[sf-lug] Creating a Linux Lab

Kami Griffiths kgriffiths at compumentor.org
Mon Jun 25 10:49:02 PDT 2007

Thanks for all your interest and enthusiasm in helping to create a Linux
lab. I apologize for changing plans so late last week, I understand
you're all busy people and I appreciate your patience!


I'd like to give you a little background on this project and address
some questions that were raised. I work at CompuMentor/TechSoup and
create materials that help organizations offer technology programs to
their community. We're currently working on a guide specifically for
librarians to help them with the maintenance of their public computers.
I am gathering best practices by interviewing librarians who have
learned how to do this successfully. I interviewed someone from Alabama
who was fed up with Microsoft and installed Ubuntu on all her Windows 98
machines and couldn't be happier. It was this interview that motivated
me to test the idea here. How challenging is it to take your old
machines and install Ubuntu? Can TechSoup create educational material to
help others organizations with old computers do something similar? Can I
help create a better quality lab in my community to help the several
hundred people there learn how to use the computer?


Not everyone can afford a computer and the 2007 City Survey shows that
20% of San Francisco residents still don't have a computer or internet
access. That number jumps to 30% in the Southeast and the report
highlights the growing digital divide when it comes to income, education
level and race. There was a push to address this issue in the late 90s,
government and foundation funding was plentiful and computer labs popped
up everywhere. The current administration declared that there was no
longer a digital divide, funding dried up and so did the salaries that
paid for trainers and technicians to keep the labs running. But people
still don't know how to use the computer even though the need to know is



Here are some questions posed by a member and my responses: 


Q: Why do you want Linux installed on these machines (OpenOffice is
available on Windows as well)?

A: Linux uses less space on the hard drive and allows older, slower
machines to perform better than using Windows. Also, MS has stopped
supporting older versions of Windows making it a challenge to continue
using them. Lastly, the option to upgrade to a newer MS OS may not be an
option for some organizations with little funding. 


Q: What are the expected uses of these computers, and by whom (and what
is their computer familiarity/experience)?

A: The computer lab resides in a housing project and is only used
occasionally by the after school program. They don't have funding to pay
for a computer teacher so there haven't been classes for adults in many
years. I have offered to teach a weekly basic course which will be open
only to residents of the housing project (there are around 200 adults
that have little/no computer experience). I'd like to install Edubuntu
which has educational programs that can be utilized by the after school
program and OpenOffice which can help adults acquire skills to obtain a
better job.


Q: Are the users familiar with a particular version of Linux and/or who
will be training the users to get them familiar with it?

A: Very few adults within this housing project own a computer or know
how to use one. They wouldn't know the difference between operating
systems, or OpenOffice and Microsoft Office. 


Q: Who will be maintaining the computers in terms of hardware issues?
Who will be maintaining the computers in terms of software after the
initial installation (installing new applications as needed, fixing
software issues that come up, installing security updates)?

A: There's an interesting opportunity to train someone in the community
how to do this, like a mentoring program. But right now there is no one
on staff with IT experience and we would need to rely on volunteers.


Q: How will these computers connect to the internet? What is the network
topology, and/or is one needed to be put in place?

A: They have a DSL line for internet and a server, but I'm not sure it's
being used. There is also a color laser printer still in the box that
needs to be installed.


Q: Who will be responsible for backups and recovery? What important
information will need to be backed up?

A: Backups won't be necessary, since it's a public lab they should not
be saving their files on the computers but to a flash drive. 



Next Steps: Set up a couple of machines, install Edubuntu, test it,
determine if it's the best configuration. This will require 2 people to
be present and 1-2 available via phone for troubleshooting help. I
anticipate it will take 2 hours. The install-fest can happen anytime
after that and we'll need 4-5 people. 



I'm not an expert at any of this and am learning as I go too. I think
there's a great opportunity here to help aging labs around the world
understand how they can convert from Windows to Linux, saving them money
and promoting open source. Let me know if there are additional questions
and I look forward to working on this project together!



Kami Griffiths

CompuMentor, Senior Program Associate

525 Brannan Street,  Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94107

P: 415-633-9392  F: 415-633-9400

kami at compumentor.org <mailto:kami at compumentor.org> 


www.compumentor.org <http://www.compumentor.org>    Bringing people and
technology together to strengthen our communities

www.techsoup.org <http://www.techsoup.org>   Technology served the way
nonprofits need it, powered by CompuMentor



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