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Old 06-09-2004, 02:34 AM   #1
H'bert
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Registered: Jun 2004
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Linux for Non-Profit Organization


Hello All!

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..

One laptop
- 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.

Thanks!

H'bert
 
Old 06-09-2004, 02:48 AM   #2
spurious
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Registered: Apr 2003
Location: Vancouver, BC
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As a starting point, you should consider the KDE Kiosk tool, which is a locked-down desktop for a multi-user environment; there is a GUI for it as well.

For the laptop, LinuxQuestions has a Laptop Hardware Compatability List.

Also, is there a LUG (Linux Users Group) nearby? You should contact them for some volunteer bodies.

Last edited by spurious; 06-10-2004 at 10:49 PM.
 
Old 06-09-2004, 04:08 PM   #3
H'bert
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Registered: Jun 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by spurious
As a starting point, you should consider the KDE Kiosk tool, which is a locked-down desktop for a multi-user environment; there is a GUI for it as well.


Excellent! This is exactly what I was looking for.

Quote:

For the laptop, LinuxQuestions has a Laptop Hardware Compatability List.


Thanks for the link.

Quote:

Also, is there a LUG (Linux Users Group) nearby? You should contact them for some volunteer bodies.
I'll see what help I can drum up.

The links in your signature are also great.

A general question: Does my plan seem sound:

1. Identify programs used and find Linux versions or alternatives with a minimal learning curve.

2. Install Windows versions of this software so that the people who will be using it get used to it before the migration to Linux.

3. Back up all pertinent data

4. During a 48 hour window during which the computer room is closed, install Linux on the 3 public computers and set them up with proper restrictions and internet access.

5. Set up the 3 staff computers with Linux during appropriate times (ie when staff or on a 2 day break)

6. Set up the laptop with Linux at the user's liesure (this one's not a rush)

To demo how things are finally going to look, I'm downloading an iso of Knoppix.

Is there anything you'd do differently? Any place you can see potential problems arising (assuming all hardware is supported in one way or another)?

Now I just need to pick a distribution. I'm currently leaning towards Slackware 9.1

H'bert
 
Old 06-09-2004, 07:21 PM   #4
libranikki
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H'bert,
I worked for a non-profit women's shelter myself. I tried to get everyone to migrate to Linux since all of the important private stuff is done over computer. It was a no-go. My boss was a.....well not a very open minded person.
I currently use Slackware 9.1 and it is great. I use WindowMaker so I cant say whether any other window manager is better. However, with WindowMaker, you have the icons on the desktop and all you have to do is double click, much like a Microsoft OS.
The only problems you may have, is the operator and not the operating system. Providing everyone caches on to Linux, things sound like they would run smoothly with you in charge. Good luck!
much love,
nikki
 
Old 06-09-2004, 10:27 PM   #5
H'bert
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Registered: Jun 2004
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Quote:
Originally posted by libranikki
H'bert,
I worked for a non-profit women's shelter myself. I tried to get everyone to migrate to Linux since all of the important private stuff is done over computer. It was a no-go. My boss was a.....well not a very open minded person.


All of the directors of the shelter I'm at are for Linux and were the ones who initially brought it up. They have serious issues with the idea of very private (and occasionally even medically related or family law related) information being held in a licensed proprietary format. Add in the typical budget constraints a non-profit org usually functions under and linux set up by staff and volunteers becomes the ideal (only?) solution.

Quote:

I currently use Slackware 9.1 and it is great. I use WindowMaker so I cant say whether any other window manager is better. However, with WindowMaker, you have the icons on the desktop and all you have to do is double click, much like a Microsoft OS.


I was thinking of going with a lighter window manager as some of the computers are a little shy of the requirements of the nice flashy new releases of KDE and the like. I'm sure with enough tweaking I can make nearly any distro & window manager combination work like a kiosk.

Quote:

The only problems you may have, is the operator and not the operating system. Providing everyone caches on to Linux, things sound like they would run smoothly with you in charge. Good luck!
much love,
nikki
Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm sure some of the guests will be a little irate that they can't download and install whatever they feel like, but it's gotten really bad. Some of them are really rather proficient in being destructive to the computers and an installation of Windows 98 doesn't last long. The rest of the staff, save one, are all very much people oriented and will use whatever program is put infront of them and have no real desire to understand what's going on behind the veil, so to speak. The other one has always wanted to try Linux on his home computer but has always been a little intimidated by the potential learning curve. I'll expect he'll be very interested in the entire process and will likely be inspired to switch over himself (he's running ME and has had nothing but problems over the last 4 years).

H'bert

Last edited by H'bert; 06-09-2004 at 10:28 PM.
 
Old 06-09-2004, 10:35 PM   #6
spurious
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Location: Vancouver, BC
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H'bert, I have no experience with system administration, so I can't offer much advice in the way of logistics. However, your plan seems quite sensible to me, especially using Windows versions of free software before the migration.
 
Old 06-10-2004, 12:11 AM   #7
tsachi
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Registered: May 2004
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H'bert,
If there is a university nearby, that would be a good place to look for people with Linux experience who may be willing to help with the setup.

Quote:
- 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?
Try knoppix, it is Linux that you can run from a CD (no need to install) and it is very good at recognizing hardware. It's a cheap way to test your laptop.

Good luck
 
Old 06-10-2004, 01:42 AM   #8
J.W.
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Registered: Mar 2003
Location: Boise, ID
Distribution: Mint
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H'bert -- I'm afraid I can't offer any advice above what has already been suggested but I applaud the work you're doing and the fact that your heart is in the right place. Good luck with the project. Linux will definitely save you money and hassle; I say Go for it. -- J.W.
 
  


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