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Ask Slashdot: Some Good Linux Desktop Option For Kids? 179

New submitter TIWolfman writes: I'm looking to re-purpose some of the older hardware that I've held onto to create something of a starter machine for my kids (both aged below 10). At this point it's still just a few shortcut icons I can setup on the desktop for them, primarily to web tools/sites they use, but I'd like some flexibility; everything I've read suggests options that haven't had any activity since 2015. Is there an option out there or is this just a custom job?

Ask Slashdot: Some Good Linux Desktop Option For Kids?

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  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @10:43AM (#56626812) Journal
    The world in general is still waiting for a good Linux Desktop for adults...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Turns out, we're about to get a consumer friendly Linux desktop from an unexpected place. ChromeOS is currently under very active development to get full support for running Linux apps. You can already see a developer preview if you have a Pixelbook and set a couple of flags. But most modern ChromeOS devices should get official support my end of the year.

      I've had Linux desktops/laptops exclusively since 1993. This is the first year I only have Linux remote servers and a Chromebook.

      ChromeOS with both Linux a

      • It would be nice if they would release ChomeOS so that you could download it and use it to 'repurpose old laptops' like the summary says.
        • Thereâ(TM)s a company called neverware that releases a free-for-personal-use distro of chromium OS customized to install/run on x86 called CloudReady. Iâ(TM)m not affiliated in any way, just evaluated it for use at work. Seemed to work decently, we ony decided against it because lf the cost of using it commercially.
          • I can confirm, for Older personal Laptops, this is a good option.

            If you want commercial version for older laptops (Business accounts), you'd be better off getting an actual Chromebook, which can be had for as little as a couple hundred dollars US. Not a normal computer, but it works for 90+% of what average people need these days.

            The OTHER option I offer up, is a Raspberry Pi, which can be had for $35, and a full kit is under $75. All you need is mouse, keyboard and monitor(HDMI) (another $100 maybe) and yo

          • Yeah I checked that out, but having to divulge my personal details to get it means it isn't free. I would rather pay $20.
    • by dbreeze ( 228599 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:57AM (#56627400)

      No it's not. There are several fine desktop options available for those who decide to use Linux. What the world is waiting for is adults who recognize the advantage of breaking free from monopolistic, profit-driven, central control of their electronic/online experience.

      • What the world is waiting for is adults who recognize the advantage of breaking free from monopolistic, profit-driven, central control of their electronic/online experience.

        The MSDOS PC launched in 1981, Mass market priced OS running on generic and affordable IBM PC compatible hardware. Windows 95 cemented the notion of a graphical UI that anyone can use and the OEM hardware and software bundle that works out of the box. The profit-driven approach can deliver quite a lot and do it very quickly.

    • Android makes a good desktop for Linux.

      It isn't your Debian, Ubuntu, Mint, Red Hat linux, but it is linux. Hell even ChromeOS is linux.

      The problem is that people don't know what Linux actually is (kernel). As for desktops, you have quite a number of options for xWindows as well, I hate what Debian is using (Gnome), but it might work for a Newbie. I find Ubuntu reasonably easy for most people.

      Also, give kids anything, and they will "figure it out". They don't have the inhibitions adults have with Tech.

  • Edubuntu (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2018 @10:46AM (#56626850)

    https://www.edubuntu.org/
    Last release was in 2015 but it's on a 5-year LTS cycle

    • Re:Edubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

      by GoTeam ( 5042081 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @10:52AM (#56626914)
      I agree, edubuntu is a great option. My oldest is 7 years old and she enjoys using it.
    • by Hylandr ( 813770 )

      I tried edubuntu on the kids and it was a huge flop with them.

      I have all my kids Laptops running Ubuntu and the emulation software allows my teens to install windows games like Wizard101 through wine. They know how to install and troubleshoot Java and get minecraft and tekkit running etc.

      • install windows games like Wizard101 through wine.

        Those poor kids. Wine was the thing that nearly made me stop using Linux at all and go back to Windows.

        It wasn't until I stopped mucking about with it that I begin to truly enjoy using Ubuntu.

        It turns out trying to shoehorn in applications build for another OS onto Linux is not fun!

  • Linux Mint (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bmimatt ( 1021295 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @10:49AM (#56626880)
    Nice UI, stable, easy to install. Consider launching in VM, so you can easily snapshot/restore or even clone the whole environment.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows - it's universally used in the modern professional engineering and financial industries. If you send them off on a dead-end path down the road of hobbyist and non-commercial operating systems, you will confuse the hell out of them and set them up for scorn and failure when the time comes for them to get a job. They literally will have nothing t
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows - it's universally used in the modern professional engineering and financial industries. If you send them off on a dead-end path down the road of hobbyist and non-commercial operating systems, you will confuse the hell out of them and set them up for scorn and failure when the time comes for them to get a job. They literally will have nothing to bring to the table for any employer to even consider them above a more qualified and trained candidate.

        Except independent thought and the ability to understand how a computer works by getting hands dirty if desired?

        • I've had no problems getting my hands dirty and understanding how a computer works whilst using Windows. Writing drivers, all levels of programming, direct-hardware access - all there. And you can even run tools that allow you to create the computer - mechanical 3D CAD, schematic capture/PCB layout programs, etc.

          As far as independent thought, what Linux program exists that did not have a prior similar program available on Windows?

      • Re:Linux Mint (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Riceballsan ( 816702 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:12AM (#56627070)
        I've used linux as a primary OS since I was 13... and I repair windows computers for a living. If we are talking non-IT jobs, the basic window manager and libre office will have a near negligable shift between OS's. Most likely as little or less than the inevitable shift between windows 10 and windows 13 or whatever version is next to release. If computers does turn out to be what they want.. then expose them to a bit of everything. They should know windows, and linux etc...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows - it's universally used in the modern professional engineering and financial industries. If you send them off on a dead-end path down the road of hobbyist and non-commercial operating systems, you will confuse the hell out of them and set them up for scorn and failure when the time comes for them to get a job. They literally will have nothing to bring to the table for any employer to even consider them above a more qualified and trained candidate.

        True story.

        I attended a conference about scientific computing, and Microsoft sent a rep to talk about Azure.
        His slides and presentation noted that Azure adoption across the board was rather stagnant until ... ... wait for it ... ... they allowed Linux VMs to run on Azure.

        Whatever 1990s notions you had about "modern professional" operating systems are ancient history today.

        And in five years when everybody is compiling C++ to WebAssembly and running their apps in the browser, absolutely nobody care what the u

      • by dbreeze ( 228599 )

        I see Windows users as the abused members of a dysfunctional relationship. Constantly treated as though their opinion or desires are worthless, threatened that they couldn't survive or be wanted in another relationship, or, their success is dependent on staying with the abuser.
        Good parents don't raise their kids on monopolistic, corporate profit driven, malware/spyware.
        Microsoft is evil. Don't tell your children otherwise.

      • Re:Linux Mint (Score:5, Insightful)

        by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:36AM (#56627238) Homepage Journal

        If you want them to be unable to adapt the next time Microsoft revamps the Windows UI, or their boss asks them to use a Mac, or even a Ubuntu machine, then teaching a kid the current Windows UI and refusing to expose them to anything non-Windows is a good way to do it.

        If you want them to have generic skills that can apply across all platforms, and not assume that because one thing works one way everything else does, then providing them with something different to the UI used on the school computers, etc, is a better approach.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows

        Nope, nope, nope. Better to be more flexibly educated than locked to one platform. Expose the kids to multiple environments.

        People tote out the "just learn Windows" line all the time, but nobody seems to pay attention to the fact that the Windows UI has changed radically more than once, to the point where, for example, if you only familiarized you

      • Re:Linux Mint (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @12:11PM (#56627478) Homepage

        > If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows

        These are modern children we are talking about, not middle aged dinosaurs ready to be put out to pasture.

        Kids aren't nearly that stupid. They can manage to use one brand of app and apply the same concepts to another. Someone under the age of 10 might be exposed to Linux or MacOS and not even percieve these as distinct platforms.

        Your sort of zealotry is gravely outdated.

        Besides, whatever they learn in the Microsoft space today will be gravely outdated by the time they might be exposed to it in the "real world".

      • If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows - it's universally used in the modern professional engineering and financial industries. If you send them off on a dead-end path down the road of hobbyist and non-commercial operating systems, you will confuse the hell out of them and set them up for scorn and failure when the time comes for them to get a job. They literally will have nothing to

      • by Anonymous Coward

        As a professional software developer, this has been the opposite for me. I grew up using DOS and Windows, only really getting into Linux when I had to use it for work at my first full-time job. It wasn't a seamless transition for me, but I wish that I started out learning that before Windows

      • by dargaud ( 518470 )

        If you want them to be successful later in life and be able to integrate seemlessly into the modern business and financial world, I would suggest Microsoft Windows

        Ha! Where I work (in research), nobody wants to use Windows anymore. It's either Mac or Linux. The Linux desktop has been perfectly fine for a good 15 years. It may not be great for games, but for work ? It's far better, simpler and more efficient than nagging shitty bloated spying Windows.

        But to get back to OP's question, I'd say Android (sorry): plenty of apps for kids. And it's still Linux, right ? Right ???

      • I think that you're underestimating the flexibility of kids in particular, and people in general. I, my wife and my children, all flop around between ios, android (one of the kids), windows, linux (Arch, mostly) and MacOS. I don't see any reason to limit myself (or my kids) to Windows to be successful.
      • Too funny. My son works in a shop where they do S/W that winds up in shop floor systems. They used to use Windows but with Windows 10 popping up screen filling popups to warn that it can't reach the update server it is no longer usable. There is no mouse or keyboard to dismiss the popup - these are systems driving big displays that update production status and needs. They are switching to Raspberry Pis running Linux. They still us Microsoft products for development and the back end but perhaps a Linux deskt

      • How did my experience with Windows 3 help me with Windows 10?

    • This. My kids handle MATE just fine, my youngest started at about 5 to being able to log in and launch chrome, which had her home page set to her favorite cartoon-branded web game of the day|week|month

      Icons are good and easy - for the youngest set, simply put shortcuts to everything on the desktop and make teh desktop directory read-only (prevent accidental deletion)

      • My kids handle MATE just fine....

        My kids handle Kubuntu just fine, and have since they were each three years old.

        There have been lots of good posts here, and they completely reflect my experience with kids. They will easily move from one computing environment to the next, as they see them all as just minor variations on a common theme. Moving among Linux, Android, iCrap, Windows, Mac, etc. is just as easy for kids as it is for a competent driver to move among Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Saturn, etc.

        Kids exposed to this stuff from birth aren't

    • by hughbar ( 579555 )
      Yes agree, and why does a desktop have to be dumbed down for 'kids'? Most of them understand menus and icons, in some cases better than many adults. But, generally, I give Mint to non-tech people and use it at home for that mythical unicorn the 'Linux Desktop'. It's been several years now, BTW.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sugar is still in active development, and is built with the explicit purpose of "interactive learning for children".

    https://www.sugarlabs.org/

  • If you're looking for an easy to use Linux desktop, have you considered Mint? It's ben two years since I used it, but with the Cinnamon DE it was very Windows-like. Easy enough to put some icons on the desktop.

    If you were looking to do something more locked-down and kiosk-like, then I'm no help - have never researched that.
    • I agree. My 8-year-olds are using Mint without any problems.

      XFCE and Cinnamon are perfectly customizable for their needs.

      They don't need the gigantic icons the "kid-linux" flavours come with....they're young, not blind.

  • My kids are considerably younger, but I installed Doudou Linux on an old netbook for them to learn how to navigate and use the mouse and keyboard. They are 4 and 2 and love using TuxPaint and some of the puzzles in the GCompris Educational Suite.

  • Tux Racer, Tux Paint, Super Tux Kart etc.
  • SLACKWARE! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Daltorak ( 122403 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:01AM (#56626994)
    And none of this modern shit.... give those little snots Version 2.1 on 70 floppy disks! Thatâ(TM)ll showâ(TM)em! If I had to struggle as a youth to learn Linux, so should everyone!!
    • My two year old took about ten minutes to learn the iPad, or at least it seemed like about 10 minutes. Kids learn fast, so they'll be able to click shortcut icons in any distribution no problem. The only question is how many weeks it will take before they've subverted your parental protections and have full access to the Internet.

      Since the district isn't going to matter to the kids, I'd probably pick whatever the parent is most comfortable setting up an maintaining. Something with good automatic security u

    • by amorsen ( 7485 )

      Thatâ(TM)ll showâ(TM)em!

      A Slackware advocate with "smart" quotes... Something seems slightly fishy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If I had to struggle as a youth to learn Linux, so should everyone!!

      That reminds me of a fortune output, Real programmers don't comment their code. It was hard to write, it should be hard to understand.

  • Options for what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:03AM (#56627006)
    I really don't have any idea from the submission what it is you're looking for. What is it you want for kids that's different from what you'd want for adult users? Give us some idea of your objectives.
    • I really don't have any idea from the submission what it is you're looking for. What is it you want for kids that's different from what you'd want for adult users? Give us some idea of your objectives.

      I mean, there are entire fields of study (and industry) that have long been dedicated to understanding and catering to the educational needs of young learners, and there are more plain-English summaries [google.com] of "what makes kids different from adults when it comes to learning" than I can list here.

      At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, children are not simply tiny grownups. What works best for an adult will rarely be what works best for a child, no matter what you're talking about. You can just throw what

    • I want them to be able to learn about the Internet yes, news, information at your fingertips. However, most of all I want them to be able to do the things that kids want to do in a somewhat controllable environment. There are a number of websites that offer games based on word, number or letter recognition. I want to make it easy for my kids to get to those. I don't want them finding be-headings of journalists in the Middle East or anywhere else. I can set them up with Windows but that wasn't the question.
      • Sorry for not responding sooner, the past several days have been eventful. From what you described, it sounds like you primarily want to lock down the browser so your kids have access to safe sites but not everything else. You should be able to set up some sort of content filter or whitelist to achieve that, but I don't think it really matters which distro/flavor of Linux you use. Mint and Ubuntu are quite usable and friendly, as other people have said, though.
  • If you want them to learn I'd let them figure out Arch or any other distro themselves using documentation. Otherwise, if you want ease of use and educational apps... Android or Chrome
  • Edubuntu (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:12AM (#56627080) Journal
    Edubuntu used to be what you are looking for. However, it seems to be abandoned.

    I found the GCompris program to be very good a few years ago. I don't know how well it aged. You should be able to install it on any version of Linux.
  • I hear good things about "Ubermix" http://www.ubermix.org/about.h... [ubermix.org] The project focuses on a reduced complexity environment and includes educational applications. might be worth looking at
  • Linux for my nephew (Score:5, Informative)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:25AM (#56627154) Homepage

    When my nephew was 9, I set up a computer for him. I gave him a MATE desktop, which basically works similar to Windows, and he was able to use it right away.

    I didn't give him root on his own machine. However, I gave his user sudo permission to run the Software Manager. I gave him Linux Mint, which is a tweaked version of Ubuntu, so it was basically the Ubuntu Software Manager. This is pretty similar to the app store on mobile devices. So he had no ability to screw up his system, but he could browse the Software Manager, find a game or something, and install it with a click.

    My goal was to set his baseline expectations to Linux. I wanted him to see Windows and say "wait, there's no app store thing with free games on Windows? How primitive, give me my Linux please." I wouldn't say my brainwashing attempt succeeded, but he just turned 12 and he still uses the Linux computer for most of what he does on a computer. He also has a Windows laptop that he uses to run some Windows-only stuff he likes. But he chooses which computer to use just based on what he wants to run; he has no particular preference for Windows or for Linux.

    P.S. His Linux computer is an all-in-one made by Lenovo, with a really nice and big screen. I got it really inexpensively on eBay; I believe it was off-lease.

  • Us t hat what will give you the most supporty. If you have a friend that used Debian, use that as that will be the person who you ask and that is what he knows.

    So for the kid it will be whatever you use. As you post here, I assume you at least know how to change a desktop to look as you want it to look.
    Do that and you are done.

    I did not even need to know how old the kid is or what its capabilities and/or limits are as you will just know.

    Now if you use something that you know will not be possible to be adapt

  • My kid who's 5 now started using KDE/Mint over a year ago. Plays minetest, does abcmouse, watches Nick Jr on it.

  • Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Informative)

    by Billy the Mountain ( 225541 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:30AM (#56627200) Journal
    The latest Raspberry Pi model 3's come with Wi-Fi and four USB ports. The OS is on an SD card. You can make up several SD cards for different purposes using any of the many interesting distros available. Raspian is a decent basic Linux OS. As far as using old hardware goes, just retain the mice, keyboards and montors. Give each kid their own Pi and a few distros depending on their interests.

    Distrowatch will let you look at distributions based on hardware type: Distro Watch Raspberry Pi [distrowatch.com]
    • Eh, I've played with Raspian on a Pi as a desktop. It's *okay* but not great. Packages and software are quite limited compared to a regular distro due to the architecture porting, and I found the responsiveness (on a Pi 2, but the 3 hasn't had a ton of additional horses added) in the desktop to be a poor experience compared to a regular PC with Windows or another Linux distro on it. Pi's are great for dedicated tasks, but general purpose PC isn't one of them IMO. It's something you can use in a pinch, o

      • by dhaen ( 892570 )
        Raspian is a great intro. I doubt a 10 year old will over stretch it (pun intended). I work a lot with Debian distros and find find I can seamlessly switch my thinking as they're so similar. If these kids do grow out of what's available for Raspian they'll discover that many of the deb ARM packages will work.
    • The latest Raspberry Pi model 3's

      Seriously man? The guy is looking to repurpose hardware, how is your first suggestion to give him yet another piece of junk?

      • You would still be able to use the old hardware. In a marine environment for maintaining vessels on station or as an artificial reef.
  • There's an eight year old neighbor happy with Linux Mint on my old laptop.

    It's fast, has 32 and 64 bit processor support, 4 different versions (I installed xfce), intuitive, well supported, can set up parental controls, lots of downloadable kids' stuff... there's more but I'm already boring.

    Linux Mint

  • Kids are much smarter than you might think and if they are really interested they will pick it right up.

    • True... when I was a kid I had to use the Sinclair command line to load software off a cassette and taught myself BASIC/SuperBASIC
  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Thursday May 17, 2018 @11:39AM (#56627272) Homepage

    If you're willing to drop a few bucks on a Raspberry Pi, Kano is an impressive project, acting as both kid-friendly desktop environment and programming education tool. Lots of built-in coding tutorials, a "learn how to use the shell" game, and a code-oriented version of Minecraft, to boot.

    http://developers.kano.me/downloads/ [developers.kano.me]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I agree, my 7-yr old has a Kano and is learning basics of coding. Kano's support is nice but not very helpful, though. Their standard solution for most problems is "reinstall from scratch". If you are able to fix a Debian box, prune old logs and run apt-get update, you are probably not going to depend on their support, though.
       

  • Personally, I've done stock Lubuntu on old hardware with shortcuts for a browser with PBS kids as homepage, a few local movies, GCompris, Tux Paint, LibreOffice Writer, and when they got a little older, Minecraft, Steam. If they are not yet used to a mouse, I highly recommend a one button kid-sized version like the Chester Mouse, this made a huge difference in usability / frustration [especially since they liked to play with scroll wheel a lot]. Overall, whatever distro you are most comfortable with is
  • There are likely to be builds of ChromiumOS [chromium.org] that you can install on the computer, and it produces the effect of ChromeOS running on hardware which will almost certainly be much better than some Chromebook.
  • Load all the GUIs available. Try each to see which runs acceptably on your older hardware. I suspect that the latest Gnome or KDE versions may be challenged depending on the age of the hardware and graphic card in use. Show them how to select a different one when they login if they want. Report back in a few months to see which one they picked.

    I tend to use KDE. Some of the kids use MATE. Some use KDE. Really, what matters are the applications and those will run pretty much on any desktop. Just make sure

  • I have noticed chosen distro does not really make a difference. First my sons used Linux Mint happily, mostly watching videos on Youtube. Later I installed Ubuntu Gnome and they made no remarks, they found the browser on their own. I went back to Linux Mint because my older son likes to update the OS, and Mint has nice icon showing when updates are available. I like using Mint in computers I've promised to maintain (my 70+ years old aunt and uncle and some friends) because the machines really do not requi
  • Sold a laptop a while ago, came preinstalled with Endless OS, and the buyer said she and her kids (3yo) prefeers it over Windows. Simple GUI, great kids games preloaded.

    https://endlessos.com/ [endlessos.com]

  • They have a Fedora based kid environment. Haven't played with in years. I got use this with the laptop I got when I donated to the cause. The unit is cute and has some interesting mesh networking features built in. This circle thing is a bit weird but, kind of works.
  • There isn't a kid-specific desktop or distro that I'm aware of, and I'm not sure that'd be advisable anyway. Instead of kid-specific, maybe a regular distro and desktop with some unneeded things left out.

    I'd start with Mint. It's easy to set up (which means it's easy to re-image if things get too screwed up) easy to maintain, and no more difficult to use than any other desktop.

    My "serious work" laptop runs CentOS to maintain compatibility with the RHEL servers at my work. But the casual usage laptop I sh

  • To give you an idea, it's basically the "Linux Mint" of Debian but with custom tools like ElementaryOS has to make things even easier. So, it's really easy to use but stable as hell. Matter of fact, if something that normally breaks on Debian, the maintainer has repos with fixed versions. An example I've already noticed was with OBS Studio. The interface is kind of like XFCE but the panel is on the left side and a searchable app menu. Uses only 300-400MB of RAM after login and startup. The creator has a few
  • give those kids some slack, they're pretty smart (smarter then you think they are, probably) and can use computers just fine.
    just create a new user on your linux pc and let them go at it. my youngest (8 now, but she was using it as youndgas 6) has no problems doing all the things that are important to her on the pc (starting a browser, playing some music, writing, ...)

  • Cinnamon edition. He likes it. It runs on an ivy bridge i3 I bought second hand for $100
  • If they're primary age kids, ubuntu. That has a childish interface that's good for them.
    Secondary - Fedora with KDE. That's a much more mature look & feel to a desktop.

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