I work for a homeless shelter that is currently undergoing some changes to their computer system. Linux is currently viewed as the most likely solution.
At the shelter there are 3 computers for use by guests to surf the internet, email people, find resources to help them change their situation, and the use of a word processor and printing for resumes, letters, etc. to help them find jobs.
The problem is that the computers all have Windows 98 on them and have a history of problems. They crash regularly and reinstalling usually only fixes things for a few months. One of the biggest problems is that a lot of the guests constantly change the settings, install software, etc. Many of these individuals suffer from a variety of mental illnesses and the changes they often make are interesting
. Some of the less computer savy staff/volunteers end up spending up to an hour or more each day changing things back to how they should be, uninstalling programs, etc. Budget constraints prevent any upgrading to versions of Windows where one can easily control what one can do on the computers. Nor can we afford "nanny" software that controls such things or software that automatically reverts the computer each day.
The women who's in charge of the shelter and I were talking about the problem and she suggested Linux. I was a bit surprised. I've run a few distributions over the last few years and I'm generally comfortable with it for basic usage and some development. She liked the idea of Linux for philosophical reasons. She's a big advocate when it comes to equity and justice issues and is very much a fan of licensing models that allows the level of freedom that the GPL does. The entire organization is behind the idea of switching away from Microsoft products for similar reasons. It was surprising and refreshing to see someone with next to no computer skills looking into Linux purely on an ethical standpoint.
Here's what I need to accomplish:
Install Linux on 6 computers:
- 3 of which will have heavily restricted access. I want to be able to restrict users to running only a web browser (likely Mozilla), and an office suite (likely OpenOffice.org) as well as a program to view PDF files. They also need the ability to save files in one folder and one folder only (as they may find a file online or make a resume that needs to be saved to the hard-drive). I would like them to have no other visible options on the desktop as well. Perhaps a clock would be nice as well. Very minimalistic.
- The 3 other staff computers will have full functionality including a database using MySQL that I will be writing for keeping track of statistics regarding services offered (you need a detailed account of what you do with the money that is donated and exactly whom you are helping and how when you're a non-profit organization). I have a decent amount of reference material and experience with this type of thing, but I'm always interested in links to useful information. SQL reference guides, anything MySQL specific, etc., would be greatly appreciated. You can't ever have too many guides.
Share internet access between all 6 computers.
- They don't need any further network capabilities (file sharing, network printing etc). There already is a router sharing the internet to these six computers running Windows 98. I'm not expecting any difficulty at all, but if someone has any advice, I'm always willing to listen.
Make things idiot proof
- The restricted computers should start up, log into the restricted account and display a few very self explanatory icons ("Surf the Internet" and "Write a Letter or Resume"). Many of the guests have severe mental illness or injury and things need to be simple. Large buttons would also be good.
- The non restricted computers are used by people who are also not very computer savvy (except for one). They don't really want to learn the ins or outs of any operating system. I've set them up with Windows versions of the programs we will likely be using after the switch to get them used to things (OpenOffice.org and Mozilla being the most often used). I'm hoping there will be little or no problem with them using the same programs on Linux. They are currently all making a complete list of all the programs they use so I can find Linux versions or alternatives. For the most part it's really simple as they only type up letters, email, etc..
- Unless I can ensure that all the hardware is linux compatible, It could end up staying with Windows 98. Can anyone suggest any resources to find out if a given laptop will work with Linux?
So, like so many threads before, if someone has a distribution to suggest that would best meet the above outlined needs, that would be great. I'm currently leaning towards SUSE, Slackware or Mandrake 9.2 (as I've had bad experiences with the *.0 Mandrake releases, so I'm wary of 10.0). One of the considerations is installation time for the 3 minimalistic computers. I'll have a 48 hour period to switch them over, tops (possibly less). So I can't be befuddled by a manual installation and not have them ready.
Should I consider a different distribution for the 3 restricted computers and the 3 staff computers? Is there a distribution that works especially well on laptops?
The restricted computers are Pentium 2 300 MHz with 64 megs of RAM and pretty generic video cards and network cards. I have yet to make a comprehensive list of the hardware to make sure it's supported. I'm not expecting any real problems though. The staff computers are P2 500 MHz with 96 megs of ram and a Athlon 900 MHz with 128 megs of ram. All their hardware has been checked and will work fine.
I hope I've given sufficient information. I'll check back daily if you need any more info to give me good advice or point me to pertinent resources.