Converting A Small School To GNU/Linux in 1 Hour

Of course this can be done using Debian GNU/Linux but it takes more knowledge than a newbie might have. A distro designed for the purpose gets a teacher off to a good start. My first experience with GNU/Linux in a lab came from K12LTSP GNU/Linux when it was a real distro based on Fedora GNU/Linux. It installed a working LTSP server in less than an hour and all I had to do was collect a few addresses and edit a few files. Easy.

More recently I recommended EdUbuntu for the job but with the strange sharp turns of Canonical away from a near perfect desktop OS to some kind of compromise, I thought I should try Debian Edu/SkoleLinux which does the same but is based on Debian more solidly.

I downloaded the beta CD from


One can verify the correctness of a 600MB download using the md5sum command on a working GNU/Linux system or just trust to luck. These days it is rare to have a bad download. One can boot from the CD and do an internal test as well.

I created a virtual machine of 40gB and booted the CD. Screenshots follow. The process installs applications, an OS and services to boot a bunch of PCs by PXE and run sessions on the subject PC. This is a great convenience. One installation does the whole bunch. One just needs to set all the client PCs to boot PXE/network from the BIOS and it helps to have two NICs (Network Interface Controllers) on the server PC. One will connect to the outside world and the other will supply the clients in the school or lab. If the server PC has 200MB RAM per client and a good modern CPU, it should be able to run 24 PCs with no problems for normal click and gawk computing. It’s not a super-computer, so don’t expect all clients to be able to solve the secrets of the universe simultaneously but they sure can give a nice snappy learning environment. GNU/Linux runs well under load.

This installation pulls packages in from the Internet, so speed is dependent on that connection. I have a local server which makes things much faster but one needs to select “expert” to be able to specify the proxy.

The installation guides the newbie through the steps:

There are 2600 packages installed in the main file-system and the chroot for thin clients. It even installs LDAP and xrdp, much more than a minimal installation. I fear this is bloat for a lot of schools who just need a lab running… Without a fast local mirror, this installation takes many hours and I can see teachers taking up much of a weekend to do it.

I recommend doing a minimal installation of Debian GNU/Linux and adding the LTSP parts manually to avoid the bloat. That way you can get XFCE4, turn off encryption and use a local mirror or cache of packages. That will save downloading packages twice, once for the file-system and once again for the chroot and if you need to repeat the installation, the second try will be much faster.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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One Response to Converting A Small School To GNU/Linux in 1 Hour

  1. dougman says:

    I am surprised that Google has not derived some sort of terminal client and server based on ChromeOS.

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