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Partimus: Educational Opportunities Through Open Source

Arguably, one of the greatest strengths of open source software is that it can add new life to old hardware. For example, I have a Dell laptop built for the now unsupported Microsoft Windows XP. The lack of support from Microsoft doesn’t bother me, because that laptop is now running Xubuntu 14.04 LTS. With this in mind, I’ve chosen to take a look at Partimus, an organization that refurbishes computers, installs open source software on them and then distributes the computers to students and schools that need them.

Partimus logo

Partimus Mission Statement: Provide educational opportunities through open technology to educators and students.

Partimus (Latin for “we share”) is non-profit and currently serves schools in the San Francisco Bay area. This project was co-founded by Cathy Malmrose and Maile Urbancic. These two ladies share a passion for helping children succeed and for open source technology. They also share a background working in education. The organization is now run by a board the members of which share the passions that led to Partimus being established.

Students working in a computer lab.
Students using the new computer lab at the ASCEND School.
(Photo from Robert Litt of ASCEND School)

So, what kind of projects has Partimus been involved with? One program that they implemented that is somewhat close to my heart (see my blog of February 25, 2015, An Old Laptop Made New) is the Laptops for Linux Users (LALU) program. They accept donated laptops (better they should go to people who need them than to sit on a closet shelf forgotten). The people at Partimus then talk to the person who needs the laptop and they install the free and open source software needed to meet the user’s requirements. For example, on the Partimus site, they mention helping an elderly Washington state woman, Sky, who was a retired system administrator. Sky likes to help others, especially elderly friends, get into computing. She could not afford a new computer, so the people at Partimus matched her up with a laptop that fulfilled her needs. Now Sky provides elderly friends with laptops running Puppy Linux and helps them get started in computing.

Computer lab in a school library
The new computer lab in the library at the International Studies Academy.

Partimus has also provided used computers running the Linux OS to schools in the San Francisco Bay area. Partimus donated over 20 networked, standalone Ubuntu Linux desktop computers to the International Studies Academy in San Francisco. This school has 420 students in grades 6-12 who are pursuing the study of foreign cultures, languages and geography. These computers provide Internet access using Mozilla Firefox and productivity via OpenOffice. Other schools that have received Linux computers and ongoing support from Partimus include the KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy in San Francisco, the ASCEND School in Oakland and the Computer & Technology Resource Center in Novato, among others. All of these organizations are non-profit.

So you’re thinking “This is a wonderful organization, Chris, but what can I do to help?” There are a variety of things that you can do to help Partimus bring technology to those in need. They accept the following hardware: flatpanel monitors, laptops and desktops with at least 1 GB of RAM and CPUs at 2 Ghz (at least), optical mice and USB/PS2 keyboards. You can also give the gift of funds through monetary donations or through the patronage of such companies as AmazonSmile and Boutique Academia. For more information about how you can help or to ask them to help your non-profit organization with its computer needs, check out their Web site (link below).

Resources
Partimus Home Page

References
Information for this article was taken from the Partimus Web site.
All images are from the Partimus Web site.

Live Linux Distro using Window Maker

Whether regular readers of this blog are aware of the fact or not, one of my favorite window managers is Window Maker. For those unfamiliar with Window Maker, it is a window manager for the X Window System used on UNIX-based operating systems, like Linux. Window Maker is based on the now defunct NeXTSTEP operating system, which employed an application dock. NeXTSTEP was the model for Apple’s MacOS user interface. So, when I found out about Window Maker Live, a live (runs from CD/DVD or flash drive) Debian Linux distribution that employs Window Maker as its graphical interface, I felt compelled to write a blog about it.

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Window Maker Live in action

Why do I like Window Maker so much? First of all, it employs its own configuration tool, WPrefs, which allows users to graphically modify Window Maker’s appearance and settings. Most window managers require users to manually edit a configuration file in a text editor, which can be tedious to non-programmers, so this is a real treat. Another reason that I like Window Maker is that it’s fairly easy to use. Even the default menu, unmodified by user or operating system, provides easy access to commonly used programs. It also makes it easy to track running programs and to add them to the application dock. Window Maker also offers a great number of dockapps (see below). Finally, and perhaps most superficially, I think Window Maker looks cool. This is mostly due to its rather non-traditional interface (no task bar, no main menu button, no desktop icons, etc.).

First of all, upon boot, your are promtped to provide a user name. This is a great personalization feature that is seldom found in Live distributions of Linux. (Note: I used GIMP for my screenshots and therefore am unable to provide an image of this screen.) One of the options on the logout menu is to lock the session. I assume that this feature would work in such a way that someone seeking to access a locked session other than the user who is signed on, would have to provide the correct name to unlock the window manager.

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Window Maker Live Welcome Message

Looking at the screenshot to the left, we can see the start up screen (note that GIMP does not automatically run on start up. As stated above, I used GIMP for screenshots, so the icons in the lower left corner represent various GIMP windows that are minimized. The tile with the speech bubble represents the welcome message). As can be seen, the Window Maker application dock is on the right-hand side of the screen. Above this is the Clip for switching between multiple workspaces (though only one is provided by default).

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Integrated help is readily available.

A quick guided tour starting on the right shows the Clip in the upper right-hand corner. Just to the left of this is the Window Maker Live Installation button. Below the Clip is the application dock. The first button on the application dock is the Window Maker Info button, which opens a window providing information about Window Maker and the system upon which it’s running. Below this is the first of the dockapps (see below), wmtime, which is running in digital mode. The tile below this is a dockapp entitled wmbutton. Wmbuttom allows users to launch programs and system configuration tools with one click, just as they would with quick launch buttons on a panel in a desktop environment, like KDE or XFCE.

The next dockapp is wmudmount, which provides a quick way to manage mounted file systems. The next two dock tiles are docked applications that provide a quick way to launch Mozilla Thunderbird email client and Mozilla Firefox Web browser respectively. Below these are two tiles to launcn terminal emulators. The first opens a terminal as a regular user. The tile with the little devil (known as “Little Daemon” (a daemon is a program that runs in the background in UNIX or Linux)) opens a terminal emulator with administrative or root privileges. The tiles in the lower left-hand corner represent currently running programs.

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All of these dockapps to choose from!

Regarding dockapps, this leads me to address another neat feature of Window Maker. Desktop environments provide apps for panels to enhance functionality and to provide users with desired information such as the time or CPU activity. The capacity exists through dockapps to add this functionality to your Window Maker session. The screenshot on the right shows a menu list of dockapps available in Window Maker Live. However,there are many others available that are not listed there. In addition to the two dockapps mentioned above, there are dock apps such as wmweather and wmmoonclock that can provide information about the world around us. Other dockapps provide access to system information and configuration, such as wmmixer, a sound mixer, or wmtemp, which displays CPU temperature. Dockapps provide a convenient way to customize your Window Maker experience.

Finally, I want to add that as Window Maker Live uses a window manager in lieu of a desktop environment, it will run just fine on older computers. Give it a try. It won’t harm your computer and you may just find yourself a new operating system.

Resources
Window Maker Live Web Site

References
Kojima, A.D. and Pascu, D. (2006). Window Maker [software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.

Window Maker: Dockapps. Retrieved from http://windowmaker.org/dockapps/

Window Maker Live [software].(n.d.). GNU General Public License.

Help! Microsoft Windows Won’t Boot Properly!

So, horror or horrors, Windows has crashed and you’re having trouble getting it to boot properly. Don’t panic, because I’m here to tell you how you can possibly fix your damaged operating system and get your computer to boot up like the crash never happened.

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Tux the Linux Penguin

“Chris,” you want to ask, “how do I do this? Please cut to the chase and enlighten me.” I am only too happy to oblige. To rescue your computer, you will need two things: a blank writable media (e.g. DVD-R) and a live Linux distribution. You probably already have the necessary media or can readily acquire it. What is this “live Linux distribution?” you probably want to ask. A live Linux distribution is a Linux distribution that can be placed on removable media and then, by booting from this media, allows you to run Linux on your computer without installing it. That’s right. You can run Linux on your computer without installing it. Live distributions will not adversely affect your computer or data in any way. You can test drive a new car, so why you shouldn’t you be able to test drive a new operating system?

So how do you go about choosing a live Linux distribution (known in the vernacular as a “live Linux distro”)? According to DistroWatch.com, there are 178 live operating systems from which to choose. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use Xubuntu Linux as it is a personal favorite. If you’d like to see DistrWwatch.com’s very comprehensive list, click here.

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Xubuntu Linux logo

First of all, we need to get the Xubuntu Linux ISO image (the live operating system). Go to Xubuntu’s download page here and download the ISO image (be aware that there are two options:
32-bit and 64-bit. I leave it to you to determine which is right for your computer system). When the download is complete, open the Downloads folder. Place the blank media in your DVD-RW drive. Copy the downloaded file and paste it into the DVD drive folder. Right-click on the icon and choose Burn Image. The Windows Disc Image Burner window will open and guide your through the burn process. When the process is done, the disc will be ejected. Remove it and place it back into the drive, as we’re going to boot from it.

To complete the next few steps, you need to know a few things. The first is the location, physically, of the hard drive upon which Windows resides. The second thing is that though the Computer folder may list two hard drives (C: and D: (or C: and FACTORY IMAGE/RESTORE respectively) the truth is that you most likely have only one hard drive. In many respects, a hard drive is like an empty building. As with an empty building, sometimes it is desirable to create two smaller, separate spaces, rather than to have one big room. With a hard drive, this is done through partitioning. The two drives listed in the Computer folder (not including your DVD drive) are actually one hard drive divided into two partitions. one of which, C:, actually holds the operating system and your files. You need to be aware of this as you will need to know which partition you are going to attempt to repair.

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The author’s BIOS -your BIOS may or may not look like this.

Restart your computer. The moment the boot up screen appears, enter the BIOS. BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. This is where settings can be adjusted on your computer such as date and time, boot device priority and settings pertaining to hardware built into your motherboard, for example. Sometimes the initial boot screen will display the keyboard key needed to be pressed to enter the BIOS near the bottom of the screen. If not, try pressing the Delete key. For Compaq computers, it’s usually F10. You may have to consult the manual that came with your computer to learn how to enter the BIOS. Your BIOS may look like mine, shown in the screenshot to the right.

Once in the BIOS, you will want to modify the boot device sequence (this is under Advanced BIOS features in my BIOS). You will want to set the DVD drive containing the bootable media as your first boot device. Make a note of your current first boot device so that you can restore it to this capacity when you reboot. When finished, press F10 and choose Yes when asked if you want to save the current settings and exit.

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My live Xubuntu session

The system will boot from the DVD. You will be prompted to touch the keyboard. After choosing the appropriate language (English-US is default), choose Try Xubuntu without installing from the menu that appears. Once the system has booted, you’ll see the Xubuntu Linux Desktop, as shown in the screenshot at left. Open the Terminal Emulator (command line) window (there’s a button to do this on the panel (application dock) at the bottom of the screen (it’s set to AutoHide, so just move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen to view it). First, we need to see where Linux has put your C: partition. Type )or copy and paste) the following command into the terminal:

sudo fdisk /dev/sda

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Fdisk displaying partitions of a typical hard drive running Windows.

Sudo tells Xubuntu that you want to run the command as a system administrator. Fdisk is a hard drive partitioning program. Don’t worry. We’re not editing any partitions. We’re just using fdisk to view the partitions on /dev/sda (your primary hard drive). The /dev/sda portion of the command tells Linux that we want to look in the devices (/dev) directory for the primary or first hard drive (/sda). At the question mark prompt (?), type p to print the partition table. My partition table is shown in the screenshot (note that I changed the Terminal Emulator’s default color scheme for the sake of legibility in this blog). Most likely, your C: drive is listed as /dev/sda1. Press q to quit fdisk.

At last we’ve reached the next to last step. In the Terminal Emulator window, type the following:

sudo ntfsfix /dev/sda1

A report of errors found may be generated. Reboot the system using the Session Menu. The system will shut down Linux and eject the disc. Remove the DVD and press Enter as the prompt on the screen asks and, upon reboot, enter the BIOS to restore your boot device settings to their original status, save and reboot. If all went well, Windows will boot to its former functional status. Don’t thank me. Thank the developers behind the ntfsfix program. They’re the real heroes.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

In my household, we have four shared computers, two desktops and two laptops (I’m not including the three tablets). Three of the computers (one desktop and the two laptops run Xbuntu Linux. The other computer runs Microsoft Windows 7. I can say without a doubt the computers running Linux are the least maintenance. They’re very stable and extremely secure. I have spent hours, sometimes days, attempting to liberate the Windows 7 computer from viruses, spyware and malware. The only maintenace I perform on the Linux computers includes sfotware upgrades, initial launch housekeeping and occassional operating system reinstallation to restore the computer to “new” condition. By the way, the tablets all run Android, a Linux-based operating system. Linux just saves me an enormous amount of time and nearly as many headaches.

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Tux the Linux Penguin

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Have you wanted to try Linux, but you’re not ready to actually install it on your computer? You can run a Live distribution from a CD/DVD or USB flash drive. Visit this site to learn more.

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Tux the Linux Penguin

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

When you start using Linux, an open source operating system, in addition to such amenities as stability and security, you will also be able to boast one of the cutest mascots in computing –Tux the Linux Penguin.

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Tux the Linux Penguin

 

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

One of the strongest reasons for using the Edubuntu Linux and UberStudent Linux open source operating systems is access to thousands of applications through the Synaptic Package Manager.

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Synaptic Package Manager

UberStudent Linux

UberStudent, like Edubuntu, is based on Ubuntu. It is targeted towards advanced secondary and post-secondary students and educators. UberStudent can be readily modified to meet the requirements of specific academic disciplines. Another strength is that UberStudent can be installed on thin-clients as well personal computers and laptops. Easy customization is still yet another attribute of UberStudent has to offer.

UberStudent is highly integrated with the Web. Many of the links in the main menu lead directly to online applications. For example, Prezi is an online presentation program, and KnightCite is an online service that provides users with proper citation for a given work. There are also several self-management tools to help students get organized. These include tools for managing time, finances and even social networking. Additionally, applications for productive studying are included, such as a flashcard generator and KeepNote, a note-taking and organization program.
UberStudent is available in two editions: a regular edition that runs on state-of-the-art computers and a lightweight version that runs on older computers. These are distinguished by the graphic user interfaces (GUI (pronounced “goo-ee”)), GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) for the regular UberStudent and LXDE (Lightweight X Desktop Environment) for the lightweight version. Finally, online training courses are available through UberStudent‘s web site.

UberStudent Linux
UberStudent Linux under Lightweight X Desktop Environment

Edubuntu Linux

Edubuntu Linux is a variation of Ubuntu Linux.  Ubuntu Linux, in turn, is based on Debian Linux.  Debian Linux is well known for its software packaging system.  The term package refers to applications or programs, how they are stored and how they are installed.  Different Linux distributions employ different packaging systems and each packaging system is unique.  The Debian Linux software packaging system provides access to thousands of applications that can be easily installed from either a terminal (also known as a command line or shell) or a graphic environment.  Furthermore, the Debian Linux software packaging system also takes dependencies into consideration and automatically installs programs that other programs require to run properly.
This packaging system is one of the reasons that the people at Ubuntu chose to use Debian Linux as a basis for Ubuntu, Edubuntu and the other Ubuntu variations (Kubuntu, Xubuntu and Lubuntu, respectively (the latter two run better on older computers)).  Edubuntu has a greater focus on education than its kindred distributions and therefore incorporates a variety of applications to enhance learning and to aid teachers.  A majority of the programs are targeted towards teachers and learners at the primary level.  Edubuntu contains many applications that students can use to enhance learning or even learn on their own.  Educators can use these same programs to assess student learning.  Other programs are designed to build students’ skills in a variety of areas.  Some applications enhance productivity.  There are a few that are included purely for amusement.

Edubuntu Linux
The Edubuntu Linux desktop.