Continuing my series on building a Desktop computer for a kindergarten class, I look at Fedora with Sugar mentioned in the article [Top 6 Linux Distributions for Children (Ages 2 and Up)].
(This series started with my post [Kindergarten desktop - The Challenge]. I have a 512MB RAM system with 40GB disk drive that I will install Linux and educational software for a class full of kindergarten children. My previous post covered three other Linux distributions [LinuxKidX, Qimo, and Foresight for Kids].)
I am not stranger to the Sugar learning platform, developed as part of the One Laptop per Child [OLPC] project.
As I mentioned in my post [Helping Young Students - part 1], I was part of the OLPC development team back in 2008, helped local volunteers deploy laptops to children in Nepal and Uruguay, mentored a college student in India, and learned a lot of Python programming language in the process.
Sugar is now developed by Sugar Labs, a nonprofit spin-off of OLPC. The code is free and open source desktop environment for many other machines, including as a "Desktop Environment" for Fedora Linux.
I kept my 40GB hard drive partitioned as follows. On the extended partition, sda5 will hold my system utilities, like Clonezilla and SystemRescue, and sda6 is my swap space, increased to 1500MB. Partition sda1 has Edubuntu 12.04 on it, and I will use sda2 to install Fedora with Sugar.
[Sugar-on-a-stick], is so named because it is designed so that each child has their own LiveUSB. This can run on PC with Windows or Mac OS without affecting those operating systems, allowing a child to use Sugar in the classroom, then take the stick home and continue on their home PC.
A 2GB or greater USB memory stick can hold both Fedora and Sugar, and use that to boot your desktop. Unfortunately, it requires 1GB of RAM, and I have only 512MB. Can I just run Sugar natively on a Fedora install? Yes, thanks to the [Sugar not "on a stick"] instructions, I can install Fedora first, then just:
$sudo bash #yum groupinstall "Sugar Desktop Environment"
Unfortunately, the latest Fedora release (F20) recommends 1GB of RAM. Fortunately, I found Dean Howell's rant [Fedora Irresponsibly Lowers Memory Requirement To 512MB] about the Fedora F17 release. I gave this a try.
There are three ways to install Fedora:
- Fedora Desktop Edition - this is a LiveCD that requires 1GB RAM.
- Fedora Network Install - this is a bootable CD that then uses the Internet to download the rest of the files required. Use this if you (a) have a fast Internet connection, or (b) do not have a DVD drive on your system.
- Fedora Install DVD - this has all the software on the DVD itself.
I chose method 3 and downloaded the appropriate ISO file. While F17 only requires 512MB of RAM to run, the graphic installer requires 768MB, and is fully explained in this [29-step F17 installation guide].
To get around this, select "Troubleshooting" which then lets you select low-graphics/text mode installation that ran well under 512MB. I installed both LXDE and Sugar, and everything worked fine!
Why both LXDE and Sugar? Well, Sugar is quite a different environment, and I wanted LXDE as an alternative for the admin and teacher to use.
The article on [Sugar software on Wikipedia] sums it up well:
"Unlike most other desktop environments, Sugar does not use the 'desktop', 'folder' and 'window' metaphors. Instead, Sugar's default full-screen activities require users to focus on only one program at a time. Sugar implements a novel file-handling metaphor (the Journal), which automatically saves the user's running program session and allows him or her to later use an interface to pull up their past works by date, activity used or file type."
Now that I have that working, it is time to upgrade from non-supported F17 to a supported level. Ravi Saive explains the [Four Ways to Upgrade from Fedora 17 to Fedora 18]:
- Clean install of F18
- Fedora Upgrader tool (FedUp) command line interface
- Yum upgrade
- Fedora upgrade script
As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I chose method 2 "FedUp" as it seemed to be the least invasive. I was unsure if method-1 "Clean Install" of F18 would work with 512MB of RAM, and I have been through enough horrors of failed yum upgrades on my own Red Hat Enterprise Linux [RHEL] at work to avoid method 3. Method 4 is just a script to automate the steps of method 3.
The steps are fairly straightforward. First, install the FedUp package, run "yum update" to ensure you have all the latest kernel and F17 packages for everything else, and reboot.
Then run the fedup-cli command, which upgrades all the packages to F18 level and creates a special kernel level that will then finish the install after the second reboot. It took a while, so I let it run unattended. I put the debug log on partition sda5 in case anything went wrong.
#fedup-cli --reboot --network 18 --debuglog=/rescue/fedupdebug.log
What could go wrong? Well, it turns out that fedup works by updating the Grub2 boot loader configuration, but my grub2 resides on sda1 partition instead, owned by my existing Edubuntu. The reboot did not give me the option to run the specialized kernel to finish the process.
Fixing this was a hot mess, but I managed to configure Grub2 on Fedora, and complete the upgrade and get everything working as before. However, even though it just came out last year, [F18 version is already out of support]! This means I get a second chance to do FedUp, this time to F19 release. Oh boy! Fun!
While the second time went smoother, the problem was that F19 doesn't seem to run well in 512MB of RAM, and chances are F20 won't either.
So what have I learned from this?
- Fedora is fully supported, has been around over 10 years, with a vibrant and helpful community.
- Sugar is designed for kids, so adding a traditional desktop environment like XFCE or LXDE can be useful for administrator or teacher.
- Offering multiple Linux versions in a dual-boot or triple-boot approach may complicate the Grub2 loader configuration and maintenance.
- Fedora's "rolling upgrade" approach means that someone will need to consider upgrading to later versions at least every school year or semester to maintain support. Running fedup-cli or any of the other upgrade methods may be too complicated for your average teacher.
If you have any experience with Fedora or Sugar in the classroom, comment below!