Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Kids and Linux

By krokodil in Technology
Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 09:16:09 AM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

My 8-year-old daughter is starting to use computer on regular basis. She is browsing the web some, typing some documents (reports for school, etc), drawing some diagrams. I need to find for her easy to use environment and software. And, of course, I want her to use Unix.

She does not need all fancy features. I think simple and easy to use versions of following applications should do just fine:

  • Window manager -- something fast and simple.
  • Word processor (basic formatting, fonts, colours, ability to insert pictures, insert page breaks). Should have good printing capabilities. In colour.
  • Browser (yeah, not much choice here -- I will probably have to stick with Netscape).
  • File manager -- something to organize her files. She does not have to bother with permissions, file sizes, etc. This is actually the case where stupid folder icons and drag and drop file management makes sense.
  • Calculator
  • Raster Graphic Editor to draw diagrams and edit pictures.

Any suggestions are appreciated. Especially valuable are suggestions from people who do have some experience with kids using Unix/Linux.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o Also by krokodil

Display: Sort:
Kids and Linux | 94 comments (66 topical, 28 editorial, 0 hidden)
For a windowmanager: (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by guffin on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 02:50:07 AM EST

If you just want the real basics, but still have it look spiffy, try pwm. I migrated to it from windowmaker, because I thought wm was getting a little to feature-rich. pwm is very, very fast. pwm uses the one true focus method, sloppy. It's entirely configured via a text editor, and you can bind all sorts of neat stuff to keys easily. It also has this neat feature for putting multiple windows in the same frame, great for multiple terminals (see the screenshots, and also here.

Funny you should mention that... (4.33 / 3) (#12)
by fluffy grue on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 06:32:17 AM EST

I'm a pretty big advocate of pwm too (always trying to convert others over to using it), but in this case I probably wouldn't recommend it. pwm is the sort of window manager where it's easy to configure, but it pretty much HAS to be configured to suit your individual tastes (keyboard and mouse bindings especially), something which an 8-year-old wouldn't have enough experience to do, really, and it's certainly not very well suited for feedback or the like (it doesn't even change the cursor for different parts of the window like most WMs do).

Personally, I'd recommend twm. Oh, and running Debian, since Debian does a very nice job of keeping the window managers configured with regards to application menus and such (ahh, /etc/menu is a wonderful thing).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Why Linux? (4.44 / 18) (#5)
by Delirium on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 02:59:10 AM EST

Why is the question "I want my daughter to Linux; how do i do this?" Wouldn't a more appropriate question be "I want my daughter to use a computer; what is the best way to go about doing this?" Linux is, after all, not the best operating system in every conceivable situation. Even if it is the best choice in a particular situation, that's still something worth considering, not something that should be taken for granted before the conversation even starts.

As for my advice on this topic? I'd recommend a Macintosh. Apple's products have for twenty years now consistently been the best ones to use for young children. I personally don't use a Mac at the moment, but they're damn fine machines, and I personally think growing up with my Apple //c helped me a lot.

Macs (3.66 / 3) (#15)
by theboz on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 08:39:35 AM EST

Don't forget that most of the schools prefer macs, although they have Windows machines as well, (and the Windows boxes are probably more prevalent in school by now.) If this person's daughter learns linux, that is fine and all, but she will be at a disadvantage because she doesn't know windows. I agree that the mac would be the best one to start with. There's a lot of educational software for young children who are learning to read and such, and there's a lot for Windows as well. I think she would be missing out by only learning how to use linux right now. If you are on a budget, try a dual boot system. That way she can use Windows and linux.

[ Parent ]

Macs in schools are becoming much less common (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by onyxruby on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:10:25 AM EST

I worked at an educational software company for a quite a while, dealing 95% with schools. I worked with their network administrators on a daily basis. Our software could run off a mac as well as a pc. I can asure that those schools that do have mac's either have old labs slated for replacement, or a lab full of "cute" imac's. As you can imagine, the cute imac's are despised, and attempts to add more labs of them usually get stopped with threats that the support staff will quit if they do.

Most of the mac's that do exist in schools are junior high schools (6-9) or earlier. Mac's in high schools at all are becoming a fairly rare thing. There are significant problems with a lab full of mac's that are not offset by the deep educational discount offered by Apple.

First, the school must buy a router to seperate the mac's from the rest of the network. If they don't, it kills the rest of the network with all of their chatter.

Second, the schools usually end up having to buy virtual pc and an additional copy of Windows. This can add a few hundred bucks per computer, and really ugly support and training problems.

Third, lack of economically viable aftermarket hardware. Schools often buy the cheapest thing that they can without the foresite to realize that this will nip them in the ass later on. It doesn't take too long before they realize exactly why 32 MB RAM vs 64 MB RAM really is a big deal. Than they go out and buy the aftermarket parts (I've taught a lot of schools to use pricewatch), not a cheap venture for mac's

Fourth, training costs of the students. By the time the students get to junior high, or at the latest, senior high, they realize that the real world does not use mac's. Save the flames, I know that advertising, publishing, and commericial art houses use them - still a very limited part of the pie. It takes time to get the students acclimated to a new os etc.

Fifth, software, limited availabilty, unlimited cost. When I sold computers, and people wondered if they should buy a mac (what the kids in elementry use), I would show them identical software packages for the pc and mac. I let them come to their own conclusions about availability and cost.

I'm not opposed to teaching kids Linux, I agree with your dual boot system idea. I just needed to cover the bit about mac's. Adults tend to have a popular perception about "Mac's in schools" and don't realize that it is years outdated. Incidently, those schools with old networks almost exclusively used Novell. Those with new networks, or looking to move to new networks almost exclusivly were looking at NT. A few schools were looking to run Linux servers as well. This was the exception, but I think will become more popular once training issues become more reasonable.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

macs for graphics (3.00 / 1) (#43)
by Delirium on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 06:51:05 PM EST

Well, I agree that Apple is losing its school market share (during the 1980s it had nearly 100% market share, as a choice between an Apple ][e and an IBM 8086 was pretty much a no-brainer). From my experience, they haven't completely lost all the marketshare though. You're right that lots of the Macs still in schools are old ones (the lcII series is fairly common), and many of these were bought solely because of their Apple ][ compatibility. However, some of the less poor schools are beginning to purchase labs of new Macs for their computer graphics classes (and not just iMacs, my high school had two labs full of G4s). While Apple is going downhill in the software market, they still pretty much have a lock in the digital art market.

[ Parent ]
I agree with you (none / 0) (#55)
by onyxruby on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:15:12 PM EST

I'm not saying that Mac is dead, and I agree with you competely in regards to graphical development and covered that in my original post. I know there are some schools that have new Mac's, some even have G4's and not just Imac's. With the new Mac's coming out with gigabit ethernet, things are looking up for mac on the network aspect. If only the could do something about that damn chatty protocol they use...

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

chatty networking? (none / 0) (#57)
by Delirium on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:52:22 PM EST

I'm not familiar with the "chatty protocol" they use (but then again I'm not familiar with networking on Macs). I was under the impression that Apple had abandoned the AppleTalk networking and just uses straight ethernet now. Or are you saying that their ethernet implementation is chattier than it should be?

[ Parent ]
TCP/IP (none / 0) (#65)
by Ludwig on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 01:44:33 PM EST

Mac ASIP servers have used TCP/IP for ages now. Filemaker has had the option for just as long. With OS9, even the peer-to-peer file sharing (which should usually be off anyway) can be done via TCP/IP. The only place one tends to see actual Appletalk on a competently-configured Mac network these days is printer connections, and even that's a maybe.

[ Parent ]
Correct (none / 0) (#66)
by onyxruby on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 02:08:11 PM EST

However it my experience that people don't do this anymore than they do several other things that might seem common sense to you or I. My issue is not with Mac's running TCP/IP. While I agree with you in principle, I just haven't seen this done in practice.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

You're not entirely correct (4.00 / 1) (#51)
by jreilly on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 10:07:59 PM EST

My school, Montgomery Blair (mbhs.edu) moved into a new building 3 years ago, and acquired a completely new set of computers, and quite a lot of them. Both PCs and Macs(not a single copy of virtual PC). We also have a Novell file server, and the web site runs on linux, with an OpenBSD nameserver.
We have plenty of machines, and the network is switched by location, not by type of computer (except for one small lab of old macs that only have 10baseT ethernet)
Anyway, our school conforms to NONE of the problems you associated with Macs

Oooh, shiny...
[ Parent ]
Your school is an exception (none / 0) (#54)
by onyxruby on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:11:23 PM EST

I'm curious how you keep the Mac's from flooding the network without a router. Perhaps you don't have any bandwidth intesive applications and can afford the hit to your bandwidth? I assume your Mac's are probably dedicated to graphical work, and as such, aren't putting a large load on the network since almost all their work would be based on the local workstation. As for the VirtualPC, that won't come up since you already have a lab of PC's and don't need it. If you didn't have the lab full of PC's, I can practically garauntee that you would run VirtualPC on the Mac's.

As for Linux, I never said that it wasn't out there, I just said it was unusual and growing. Switches are great for LAN's but aren't going to handle a MAN, are even a large LAN. They also can't seperate parts of your network like a router can. I have to assume that you don't have anything that places a large stress on your network, or that your users have terrible issues with the speed of the LAN. You mention a Novell server, certainly not unknown, but I would be surprised if it was 4.2 or later. You mention "acquiring" new computers. Did the new computers come with the new site? If so, they would be at least 3 years old, and outdated. At any rate, I never claimed that what I said was true for every school, just the overwhelming majority of them. I was telling people what the trend is, nothing more.

FYI, my job with this software company was to help these schools get their network into shape, to handle the stress of a high bandwidth program that most had never dealt with. As such I supported Novell 3.x and up, NT 3.5 and up, some Citrix, some Terminal server, a little Unix/Linux, Mac's, Dos, Win 3.1, 95, 98, and W2K. So I can say with some authority that I have a decent idea of what the various server's, pc's and networks can and can't deal with. I don't claim to be an expert at all of the above, but I routinely supported all of them. I was the guy that network administrators turned to for support when their networks turned to jelly.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

Just a follow up (none / 0) (#58)
by jreilly on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 01:50:51 AM EST

Well, some computers are 3 years old, but new ones keep trickling in. We even have some G4 cubes.

However, I've never heard of this network chatter thing with Macs, and i'm quite interested. could you perhaps point me to some documentation on the subject?

Oooh, shiny...
[ Parent ]

My high school. (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by theboz on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 11:34:05 PM EST

I went to a high school in what was considered to be a poor black neighborhood. This is not meant to be racist, but we didn't get the good computers like the preppie schools had simply because they were afraid they would get destroyed or stolen because of the location of the school.

And, you are correct in that most schools are probably using windows now. I graduated from high school almost 6 years ago so it has been a while. Damn. Windows 95 came out after I graduated I think.

[ Parent ]

Operative definition? (3.00 / 2) (#63)
by delmoi on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 03:18:12 AM EST

As for my advice on this topic? I'd recommend a Macintosh. Apple's products have for twenty years now consistently been the best ones to use for young children.

Um, how exactly does one go about mesuring that? The computers that require the least brainpower? I was a Mac Zelot when I was a kid, untill I used a PC running DOS for the first time and fell in love. Perhaps I'm just a freak, or perhaps it was the fact that it was the first computer that I actualy got to program but I really prefered the command line to the GUI, this was about in 7th grade.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
A suggestion against Apple (none / 0) (#87)
by Belgand on Tue Feb 06, 2001 at 08:17:32 PM EST

Personally I'd reccomend against Apple about as firmly as possible. When I was in elementary school computer class was one of the most dreaded parts of the week. Most of that was because it was mind-numbingly boring, but primarily because we were using Apple IIgs'. The system was dreadful and turned me firmly away from computing. Move on to middle school. I've been doing some work with DOS, occasional bits with earlier versions of Windows, but not a great deal on my own. Everyone was required to take one section of the computer elective at least once and allowed to choose to take it the next two years. After working with the Macs there and elsewhere in the school I never went back. The system was harder to use than DOS, Windows, or any other OS I've used. It requires numerous leaps of logic that don't make sense unless you're used to the system. It often tries to appear simpler and sacrifices realy user-friendliness for it. It makes it harder to learn the actual guts of the system, something that makes using it for any form of computer education problematic. Maybe it won't turn kids off from computing, maybe they'll become intelligent users or even geeks in their own right, but I think the problems of the OS, especially for learning, are too great to attempt using it.

[ Parent ]
Warning (4.00 / 12) (#7)
by skim123 on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 03:39:05 AM EST

Smart ass post coming up:

Why is it that there are often submissions of this nature here? Granted, the queue's not overflowing with these, but there have been a number of them. Asking for advice is great and all, but here? On a 4 year old? On using a computer/Linux?

I guess I wouldn't have a problem with it if I didn't have the ardent belief that the following "post" wouldn't get erradicated from the queue within minutes:

"My 7-year-old son is starting to use computer on regular basis. He is browsing the web some, typing some documents (reports for school, etc), drawing some diagrams. I need to find for her easy to use environment and software. And, of course, I want him to use Windows. He does not need all fancy features. I think simple and easy to use versions of following applications should do just fine: ..."

You get the point... I hope.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Here's why (2.66 / 3) (#8)
by krokodil on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 03:58:53 AM EST

I am an author of the article.

Why not windows: I want her to use windows because I have spare computer running windows in the houst (email server) and she could as well use it's console. I do not want spend money on another computer.

Why this question is frequent: Because on windows she would use WordPad, Paint and that would work just fine. On Unix choice of tools is much wider and some of them are not so easy to user for a novice. So I need help choosing.

Also, she is 8 years old, but you probably would not tell the difference.

[ Parent ]

typo (2.00 / 1) (#9)
by krokodil on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 04:00:16 AM EST

sorry, I meant that I spare computer running Linux.

[ Parent ]
But here's the $64k question (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by skim123 on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 04:10:38 AM EST

What if you had seen a post like I mocked up, someone asking for advice for their child using Windows? Would you vote it down or up?

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
K5 vs. slashdot and AI auto-troll (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by Nyarlathotep on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:57:34 AM EST

Actually, K5 is a million times better then slashdot with respect to the "I want X to use Linux" or "I wnat to find a Linux job" posts since many of the K5 readers are bored with these articles. The slashdot editors OTOH never seem to tire of these articles, so they keep getting posted to slashdot. This is not really surprising since the K5 readers should be a more well rounded (bigger) group then the slashdot editors.

A really funny (if trollish) prank would be to create an AI to write these stories and set up a cron job to submit these to K5 and slashdot about once a month (or week?). It would be a contest to see who would post the fist computer generated story: K5 or slashdot. My bet is slashdot would bend over to the AI auto-troll first and K5 never would.

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
Or perhaps... (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by interiot on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 04:05:35 PM EST

I can't resist suggesting this, sorry...

Make a bot that picks a story from 5 months ago and re-submits it as if it's a new story. Keep score to see which weblog accepts the most recycled stories. Slashdot doesn't seem to mind year-old stories or stories that are repeated twice in the same day, so it should be an easy win for K5.

[ Parent ]

OTOH (2.50 / 2) (#62)
by delmoi on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 03:14:31 AM EST

Getting a story posted on slashdot is difficult, beacuse they get a much higher volume of posts then k5 does. I've probably submitted about 15 stories to /., all rejected. Almost all the stories I've posted to k5 have been posted, however.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Why to dumb down? (4.76 / 13) (#11)
by tftp on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 04:50:04 AM EST

I think you grossly underestimate intellect and learning abilities of your child. Set up a standard GNOME or KDE box, with GIMP and AbiWord, and that will be absolutely sufficient (maybe even not challenging enough!)

Computers are complex devices, mostly because their software is complex and loaded with features. At the same time computer is absolutely safe to play with. Use the chance. Start with just typing text in AbiWord, and eventually progress to layers and color models in GIMP. After that your daughter will explain the rest to you :-)

Anyone can draw in Paint. But very few children are fortunate enough to be able to apply a filter/effect to a photo in GIMP. This can seriously improve your daughter's faith in her own abilities, as well as recognition in school. It is up to you, of course, to make the final decision.

Daddy, you're, like, such a geek! (4.07 / 13) (#16)
by 0xdeadbeef on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 09:49:53 AM EST

This reminds me of parents forcing their children to go to church, against their wishes, "'cause it'll do 'em good."

Is there any reason why you want your child to use Linux, other than desire to indoctrinate her to think like you do? If your child hears the call, she will find Linux and use of it her own will. Linux is about freedom, not coercion.

Ok, seriously, you might consider something less obnoxious and expensive as Windows, and not as complicated as Linux.

I suggest that you buy her her own machine, an older one, used even. A pentium-60 or 486/66 will be plenty for her purposes, and it will probably thrill her to have her very own computer.

Then put New Deal's OS and office suite on it. It is designed explicitly for computer newbies and lower-end computers. You won't scare here away with Linux and she can still learn how to give Bill the finger. And the great thing is, assuming it has enough memory, it will run Linux just fine, when she's ready (or Windows 95, if she never is).

When she is older, she'll either hear the call of the nerd, or popular culture will get it's teeth in her and the most she'll do on the computer is yack on AOL. In the previous case, she'll want a better machine, and probably install her favorite distribution and badmouth your's.

The latter case is more likely, though. I saw it happen to one of my sisters. All signs pointed to her being quite the artistic type, but then puberty hit, and she became as trivial and vapid as every plastic little girl on those lame WB and Fox teen shows.

So please, for the future of our cause, don't scare her away from computers by forcing them on her. All a teenager ever wants is a reason to rebel, and she'll choose you over the Evil Empire if you give her reason to.

it is not so dramatic (2.60 / 5) (#27)
by krokodil on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 01:37:36 PM EST

Of course I am not forcing her to use computer - she wants to do it herself. Quite fast she figured out that it is easier to type texts on computer rather than write them with hand.

This brings me to question about why Linux. In no way I force her to use it. If I would have $900 bucks to spare I would buy her iMac immediately. But right now I have this spare Linux box at home which she could use.

Of course I will teach her Windows (and probably MacOS as well). In fact, so far she used my wife coputer running Windos.

[ Parent ]

Hmm... (2.00 / 1) (#50)
by 0xdeadbeef on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 09:33:39 PM EST

Well then, just slap the latest Mandrake on it, set up KDE as the default interface, and be done. It's close enought to what she's used to that the transition will be easy.

[ Parent ]
Even better, (none / 0) (#83)
by odaiwai on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 08:56:07 PM EST

Let her use a variety of systems. She'll develop generic computing skills rather than Windows or Linux or Mac specific. Most of the people I know who grew up with single system environments get flummoxed when confronted with something new. Those who grew up with a number of different systems tend to be better at making any box do what they want.

And another thing, a system that she can customize and program in will teach her far more than one in which she is just a passive user. When I started with computers, it was with Apple ][s and BBC Micros. With those, you are dumped straight into the BASIC interpreter, so it's very easy to write your own programs and make the computer do things. Without the easy ability to do little programs, people don't seem to learn the ins and outs of the system so well. That's probably my greatest gripe with Windows - there should have been simple language which uses the features of the system there. Windows should have come with Visual Basic (or C, or whatever) right from the get go. Even a cut down version, like Quickbasic but with hooks to the OS, kind of like VBA in the Office suite.

-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

Re: Daddy, you're, like, such a geek! (3.50 / 4) (#29)
by Malicose on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 01:50:29 PM EST

You make a number of interesting and valid points, but I can't refrain from asking how would you propose to raise children? This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons in which Ned's mental problems resulted from his beatnik parents wanting him, as a child, to make all of his own choices freely and without punishment. Without instilling one's values in them throughout their development, the chances of them being learned or independent enough to have the "right"--their own--opinions later is dismal!

[ Parent ]
Not much of a Simpson's fan... (none / 0) (#81)
by tzanger on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 02:29:41 PM EST

This reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons in which Ned's mental problems resulted from his beatnik parents wanting him, as a child, to make all of his own choices freely and without punishment.

Ned's troubles were caused because his parents sent him to the "new technique" where the guy spanked Ned for hours (days?) on end. Ned learned not to be angry and stuffed all his feelings inside.

[ Parent ]
Never fear, OS X is here. (4.36 / 11) (#17)
by elb on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 10:44:11 AM EST


Sounds like a job for OS X. Soft chewy gui on the outside, crunchy crispy unix on the inside.


An interesting topic and food for thought: +1 sect (4.22 / 9) (#18)
by DontTreadOnMe on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:04:47 AM EST

I think it is an excellent idea for children to be introduced to computers in a manner which stresses literacy rather than minimal competency, and childhood is the best time to learn "the language of computers", by which I mean both the command line interface and one or more GUIs. Of course, if her interests develop along those lines, she might well delve deeper, learning shell batch commands or perhaps even programming languages, but I would imagine the goal probably ought to be literacy, not expertise.

Linux, FreeBSD, and perhaps OS X are ideal for this, provided you give some serious tought as to how you will teach your daughter how to use the computer in such a way that they can begin using and exploring it early on, yet grow into someone who is computer-literate, and not someone who just knows to click on icon A to get B, and icon C to get D, and thinks their whole life "I don't understand computers, I often break them and make them crash."

We don't teach kids to read by putting picture books in front of them for more than a brief, introductory time, yet there is a mindset that we should dumb down computing to the lowest common denominator, and especially so for children. This IMHO is wrong ... the computer is not a toaster or a microwave, and it shouldn't be treated as one. It is more akin to a book, or a great library, which requires that you learn to read, learn to write, and learn become literate in how it works (books: footnotes, indexes; library: card catalog, dewey decimal system, etc.; computers: what a command is, what a program is, etc.). I think by avoiding windows (with its inexplicable behavior and crash-prone nature that does more to discourage users than anything else) and embracing an open source system where she can delve as deeply into the inner workings of the system, or not, as she wishes, is an excellent idea.

I would be very interested in hearing how your efforts go. For example, does the natural language of the command line come easy for her after a couple of hours (typing xv in an xterm vs. klicking on a menu item), or does she avoid it and stick to the pictures even after she understands what it is and knows a little how to use it? Does she develop a flexility for using different Desktips (GnuStep, Gnome, KDE) or does she stubbornly stick to the one she likes and avoid any others?

http://openflick.org - Fighting Copyright with Free Media
I'm envious... (5.00 / 2) (#34)
by _Quinn on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 02:44:07 PM EST

   ... of the way you phrased the need for computer literacy, rather than competency. I wish I'd written it.

   The only thing I'd add is to consider programming. Once your (story author, not comment author) daughter is ready for it, get her started. It's far more useful and teaches the same abstract skills as, say, geometry would. (Though, if you intend for her to go to college, I'd recommend aiming for calculus.) My first language was LOGO, in fourth grade, or so; if you can find a Linux version, I heartily recommend it. I don't think it's 'considered harmful,' like BASIC, and it's got the immediate reward of drawing nifty pictures.

   As for the specific software, KDE 2 + KOffice would be a good starting point. I'd recommend WindowMaker for a faster/simpler WM, and it has the added benefit that
the dock icons change depending on if the program is not running, starting up, hidden, or running normally. xcalc should take care of the calculator.

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
LOGO (none / 0) (#88)
by Chris Andreasen on Wed Feb 07, 2001 at 01:38:18 AM EST

I'll enthusiastically second your recommendation for teaching her LOGO. LOGO is great way to teach simple geometric relationships and programming at an early age, and has the added benefit of weening kids onto a command-line interface (for those who aren't familiar with the language, all LOGO commands (unless loaded from a file) are typed and immediately executed). As for a Unix version, there's Berkeley LOGO, which will compile on just about any *nix distribution (so long as it has X). The interface isn't perfect - for instance, you can't use the arrow keys to move back and change part of your command, you have to use backspace, but it's a complete LOGO implementation and should serve your purposes just fine.
Is public worship then, a sin,
That for devotions paid to Bacchus
The lictors dare to run us in,
and resolutely thump and whack us?

[ Parent ]
VERY difficult (3.83 / 12) (#21)
by ajschu on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 11:52:27 AM EST

As someone who just got out of the public school environment (I'm a freshman in college now), I have to warn you: teaching your daughter exclusively a *NIX environment is, as I would see it, VERY dangerous. I'd be willing to wager large sums of money that she will NEVER encounter such an environment until AT LEAST high school, more likely college. If the public schools in your area make any attempt to teach computing, it is likely on Macs (like my grade school) or PCs (like my high school).

No matter how much of a perceived edge you think you might be giving your daughter, you're actually limiting her ability to adapt to what she will be EXPECTED to do in her school.

It's great to want to teach your daughter Linux. I'm disappointed that it took me such a long time (Junior year in HS) to discover it myself. But if you want to teach her, be sure to give her some training on Windows as well. No matter how much you dislike it, it's still the standard and is what she will be expected to use.


One other thing (3.50 / 2) (#30)
by Elendale on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 01:55:14 PM EST

I think, for those who don't use the full power of Unix (such as a child), it is good to see the alternatives. I know lots of people who would never appreciate Linux had they not used Windows or MacOS first.

As to the school environment, i imagine it wouldn't be that hard. After all, KDE basically copies Windows Look and Feel and Macs aren't that far off. I know i was a Mac guy in a Windows world at school (of course now, when we're learning Linux (RedHat no less...) at college, i have the advantage) and it wasn't much of a problem. Sure i had to learn a few new tricks, but i still knew more about Windows than most of the Windows people knew about Windows. Operating Systems are probably a bit like programming languages, once you learn one others come quickly. Sure some are easier to learn than others, but that's the way it 'should be'.


When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

[ Parent ]
True, but... (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by ajschu on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 03:03:11 PM EST

Your comment about being able to 'appreciate' Linux more after using Windows is true--I know that it was certianly the case for me.

The school environment that I was speaking of stems from the fact that the "computer teachers" I had during my grade school years did quite a bit of indoctrination themselves. The teacher I had in middle school (6th-8th grade) in particluar was an Apple zealot. People in her class with PCs at home tended to have a hard time adapting to her demands, and FORGET about taking the work home.

I suppose that with the right kind of teacher (ie. one with an open mind), picking up Windows after working in a *NIX environment wouldn't be too hard. Getting stuck with "the other kind" would prove somewhat more difficult to a student.


[ Parent ]
Re: VERY difficult (4.00 / 2) (#31)
by Malicose on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 01:57:43 PM EST

One fact you seemingly overlooked is that even though the majority of people own a computer, children in schools are still taught without an assumed previous knowledge because there will often be one without access at home. Furthermore, people with a working knowledge of any windowed interface I've seen should be able to adapt fairly quickly to another.

[ Parent ]
Why dangerous? (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by ocelot on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 07:20:10 PM EST

I don't understand why this is so dangerous. Many kids use different operating systems at home and at school (Windows at home, Mac at school, or vice versa), and those aren't really any more similar than Linux and Windows/MacOS. And computers are not uniform/ubiquitous enough that schools can't get away with not teaching students the basics, so she'd be exposed to that anyways.

By the time I was in 6th grade, I could use ~5 different operating systems to at least a basic extent. And so could a lot of kids my age. We weren't geniuses or anything. It was simply because we were exposed to and expected to work with the different OS's, and so we learned them. Admittedly, there is generally less of a variety of OS's in widespread use these days. But that doesn't make children any less adaptable.

Now, teaching extreme *nix zealotry to a kid that age is a different story :) But teaching a kid how to use Linux doesn't have to mean teaching them to be inflexible, or to only do things one specific way.

[ Parent ]

Re: Kids and Linux (4.16 / 6) (#23)
by yavor on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 12:00:59 PM EST

1) Window manager - IceWM is really fast and simple. However I find KDE2 very user friendly too. It has good integration.

2)Word processor - I don't regularly use one so I may be wrong but AbiWord and KWord look suitable(I haven't tried Gnome Office).

3)Browser - Netscape is good, but there are good alternatives. Last two months I use Konqueror(file manager, viewer and web browser which is nicely integrated in KDE. I haven't tried Neutilious(did I misspell it?) but I hear very good things about it.

4)Filemanager - again Konqueror(part of KDE) and Midnight Commander(integrated in Gnome)

5)Calculator - virtually anything should be useful since she is not going to do scientific calculations

6)Raster Graphic Editor - I use Gimp. It is very powerful and I like it. If she needs something very simple the paint clones in both KDE and Gnome should do the job

hope that helps

A Note on AbiWord (none / 0) (#85)
by kapheine on Tue Feb 06, 2001 at 12:36:16 PM EST

AbiWord is a great word processor, I use it all the time for my school papers. Now let me define what great means in my opinion :P. It looks pretty nice, but doesn't have lots of extra stuff I don't need. It doesn't require a 50000mhz computer. It has what I need. Now let me mention the few problems. One is that a fair amount of the features planned aren't implemented yet. Another problem is that it HAS crashed a little more often than I would have liked. Safe often. This is definitely a program to watch though. It isn't near the bloat of StarOffice, and I don't think it will get like that.

kapheine <kapheine@hypa.net>
[ Parent ]
any ol' fairly modern distribution (3.66 / 6) (#28)
by regeya on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 01:44:14 PM EST

This is where I would be hesitant to answer on Slashdot but don't really care here. People seem to be fairly open-minded about such things here. :-)

Though this isn't the setup I use :-} I'd just recommend going with something like Debian or Red Hat, and make sure the machine has KDE2 and The GIMP installed. Believe it or not, Konqueror will work for about 99.9% of your web-browsing needs.

Having said that, I use Slackware-current, Window Maker, Galeon for web-browsing and a combination of The GIMP and Photopaint for image-editing tasks, and currently just use an xterm for file management tasks. Oh well.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

Well, From My Experiences... (4.66 / 9) (#37)
by Captain_Tenille on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 03:38:34 PM EST

When my parents got our first real computer in 1987 or so, it was a PC-XT with MS-DOS 3.1, IIRC (you had to park the heads on the hard drive, even :-0 ). I was the only child in my family that played with it at all, having to slog through DOS and not having the luxury of a GUI. Until I reached high school, I never routinely used a Windows machine. (In elementary school, we had TRS-80's and C-64's; in middle school, Apple ][e's.)

By the time my younger brothers started using computers, Macs and Windows machines were much more available, and that's all they ever use. They never had the experience of using a command line interface.

Now, I'm the only child out of the three of us that works with computers or UNIX. I program and do sysadmin work, while my brothers only use computers for word processing or games. I've always believed it's because I learned so much more by starting from the ground up, manual in hand.

By all means, teach your daughter to use Linux, but don't cripple her by only showing her the GUI. Try to get her to enjoy being at the command line. Teach her how to use vi. Set her prompt as "$ ". Show her the man pages. Let her use the pretty colors and graphics, but try to teach her about Linux's underbelly. She'll benefit.
/* You are not expected to understand this. */

Man Vs. Nature: The Road to Victory!

I agree, to a point... (5.00 / 5) (#39)
by Sairon on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 04:02:43 PM EST

I learned much the same way as you did. Many of the people I work with (PC service company) are "afraid" of a command line. It's rather interesting. I feel that if you are going to learn the system, learn it from the ground up, so you'll know what's wrong if something breaks.

The only problem I have with it at this point is the influence on the child. A child's mind, even into the teen years, are very malleable. Sometimes this meets with destructive results. Wanting the best for a child is great, as long as it is inline with the child's desires. Oftentimes parents I know view their children's minds as being not as capable of reason, etc. I don't see that. While their perception may be skewed, their logic and reason based upon those perceptions is often very valid. Oft I find once I have understood a child's percdeptions, their logic is better than many people's.

With that in mind, opening the doors to new and richer experiences is very good. Dogmatism isn't.


[ Parent ]

slow down there turbo (none / 0) (#86)
by whydna on Tue Feb 06, 2001 at 07:25:40 PM EST

She's 8 years old. I'm sure she's a smart young lady and all, but children have their limits. 8 years old is about 2nd grade. While I'm sure "showing her the man pages" is the easy way out, I think she'll need a little more guidance. Reading a man page isn't difficult... I'm sure she could handle to vocablulary. But man pages aren't the most exciting read...

I think a more interactive approach would be better.

[ Parent ]
Fair Enough. (none / 0) (#89)
by Captain_Tenille on Wed Feb 07, 2001 at 01:08:56 PM EST

But I was only 10 when I started messing around with MS-DOS, and I assure you that the DOS manual I had was far more boring and uninformative than a man page. I wasn't saying that she should be thrown into the mix all by her self; by all means, the father should help her out. I was just saying that he should show her the man pages because it would give her the ability to find stuff out on her own.
/* You are not expected to understand this. */

Man Vs. Nature: The Road to Victory!
[ Parent ]

DOS shock (none / 0) (#90)
by dneas on Wed Feb 07, 2001 at 01:35:33 PM EST

Most new PC/Internet users have never seen a DOS command prompt in their life, or known what dos/cd do. I get the odd gasp when I use unzip via command prompt instead of some bloated windows proggy. Apparantly it's atkin to russian nuclear hacking, or something.
-- "The car is on fire, and there's no driver at the wheel." Cut out the spam block if you need to email about something.
[ Parent ]
I'm always amazed (4.10 / 10) (#42)
by GreenCrackBaby on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 04:31:03 PM EST

I've seen these types of "what is the linux equavlent to this windows product" questions before. I normally read all the comments to them (before they are voted off the radar) because I like to see how brutal the linux community can be to these types of questions.

I'm always amazed that rather than answering these questions or providing links to the answers, many people instead insult the person or say such things as "do we look like answer lackeys to you?" Has it never occured to these people that they are essentially serving as linux representatives? What kind of image are they portraying?

The fact these questions keep coming up is a clear sign that there is something needed for linux to help point people to answers.

Next time someone posts a story like this, go ahead and vote it down, but the least you could do is point the poster in the right direction. Otherwise the view that linux users are a bunch of elitists isn't going anywhere.

Dont be amazed. (4.16 / 6) (#45)
by eLuddite on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 07:15:01 PM EST

Has it never occured to these people that they are essentially serving as linux representatives? What kind of image are they portraying?

Yes, sweet Baby Jesus, yes.

but the least you could do is point the poster in the right direction.

Install W2K instead of Linux. Its simpler if you want it to be simple, more complex if that's what tickles your daughter's fancy. It's faster, its more secure, it runs better apps, it runs more apps, it runs apps written with kids in mind, it runs apps written with daddies in mind, it has lots of multimedia features that even an 8 year old girl or her daddy can make work at the click of a mouse. All her friends will be using it which is also the number one reason why Linux will almost certainly be resented and serve to turn her off computers.

If your daughter will be setting up a web farm, Linux is for her.

Tell you what. Install both and count how many times she boots to linux, then get back to us with a new article called "Open Parenting: How I lost my Daughter in the Bazaar but Gained the Approval of all the Lunatix in K5."

God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

Did install both. (4.00 / 1) (#80)
by error 404 on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 12:36:38 PM EST

Both get used. Lots.

Netscape's Linux abomination turned one of my kids off Linux altogether, but all he ever uses the computer for is AOL Instant Messenger anyway.

The main reason I encourage Linux use on the computers at my house is that they are shared. Individual accounts are very, very nice. Not that anybody is being malicious or anything, but each kid can pretty much do whatever they want and not interfere with the other kid's stuff, or mine. The Linux-hater created an account for himself under Windows Me and is quite annoyed that he still has to share a desktop with everybody else.
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

You forgot something. (4.00 / 2) (#47)
by kwsNI on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 08:05:08 PM EST

I completely agree with you here and was going to give your comment a 5 but I realized that you're missing one thing. You never pointed the person in the right direction (that was your point, no?).

Anyways, before I'm guilty of doing the same, I'd suggest just installing a commercial distro of Linux. RedHat, SuSE and Caldera are all easy to set up and use. I'd go with whatever you feel comfortable with. As a parent, you're going to have to play tech support/instructor so go with what you know. KDE is probably the easier to use Windows Manager but kids catch on faster than we do to different environments.

I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it. -Jack Handy
[ Parent ]

BeOS (3.50 / 8) (#44)
by adamsc on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 06:56:43 PM EST

I think the whole topic is somewhat misguided, but if you really want to , use BeOS. It's got most of the Unix userland stuff installed but doesn't force you to use it. An office suite like GoBe Productive is also much faster and more polished than what I've seen on Linux. And, of course, the multimedia capabilities are absurdly far ahead.

The other big advantage is that a full BeOS install with networking, multimedia, an office suite and NLE video editing will take under 30 minutes and one reboot.

How I've gone about it. (4.60 / 5) (#53)
by billyjoeray on Sat Feb 03, 2001 at 10:31:23 PM EST

I've been teaching my 12 year old sister to use my computer (hopefully when I get a new one she can have this one). I started off teaching her command line basics like ls cd and pwd but she got bored rather quickly so I changed my approach.

I created her a user, let her login to either GNOME or KDE and started teaching her how to make cool stuff with various programs. We started out with GIMP then moved on to blender, Netscape Composer, and because she is into music and plays the piano I showed her soundtracker (oh and I shouldn't forget gnapster and xmms *grin*). Along the way we needed to make some folders and move files around and she's picking up on using the command line there (she actually prefers it over gmc or konquer).

So to summarize, I caught her attention by showing her how to create cool stuff and snuck the command line commands and html tags in the back door :)

What about OS X? (3.50 / 6) (#68)
by tech on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 04:59:44 PM EST

My order is in for an Apple TiG4 and though I haven't used either Mac OS or OS X before, I bet the latter may be exactly what you're looking for: A pretty windowing environment to get things done form the start, and you can still clue her into command line type things as she progresses. The availability of software like MSIE, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, and others on OS X is going to give her the familiarity she'll need with windows in school.

Again, I have no clue what OS X is really like, and I don't expect to actually get my TiG4 for another 50 or so days. When I do get it though, I'm going to write up my expierence installing Debian + OS X Beta and post it to k5. Look for it!

-Tech 04.02.001 21:59 UTC

-- -- --
To email, remove the spam. I don't like Spam. I think I'll have the Spam Spam Spam Eggs Bacon Sausage and Spam, only without the Spam.

Why? (2.30 / 10) (#74)
by mattc on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 03:20:57 AM EST

Why don't you just let your daughter play outside instead. Computers are a waste of time and will probably destroy her social life.

My my my... (5.00 / 1) (#82)
by dgwatson on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 05:23:39 PM EST

What do we have here?

It's a hypocrite!

You talk about how computers are a waste of time, and destroy one's social life. So what do you do? You read kuro5hin and post pointless trolling comments! Good job!

If you really believed what you were saying, you'd be out somewhere instead of wasting time and annoying people.

[ Parent ]
careful ... (2.80 / 5) (#75)
by streetlawyer on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 03:37:55 AM EST

errrmmmm ... I'd be careful if I were you. The social services probably read kuro5hin, and I'm pretty sure that making your daughter use Netscape running on Linux counts as child cruelty.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
dont limit her...... (2.00 / 2) (#76)
by unstable on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 08:00:24 AM EST

teach her windows also... if she is going to use computers at school teach her the diffrences between win and linux.

as for what WM to use.. I would stick with the 2 main ones.... just ask her which she likes best... the KDE dragonwelp or the Gnome's gnome.

let her get used to the interface and stuff... maybe have some programs that run only from a command line shell so she will learn that and not point and click everything..

but most inportant... DONT FORCE HER. if she is not intersted in computers dont bore the hell out of her.

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

my experiences (4.80 / 5) (#77)
by avdi on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 09:42:16 AM EST

First of all, I support your decision to use linux to teach you're daughter to use the computer. True, it's important for her to understand the common operationg environment of the day (windows). But operating systems come and go. When I was learning about computers, windows was much less common. Computers ran a mixture of DOS, Win3.1, and MacOS. I'm grateful to my dad for installing OS/2 on our home computers, because I think it gave me a better understanding of how computers work, internally. This knowledge enabled me to pick up Windows 95 and MacOS interfaces without any trouble. The important thing is that she understands the basic concepts; then any operating environment will just take a couple days of adjustment for her pick up. Personaly I wish I had been exposed to UNIX more as a budding hacker; discovering the rich UNIX world of little tools that do one job well, ubiquitas networking, and built-in compilers and interpreters for every language under the sun has been like coming in from the cold for me. Another big advantage of using linux is that you don't have to worry about her accidentally mucking the system up. I refuse to teach my kids how to use a computer on Windows, because I don't have time to put things back together when they accidentally move a system file, or install a program that corrupts system DLLs.

At home I'm using a combination of KDE and GNOME apps for most day-to-day tasks. Having used the latest beta of KDE2.1 for awhile, I'd say it's by far the best interface I've seen for a computer newbie, with the possible exception of MacOS. I've given my stepchildren (ages 5 and 6) logins, and the 6-year-old is getting the hang of it already. I'm able to give her nice big icons for her applications. GNOME is still my desktop of choice (prettier themes and nifty applets), but KDE2 seems to offer a more seamless, happybouncyfriendly experience for the beginner.

One piece of advice: don't hobble her with "simple" applications. My 6-year-old stepdaughter likes to draw; I've gotten her started with the Gimp. Sure, there are more basic drawing programs; but why use them? Yesterday I walked out of the room for a couple minutes; when I returned she'd found and figured out how to use the gradient tool. Give her applications with lots of growing room, that won't put you in the position of saying "you can't do that in this program" a few weeks down the road. The more freedom the apps give her, the more escited she'll be about using the computer.

Now leave us, and take your fish with you. - Faramir

Let's see here... (3.00 / 2) (#78)
by CrayDrygu on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 10:08:26 AM EST

This is all coming right off the top of my head, without having read the other replies, so I apologize if this has all been said before.

  • Window Manager -- KDE sounds like a good choice. It's definitely "fast and simple" without being too simple, and the windows-ish feel might provide a more comfortable working environment.
  • Word Processor -- I haven't done much of this on Linux. StarOffice/OpenOffice is a beast, but works, and works well. I've never used KOffice, but I've heard decent things.
  • Browser -- No need to stick to netscape. If the computer's fast enough, a recent Mozilla build is my reccomendation. Otherwise, try Galeon (Moz with all the bloat thrown out) or Opera (great program!).
  • File Manager -- The one that comes with KDE (Konqueror? Or is that the browser? Or both?) is actually pretty decent.
  • Calculator -- If you don't like the one that comes with KDE, there's at lest 32,767 others you can download.
  • Raster Graphics -- Sorry, I have no idea.

I actually use Gnome/Enlightenment on my desktop, because I have the processor cycles and RAM to spare, and I like flashiness. But I used KDE on my work machine for the short time I had linux on it, and while it still didn't feel quite right at home, it felt perfectly fine at work.

Actually, if you're using KDE... (3.00 / 1) (#84)
by pig bodine on Tue Feb 06, 2001 at 02:02:36 AM EST

konqueror is also a decent web-browser. I only looked at it for a few minutes, but it seems to render html properly, and is fairly fast and stable. It's probably missing a few frills, here and there, though.

[ Parent ]

Raster graphics explained (none / 0) (#92)
by pin0cchio on Thu Feb 08, 2001 at 09:40:22 PM EST

Raster Graphics -- Sorry, I have no idea.

"Raster" refers to rows and rows of pixels, the type of data that is manipulated in a paint program such as GIMP.

[ Parent ]
A day late (1.00 / 3) (#79)
by PresJPolk on Mon Feb 05, 2001 at 10:13:41 AM EST

I should have waited a day before writing that diary entry of mine...

I guess the kuro5hin.org community hasn't quite shifted as much as it seemed. :-)

Because it doesn't play all the games! (3.00 / 1) (#91)
by isdnip on Wed Feb 07, 2001 at 10:30:29 PM EST

My son is 7, in second grade, and would rather do nothing more than play with a computer all day. He has been using one since age 2 and has probably over a hundred CDROMs of games. All Windows, mostly DirectX stuff nowadays, but not violent. Well, Buzz Lightyear is a bit of a shooter, but that's the exception.

But he will need a computer in his room soon to do his homework. He can't get along with a pen or pencil (neither can I) but he'll do fine with a keyboard. So he needs word processing. And the other basic apps mostly work okay on KDE or Gnome.

I thinking about using Linux as the solution. He won't be able to play CDROM's in his room, because it won't run DirectX easily. (Yeah, I know it's coming, but I can never get WINE to work so I doubt a Direct3D emulator on Linux will play generic Windoze CDROMs.) And I think Kword, AbiWord and the other free WPs are pretty good for basic stuff.

Trouble is, he's discovered Rocks and Diamonds! Linux comes with more non-CDROM games... a parent can't win.

Debian Jr. (none / 0) (#93)
by tribbel on Sun Feb 11, 2001 at 12:55:31 PM EST

The people from the Debian GNU project are already working on something like that: Debian Jr..

It is still <a href="http://www.debian.org/devel/debian-jr/News/2001/200101012>work in progress, but I think it should be entertaining when it's done.

There are some pointers on the website to other child-oriented Linux-websites, like and Kids Games.

Meanwhile, let the little buggers play with XTeddy... I like it :)

Debian Jr. (none / 0) (#94)
by tribbel on Sun Feb 11, 2001 at 12:56:34 PM EST

The people from the Debian GNU project are already working on something like that: Debian Jr..

It is still work in progress, but I think it should be entertaining when it's done.

There are some pointers on the website to other child-oriented Linux-websites, like and Kids Games.

Meanwhile, let the little buggers play with XTeddy... I like it :)

Kids and Linux | 94 comments (66 topical, 28 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!