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The computer they prefer!

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The DoudouLinux origins

September 2010 — last update June 2013

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“Doudou” is a French word that means wubby, the teddy bear or the cloth that children carry everywhere and hug very strongly in their arms before falling asleep. In China the word 豆豆 means the same and is pronounced the same too. Linux is a full computer system little known by the general public. It can make computers of all sorts run, from the smallest to the largest ones. Thus DoudouLinux aims at providing children “the computer they prefer”, the device that fits their needs so well that they want to take it with them everywhere! And because the DoudouLinux license of use is very permissive, they will actually be able to get it and take it everywhere.

What drove the DoudouLinux development?

DoudouLinux design is driven by the idea that computer users, those who wish to use their computer but do not wish to administer it, just desire ease of access to what they need for their job:

  • start applications, which supposes that they are easy to find
  • tune the mouse, tune the sound volume, eventually set the keyboard layout [1], set the language or change screen resolution
  • connect some external devices such as an USB key or a printer
  • access the previously saved work, of course
  • connect to a network, for example the Internet
  • switch on and off!

Any additional functionality is optional and, once some tunings are done, users should only work with their applications and data and eventually plug-in external devices. To achieve this, the system must be self-tuning as much as possible. DoudouLinux tries to build an environment that just does all of this. You may have noticed that gaming consoles are much easier to use than computers. The truth is gaming consoles are computers too, so why should computers be so much more complicated to use?

The name of the releases

The names of the DoudouLinux releases are Gondwana for the 1.x series and Hyperborea for the 2.x series. These names correspond to geographic places that may exist, have existed or not. Because DoudouLinux wants to show not only the diversity of activities with a computer but also the diversity of our world, we thought that using geographic places as release names was a good idea. For instance:

  • Gondwana is the name of “the more southerly of two supercontinents (the other being Laurasia) which were part of the Pangaea supercontinent that existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago”. This was then the very beginning of the Earth, and similarly DoudouLinux Gondwana was the very beginning of the project.
  • Hyperborea “was an unspecified region in the northern lands that lay beyond the north wind” in Greek mythology

The name of the next releases is not decided yet.

Project history

DoudouLinux comes from a series of trials and thoughts about the Linux system. In addition to being powerful and highly versatile [2], Linux natively provides an interesting number of applications that can be used by children or even dedicated to them. However, similarly to all other systems that are installed on the general public computers, the standard Linux interface is usually designed for people who already handle computers well. Since its beginning the DoudouLinux project goal has then been to make Linux and then computers easily accessible for children.

First trials happened in late 2006 with the project founder’s children (aged 3 and 4 years at the time). It was immediately obvious that a standard computer interface cannot fit for a very simple reason: they could not read texts in menus! First trials with sessions based on icon panels were then conducted in standard environments [3]. Several applications could be launched with these icons and their popularity has been evaluated: Gamine, Pysycache, TuxPaint, KTuberling, GCompris, Childsplay.

Later environments developed for children on purpose were setup: sessions with a tab interface like the EeePC and sessions that just start a single application. There were two motivations. On the one hand in standard environments we found ourselves trying to inhibit or hide most of functionalities (dropping menus, icons on the desktop, contextual menus, file manager, etc.). On the other hand very young children (2-3 years old) do not understand the role of the mouse and even less the keyboard role. Therefore it is not judicious to put them in an environment in which you have to choose what you want to do among 50 applications! So it was better to restart from a minimal environment and build upon it.

The last triggering event happened in late 2009 when the project founder realized that generating a custom LiveCD based on Linux Debian was really simple [4]. Before this, DoudouLinux was just a set of scripts plus tunings more or less manual to lead to an environment adapted to children. With the LiveCD, an environment ready to use, easy to spread, easy to test, easy to translate - at least we hope so - and easy to install was at last built.

Why using Linux?

Nowadays many people only know Windows® on desktop computers because the general public computing industry does not give them the opportunity to discover anything else [5]. Nevertheless Linux systems make run a huge number of computers in the world: from ADSL boxes to the largest calculators of the world, including portable phones or Internet servers, the list is constantly growing. We have chosen to use Linux for the following reasons:

  • Linux natively ships with a huge number of applications among which a portion of them are dedicated to children. Moreover the system really manages these applications, which guarantees that they live together in perfect harmony.
  • Linux requires much less resources than its competitors Mac OS X® and Windows®. Where 10 to 20 GB are needed to just install these systems, we get a full and totally running working environment on the 1.1 GB of a small DVD… No need of a recent computer either, a computer from early 2000 is definitively enough to get DoudouLinux run.
  • Linux natively ships with all its validated drivers for a very wide hardware panel and he configures these drivers without any user action.
  • Linux is fully and really customizable, because it is an entirely open system where nothing is hidden from inquisitive eyes, everything can be modified to get the system that is really needed.
  • Linux is in no way threatened by the millions of viruses and other malware that are spreading on the Internet or on USB devices [6].
  • Linux is a stable, reliable and well-tested system. It does not degrade in time and particularly its performance does not decrease within weeks.
  • Powerful Linux tools have been written to be able to easily create autorun systems on CD or USB key like DoudouLinux.
  • Linux is much more fun than its competitors for specialists! Of course long practice is required to make this obvious :).
  • Finally, last but not least, the Linux license allows anyone to use, copy and spread it as he wants regardless of his country of origin [7] whereas Linux competitors Mac OS X® and Windows® want just the opposite and try to prevent us from doing this.

The only two drawbacks are 1) the most recent hardware may not be correctly handled and 2) some people are reticent to use anything but what they already know. If you keep thinking that we should still have chosen Windows® arguing that this is the most distributed system on personal computers, we invite you to read the page Why using DoudouLinux that tries to indirectly answer this objection.

Footnotes

[1] Keyboard layout is how letters are placed on keyboard.

[2] Linux makes your ADSL box run, your mobile phone but also 95% of the most powerful super-computers around the world…

[3] the Gnome environment in this case

[4] But its customization may be, on the contrary, not trivial.

[5] Of course there are Macintosh computers but they are higher priced.

[6] By the end of 2010, about 60 000 new malware are discovered each day…

[7] Licenses of American software say that they cannot be sold in a precise list of countries – for political reasons, thus totally ignoring their populations needs.


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