the eyes of the world (I have already received one private email from a member of the press). We will necessarily want to work with press@debian.org to get the word out and to help give Debian and this project the kind of exposure we want. I know many of us as developers are oblivious to such concerns, or even loath to be involved with such things, but if we don't keep this goal in mind from the outset, we're giving up this role to others who may not understand or accurately represent what we're about.

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