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Monday 18 February 2013

A new installer for DoudouLinux

The latest development release 2013-02 is shipping with a totally new installer that can perform a real installation of DoudouLinux onto disk, USB disks included. This was a feature really wanted since the current stable release 1.x can only perform a copy of the Live system onto disk while wiping its entire content. Our new installer can do repartitioning and multi-boot, it is indeed a fork of the Linux Mint installer (thanks Mint!) with many improvements to fit our needs. Of course it will be part of the next stable release 2.0 due to April/May. In the meanwhile, we propose you to give it a try[1]. and tell us your feelings :).

What the installer does

Unlike the fake installer of 1.x, this installer will create a real Linux system, fully modifiable and with the Live stuffs removed. As a result, it requires a bit more space than the 1.x version to be installed, around 3 GB instead of 1.1 GB, the size of the development version DVD. The installer lets you set the following parameters:

  • System language
  • Timezone
  • Keyboard layout and model
  • Main user, with sudo privileges
  • Selection of disk to install onto
  • Selection of disk partitions or automatic partitioning
  • Manual repartitioning if needed
  • Hardware clock set to UTC or not
  • Grub2 bootloader installation

All of that is performed from within a nice graphic interface as you'll see below on the screenshots. One of the improvements we brought is a wizard mode for people who want to entirely wipe their disk but don't want to bother with partitions. In this case, once the disk is selected, it is automatically repartitioned into 3 partitions: root, home and swap. Unlike many automatic partitioning tools (or mainstream OS'es :p), we want users to be able to reinstall their system without loosing their data!

The installation process itself consists in copying the files from the Live system to the target partitions. It lasts about 5 minutes on a quite old laptop (2005), running DoudouLinux from a Live USB key. After files have been copied, the installer chroots into the new system to perform final adjustments (applying settings, creating the user, removing the installer, setting the network configuration, etc.). The system is then ready to be restarted. No network connection is required during the installation, this was a requirement for countries in which Internet is quite rare.

Using the installer

So now let's use this new installer :). First of all you need the development version 2013-02 of DoudouLinux. It is very stable but may be still lacking of translations. As DoudouLinux is intended for children while providing as much safety as possible for parents, the installer is not easily accessible with the mouse or at boot. It is then not available as an icon or a menu entry, you have to start the console in the most advanced activity “Whole DoudouLinux” and type:

$ sudo live-installer

After few seconds, the first screen is displayed, this is the system language setting:

Installer – language settings

Just choose your country and go to next screen, the timezone setting:

Installer – timezone selection

You can either click on the map or select your timezone in the dropping menu, so quite easy too. Once you're done, next screen will let you set your keyboard:

Installer – keyboard settings

This is a bit more complicated since there are many possible keyboard variants. First choose your country, this will change the list of keyboard variants on the other side of the selection box. Then select a variant, this will update the keyboard keys on the graphical keyboard representation. Some variants don't change the main key associations (lowercase and uppercase letters, drawn in white and green) but just the alternate keys (in blue), obtained while pressing the AltGr key. In this case you have to choose the layout that looks the most practical for you.

Finally you may also want to select a particular keyboard model in the list on the bottom of the screen. While choosing a wrong model should not prevent you from using your keyboard, choosing the correct one may let you access particular features of your keyboard. Let the default choice if you don't want to bother with this parameter.

Once you're done, go to next step, the user information:

Installer – user information

The installer will remove administrative rights from the DoudouLinux activities (except for settings like the audio output or printers). As a result, a user has to be created to be given these rights, this is the purpose of this screen. Although the user's photo and full name are not really used in DoudouLinux, you should probably use information related to you! You can then change the user name for a shorter nickname if the computed one is not of your taste. It is indeed the name that you will use to login and get the sudo administrative rights. You also have to type a password twice; there is no complexity check for the password so try to use a password that is not too much trivial! Finally you may want to change the computer name, especially if you already have several computers on your (local) network. This is not mandatory however.

Now the installer has most of the required information, it's time to choose the disk onto which DoudouLinux will be installed:

Installer – disk selection

The installer knows how much minimal space is required for DoudouLinux (around 4 GB), so if you're willing to install it onto too small an USB key, the key will simply not be displayed in the list! We have added as much disk information as possible to let you precisely identify your disks in case several ones are available. Once you're done, it's time to decide whether you want to perform an automatic partitioning or if you want to do it by yourself:

Installer – partitioning mode

Note that the installer is designed to be also able to use the remaining free space on disk for new partitions, but we suspect this feature to not work in many case because extended partitions are not managed yet (yes, we haven't tested this feature!). Unless you really want to help us improve the installer, you should probably select either the first entry (wiping the entire disk) or the latest one (manual partitioning). Anyway the second entry is not selectable if the installer hasn't detected enough free space on your disk, which should be the most frequent case.

If you choose to entirely wipe out your disk with automatic partitioning, moving to next step will require the deletion of all the existing partitions, which also means destroying all your data. As there is no backup tool, confirmation is asked twice, here is the first confirmation dialog:

Installer – repartitioning confirmation

If you confirm a second time, the disk partitions are immediately modified and you are lead to the advanced settings screen described later. If you finally choose manual partitioning, the disk partitions will be displayed:

Installer – manual partitioning

As the help text tells, you should probably select at least 3 partitions: the system root, the user's data /home and a swap partition. If you need to reorganize your partitions, click the button “Edit partitions”, this will launch GParted, a partition editor that is able to create, remove, copy, move, shrink or extend partitions. Once you're done, close GParted and click the button “Update” so that the installer rebuilds your partition map. Please note that editing partitions may lead to data loss, you may want to backup your data before, which the installer cannot do.

So now let's go to the latest settings screen, the advanced settings that is also displayed just after automatic partitioning has been confirmed twice:

Installer – advanced settings

The first parameter is the hardware clock that can use UTC or local time. As it depends on a system that could be already (or have ever been) installed on the computer, we have chosen to let users decide. The effect of switching to UTC or not is seen in the text below the checkbox, this should then be easy to find the correct value. The second parameter is the bootloader installation. As this is quite technical, we've added a long explanation text. However the default choice is to install the bootloader onto the disk onto which DoudouLinux is to be installed. This should be the best choice in most cases, as long as you're not willing to have several Linux systems installed.

Now it's time to start the installation process. A summary of your choices is displayed before confirmation:

Installer – installation summary

If you agree with it, installation will start. When it is done, a dialog box will propose you to restart your computer and enjoy your newly installed DoudouLinux :).

So now try it by yourself and tell us more about it!

Notes

[1] If the 2013-02 is not out yet, check the dailybuild page.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Unique-launch: launch each application once, no more

A current issue with young children is that they often click application launchers several times until the application shows. Depending on the overall system speed, this may lead to 3, 4 or 5 instances of the same application launched in the end… Although desktop environments usually change the mouse cursor while an application is being launched, this is not the case of LXDE sessions, from which advanced DoudouLinux sessions derive, and this may not be sufficient anyway because the meaning of such change is not so obvious for someone who discovers computers.

For these reasons we wanted for DoudouLinux a tool that:

  • avoids applications to be launched more than one time
  • clearly shows that the application is being launched using a notification message
  • brings focus to a previously launched application when it is launched once more, may the application be iconified or wound

To achieve this, we developed a dedicated tool named unique-launch. You can install it using its Debian package.

The result is shown in the screencast below. The user clicks several times to launch an application, but only one instance is actually launched. Later he toggles the window to its wound status (only the title bar is drawn). Clicking the application icon unwinds the application and brings focus to it. This avoids the user doesn't understand why clicking the launch icon doesn't do anything if he forgot the application has been wound.

Fichier vidéo intégré

(download in OGG format, 1.5MB)

All these improvements will be made available in our future stable release, the successor of Gondwana. In the meanwhile, dailybuilds are available for evaluation, their names are of the form doudoulinux-yyyy-mm-dd-ll.iso. We invite everyone to test and give feedback!

Sunday 22 April 2012

UI improvements: new panel design

We are still working on improving the DoudouLinux user interface (UI). The previous work has been focusing on the desktop, made of the LxLauncher tabs. Now we're focusing on the panel LxPanel for a better integration and a better user experience. Several improvements have been achieved:

  • look & feel integrated with the desktop
  • redesign of many network-manager icons because they couldn't be enlarged
  • code backported from the volume plugin to the alsavolume plugin to get a changing volume icon, depending on the volume value
  • nicer icons for the volume icon
  • fixed font size in clock, not correctly following the panel size
  • improved battery look & feel, it still requires some work though
  • the panel can now be covered by application windows

A dailybuild will be soon available in several languages to get feedback from our community. The result of this work is as follows:

New interface (2012-04)

If you're wondering what is the role of the country flag in the panel: this is the keyboard layout. Finally another screenshot with an application window:

New interface, with calculator (2012-04)

Other UI improvements are on the go and will be soon detailed in new posts :). Stay tuned!

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Some news in preview

The new stable version of DoudouLinux is not completely achieved yet but we are happy to present some changes that will be brought to the next stable version of DoudouLinux, which is expected for mid 2012.

DuckDuckGo

The DoudouLinux project wants to be as open and free (freedom) as possible. He also wants to propose a computing experience that is free of advertisement and spywares, may they come from installed software or from visited web pages. But it is sometimes difficult to get rid of few habits… or companies.

Therefore, we are very proud to announce that the Google Co. won't be able to collect and resell our children data anymore! Indeed, the growing spying practices of this great company should be soon bypassed by the use of DuckDuckGo as the default DoudouLinux search engine.

Its speed, its simplicity and its image have been noticed by the project manager who proposed it to the team for integration into the project.

New presentation

The menu LxLauncher (it is the main menu in “Whole DoudouLinux” and “Mini DoudouLinux”) has been reworked. The goal is the accessibility for young children who can't read, plus aesthetic. Henceforth, they will recognize the icons more easily and intuitively: icons have been changed and enlarged.

Look at the screenshot below to see how this new look & feel will be.

New LXLauncher

A new name

Gondwana is the name of the current stable version but… what will be the name of the next stable version? After the letter “G” is the letter “H” and (perhaps) should Hyperborea be a good name for the next DoudouLinux?

Any other idea? Feel free to submit them in comments or on our mailing lists.

Sunday 15 January 2012

LxLauncher: automatic icon size for a nicer interface

One issue we had in mind for a while is the fixed size of icons in LxLauncher. Depending on screen resolution, this size can be fitting well (small resolutions) or really too small (large resolutions). In the later case, the interface of advanced activities like “Whole DoudouLinux” and “Mini DoudouLinux” can look very empty, just as the screenshot that is unfortunately available on our DistroWatch page.

With automatic icon size computation, we are now able to get a similar rendering on various screen resolutions as shown on the photo composition below. In this case, screen resolutions are 1280×800 (HP), 1280×1024 (CRT display), 1024×768 (Dell) and 1024×600 (Genesi), leading to screen size ratios 5÷4, 4÷3 or between 16÷10 and 16÷9. If you want to give it a try, just download one of our recent dailybuilds, in English or French only.

Automatic icon size for LxLauncher

We hope then to not see this kind of screenshot anymore:

LxLauncher without automatic icon size

Now few words about the way we achieved it.

In Debian Squeeze, the LxLauncher version, v0.2.1, features icon size tuning in a configuration file, /etc/xdg/lxlauncher/settings.conf. This is an easy way to change the icon size but, of course, requires user action. This is why we've developed a shell script that is called during GDM initialization to adapt the icon size to the actual screen resolution. The algorithm is the following:

  1. compute screen surface in pixels-square
  2. compute the width of icons to have a given number of them in a given portion of the screen (45% in our script)
  3. compute the rounded number of icons per row using the previous width
  4. compute the final icon width using screen width and number of icons per row

This script is available on our SVN server. Its algorithm is designed to be independent of screen orientation since it does not uses the screen width to compute the icon size but the screen surface. We hope then to be able to run DoudouLinux on any device in the future, from the smallest handheld devices to the largest TV screens :).

Finally, what about the stable DoudouLinux release Gondwana? Well it is shipping with LxLauncher v0.2.0 which does not allow to set icon size (it is hard-coded). Nevertheless trials have been performed to backport icon size setting from 0.2.1 and it seems to work! We should then release the latest update of Gondwana, v1.2, with this new feature :).

Friday 25 November 2011

Automatic login now available

The default behavior of DoudouLinux is to show the menu of activities (see below) after the system has started and as soon as any activity is leaved. This is good for small children because the activities menu offers activities in the increasing order of difficulties, from top to bottom. However, for older children, the first activities are or will quickly become of poor interest. This is why the list of activities shown – but not their order – can be changed with the activities menu editor .

Activities menu (small)

However the oldest children may still have no interest at all in seeing a menu of activities, since they will surely login into “Whole DoudouLinux”. The new version of the activities menu editor can now do this. The trick is quite simple: if only one activity is selected in the menu, DoudouLinux will not show the activities menu but instead will enter this activity directly. Activities menu settings are recorded in the directory /home/etc/, which means that any data persistence (user data or user+system) is sufficient to make settings survive a reboot or a shutdown.

This new version of the activities menu editor will be available with next releases: the coming development release numbered 2011-11 and the planned official release update Gondwana 1.2, due to mid January.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Graphical interface to set the session menu

A new tool to set the session menu has been developed. It has been designed to be dead easy to use: you are shown the list of possible sessions and just check or uncheck the sessions that you want to see or hide. You can then easily adapt the main screen to the audience: small or big children (or adults ;) ). In the future we may add an option to force autologin for a given activity.

Please note that sessions are called activities in the interface, which is certainly more easy to understand for people who are not familiar with computers. Here is a screenshot:

doudoulinux-sessions

The tool is not available in CD's yet but will be added to next release, the 2011-02, due to late February. It is already available on our Debian package repository. In the meanwhile, if you really feel the need to use it, you can install it manually in a running DoudouLinux:

$ wget http://debian.doudoulinux.org/pool/main/d/doudoulinux-sessions/doudoulinux-sessions_1.0-3_all.deb
$ sudo dpkg -i doudoulinux-sessions_1.0-3_all.deb

Of course everything is lost at shutdown if you have not activated persistence or not installed DoudouLinux definitively.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Nouvelles interfaces pour la souris et la sortie son

Les premières interfaces dignes de ce nom ont été écrites pour l'outil de réglage de la souris et celui de réglage de la sortie son. Du point de vue fonctionnel c'est pareil qu'avant, mais du point de vue esthétisme, on pense avoir quand même fait beaucoup mieux ! Quelques heures à s'arracher les cheveux pour se perfectionner un peu en PyGtk et voilà le résultat :

mouse-setting.png

set-alsa-output.png

Bon maintenant il n'y a plus qu'à patienter pour que ce soit sur les CD. Ou sinon faites un tour dans notre dépôt de code source. Les mises à jour des paquets Debian devraient aussi finir par arriver, avant les nouvelles versions des CD !