Edubuntu: The path to 14.04 LTS

(tl;dr: Edubuntu 14.04 will include a new Edubuntu Server and Edubuntu tablet edition with a lot of cool new features including a full feature Active Directory compatible domain.)

Now that Edubuntu 12.10 is out the door and the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Copenhagen is just a week away, I thought it’d be an appropriate time to share our vision for Edubuntu 14.04.

This was so far only discussed in person with Jonathan Carter and a bit on IRC with other Edubuntu developers but I think it’s time to make our plans a bit more visible so we can get more feedback and hopefully get interested people together next week at UDS.

There are three big topics I’d like to talk about. Edubuntu desktop, Edubuntu server and Edubuntu tablet.

Edubuntu desktop

Edubuntu desktop is what we’ve been offering since the first Edubuntu release and what we’ll obviously continue to offer pretty much as it’s today.
It’s not an area I plan on spending much time working on personally but I expect Jonathan to drive most of the work around this.

Basically what the Edubuntu desktop needs nowadays is a better application selection, better testing, better documentation, making sure our application selection works on all our supported platforms and is properly translated.

We’ll also have to refocus some of our efforts and will likely drop some things like our KDE desktop package that hasn’t been updated in years and was essentially doubling our maintenance work which is why we stopped supporting it officially in 12.04.

There are a lot of cool new tools we’ve heard of recently and that really should be packaged and integrated in Edubuntu.

Edubuntu Server

Edubuntu Server will be a new addition to the Edubuntu project, expected to ship in its final form in 14.04 and will be supported for 5 years as part of the LTS.

This is the area I’ll be spending most of my Edubuntu time on as it’s going to be using a lot of technologies I’ve been involved with over the years to offer what I hope will be an amazing server experience.

Edubuntu Server will essentially let you manage a network of Edubuntu, Ubuntu or Windows clients by creating a full featured domain (using samba4).

From the same install DVD as Edubuntu Desktop, you’ll be able to simply choose to install a new Edubuntu Server and create a new domain, or if you already have an Edubuntu domain or even an Active Directory domain, you’ll be able to join an extra server to add extra scalibility or high-availability.

On top of that core domain feature, you’ll be able to add extra roles to your Edubuntu Server, the initial list is:

  • Web hosting platform – Will let you deploy new web services using JuJu so schools in your district or individual teachers can easily get their own website.
  • File server – A standard samba3 file server so all your domain members can easily store and retrieve files.
  • Backup server – Will automatically backup the important data from your servers and if you wish, from your clients too.
  • Schooltool – A school management web service, taking care of all the day to day school administration.

LTSP will also be part of that system as part of Edubuntu Terminal Server which will let you, still from our single install media, install as many new terminal servers as you want, automatically joining the domain, using the centralized authentication, file storage and backup capabilities of your Edubuntu Server.

As I mentioned, the Edubuntu DVD will let you install Edubuntu Desktop, Edubuntu Server and Edubuntu Terminal Server. You’ll simply be asked at installation time whether you want to join an Edubuntu Server or Active Directory domain or if you want your machine to be standalone.

Once installed, Edubuntu Server will be managed through a web interface driving LXC behind the scene to deploy new services, upgrade individual services or deploy new web services using JuJu.
Our goal is to have Edubuntu Server offer an appliance-like experience, never requiring any command line access to the system and easily supporting upgrades from a version to another.

For those wondering what the installation process will look like, I have some notes of the changes available at: http://paste.ubuntu.com/1289041/
I’m expecting to have the installer changes implemented by the time we start building our first 13.04 images.

The rest of Edubuntu Server will be progressively landing during the 13.04 cycle with an early version of the system being released with Edubuntu 13.04, possibly with only a limited selection of roles and without initial support for multiple servers and Active Directory integration.

While initially Edubuntu branded, our hope is that this work will be re-usable by Ubuntu and may one day find its way into Ubuntu Server.
Doing this as part of Edubuntu will give us more time and more flexibility to get it right, build a community around it and get user feedback before we try to get the rest of the world to use it too.

Edubuntu Tablet

During the Edubuntu 12.10 development cycle, the Edubuntu Council approved the sponsorship of 5 tablets by Revolution Linux which were distributed to some of our developers.

We’ve been doing daily armhf builds of Edubuntu, refined our package selections to properly work on ARM and spent countless hours fighting to get our tablet to boot (a ZaTab from ZaReason).
Even though it’s been quite a painful experience so far, we’re still planning on offering a supported armhf tablet image for 14.04, running something very close to our standard Edubuntu Desktop and also featuring integration with Edubuntu Server.

With all the recent news about Ubuntu on the Nexus 7, we’ll certainly be re-discussing what our main supported platform will be during next week’s UDS but we’re certainly planning on releasing 13.04 with experimental tablet support.

LTS vs non-LTS

For those who read our release announcement or visited our website lately, you certainly noticed the emphasis on using the LTS releases.
We really think that most Edubuntu users want something that’s stable, very well tested with regular updates and a long support time, so we’re now always recommending the use of the latest LTS release.

That doesn’t mean we’ll stop doing non-LTS release like the Mythbuntu folks recently decided to do, pretty far from that. What it means however is that we’ll more freely experiment in non-LTS releases so we can easily iterate through our ideas and make sure we release something well polished and rock solid for our LTS releases.

Conclusion

I’m really really looking forward to Edubuntu 14.04. I think the changes we’re planning will help our users a lot and will make it easier than ever to get school districts and individual schools to switch to Edubuntu for both their backend infrastructure with Edubuntu Server and their clients with Edubuntu Desktop and Edubuntu Tablet.

Now all we need is your ideas and if you have some, your time to make it all happen. We usually hang out in #edubuntu on freenode and can also be contacted on the edubuntu-devel mailing-list.

For those of you going to UDS, we’ll try to get an informational session on Edubuntu Server scheduled on top of our usual Edubuntu session. If you’re there and want to know more or want to help, please feel free to grab Jonathan or I in the hallway, at the bar or at one of the evening activities.

This entry was posted in Canonical voices, Conferences, Edubuntu, LTSP, LXC, Planet Ubuntu. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Edubuntu: The path to 14.04 LTS

  1. Tamas PAPP says:

    If you complete your plans, it will be more, then an educational oriented distribution, rather an SBS like swiss army knife, am I right?

    tamas

    • Indeed, that’s why I said I’m hoping that this work will ultimately benefit to Ubuntu-Server.

      The way it’s being designed, it should fit both the home network/single classroom kind of use case but also scale fine to the size of a large school district (50+ schools, a few thousand machines and 50k+ users).
      So if everything works as planned, it should end up covering quite a bit more than just the small businesses kind of use case.

  2. Kevin says:

    Have you ever thought about creating a distribution for use with the Raspberry Pi? I could see that being useful for classrooms.

    • No, the Raspberry Pi uses an armv5 CPU that’s terribly slow and can’t realistically be used for anything half-decent.

      Edubuntu 13.04 will be released for ARM but that’s going to be armhf for armv7 where the average board has a decent CPU and a quantity of RAM we can actually work with for just a few more dollars than a Raspberry Pi.

      Our current ARM images are targeted at the PandaBoard which isn’t exactly cheap, for 13.04 we’ll likely only be releasing tablet images for the Nexus 7 so still not exactly cheap, but as soon as someone gets a working kernel for the Allwinner A10 based boards, you’ll be able to get board for 50-60$ that are 4-5 times as powerful as a Raspberry Pi and are based on a recent ARM architecture.

  3. Ronald van Engelen says:

    Hi Stéphane,

    Nice to see you keep up the good work!

    In your “Software selections” screenshot on goggle+ and the edubuntu release notes for 12.10 I noticed that Unity was the default LTSP-client desktop for 12.04 but isn’t for later releases.

    Could you elaborate on this as we’re currently planning for upgrading our 10.04 LTSP environment to something newer.

    Merci,
    Ronald

    • Hi Ronald,

      Back in 12.04, we could have Unity for thin clients as there was the unity-2d fallback using metacity as the window manager.
      With 12.10, Ubuntu stopped the development of unity-2d which means that thin clients are now doing software OpenGL to run compiz, leading to a very high increase in network bandwidth and CPU usage for clients.

      The switch to gnome-fallback at least gets us metacity back and a desktop that works on slow CPU and without killing the network.

      However we know that it’s not a solution as gnome-fallback is being deprecated upstream, so we won’t be able to use metacity probably starting with Ubuntu 13.10. We’re still not sure exactly what we’ll be doing then. Maybe we’ll be lucky and the Unity team will fix Unity to work with over the network GL indirect rendering so that compiz works without killing the network and CPU or worst case scenario, we’ll switch to doing fat clients by default and figure out a way to offload specific applications to the server (libreoffice and similar kind of software).

      • Laércio de Sousa says:

        Replicating here some questions I made in Edubuntu G+ community:

        Would you consider the possibility to replace Unity with KDE, XFCE or some other low-resources-compliant DE in next Edubuntu LTS release?

        Would you also have plans for multiseat support in Edubuntu? Here in Brazil, for example, we have a huge educational program based on Ubuntu-powered multiseat computers, but we depend on a proprietary solution (Userful Multiseat) due to the lack of a good free/open multiseat solution.

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