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SWATTEC : Home Page > Tutorials and Help for Others > Linux on Netbooks > 1 - Overview

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Please Note: While this content is relevant to the SUSD SWATTEC program, the http://ubermix.org website is the formal location for up-to-date content and information on the ubermix Linux build, downloads, etc. 

The ubermix is based on Ubuntu Netbook Edition (UNE), which is a version of Ubuntu that was compiled with what the developers believed would be an ideal combination of applications and tools for a typical netbook user. While their efforts are worthy of praise, the typical configuration of this installation is more complex than it needs to be for a typical student. What we endeavored to do is compile a configuration and combination of applications that we believe to be ideal for a student.

Our requirements include:

  • Create an ideal mix of applications for student learning and creativity, while keeping the install as small as possible, so that it fits on solid state netbooks, like the EeePC 900-1000 series
  • Limit the amount of disk writes in an effort to extend the life of flash-based storage and reduce power usage
  • Create a way for students to self-recover quickly in the event of a system problem
  • Create a rapid installation mechanism for quickly deploying hundreds (if not thousands) of netbooks

Mix of Applications

For the ubermix we tried to keep the combined base operating system and applications under 4 Gb, so that it would fit easily on the 4 Gb system drive on most flash-based netbooks. In order to accomplish this, we removed a number of unnecessary utilities and libraries in order to free up as much space as possible. We then added a number of applications that we believe students will make good use of. The default application list on this install includes the following:


Archive Manager
Text Editor (docs)
Zim Desktop Wiki/Notes (docs)


Celestia (docs)
GeoGebra (docs)
iGNUit Flashcard Trainer
Klavaro Touch Typing Tutor (intro doc)
Scratch Visual Programming (docsebooktutorials/lesson plans
curriculum guide)
Stellarium (Quick Startdocs)
Virtual Microscope (docs)
VUE Visual Understanding Environment


Frozen Bubble
Mahjongg (docs)
Multiplication Puzzle
Numpty Physics
Sudoku (docs)
Tux Math
Tux Typing


Agave ColorScheme Designer
Dia Diagramming (docs)
Drawpile Collaborative Drawing
F-Spot Photo Manager (docs)
GIMP Image Editor (docsbook)
Inkscape Vector Graphics (docs)
LibreOffice Draw (docs)
Pencil Animation (docs)
Scribus Desktop Publishing (docs)
TBO Comic Creator


Empathy IM Client (docs)
Firefox (docs)
Google Chrome (docs)
Google Earth (docs)
Polly Twitter Client
Thunderbird (docs)


Dictionary (docs)
Labyrinth Mind Mapping
LibreOffice Base - Database (docs)
LibreOffice Impress - Presentation (docs)
LibreOffice Calc - Spreadsheet (docs)
LibreOffice Writer - Word Processor (docs)
Nitro Tasks
Planner Project Management (docs)
View Your Mind Mind Mapping (docs)

Sound and Video

Audacity (docs)
Cheese Webcam Studio (docs)
ffDiaporama Movie Maker (docs)
Movie Player (docs)
Openshot Video Editor (docs)
Banshee Music Manager (docs)
Webcam Capture

Changed/disabled hotkeys to prevent confusion and/or enhance functionality In addition, we changed a number of settings, including:

Limit disk writes and save power

Many netbooks use flash for storage which can only accept a limited number of writes before failure. In addition, writing to the disk in general uses power, which reduces battery life. To remedy this, we disabled as much system logging as possible and do not use swap in this configuration.

Create a way for students to recover quickly in the event of a system failure

While most focus on preventing problems with systems by locking them down, we chose to focus instead on rapid recovery and give students full access to their computer for experimentation and discovery. This enables both students and teachers to explore without fear, knowing that they can quickly get their system back to a default state (literally in seconds), should something go wrong. To accomplish this, we use a storage scheme called UnionFS. The way this works is as follows:


Logically, the storage on the system is divided into two slices: the system software and settings on the left, and the user's files on the right (commonly referred to as the user's "home"). Physically, however, the storage is actually divided into three slices. The two that we care about for this discussion are the left, labeled "User Changes" and "Default System". What UnionFS allows us to do is create a single logical storage space by combining two physical partitions, one of which is read only ("Default System" above) and one which is read/write ("User Changes" above). Any time the user makes any changes, they are all written to the "User Changes" space. No changes are ever made to the "Default System" space. So, when we want to restore the system to its default settings, we simply erase the "User Changes" space, and all is back to normal. The beauty of this is two-fold: the system can be restored to default settings in a matter of seconds, and the action is relatively non-destructive, as none of the user's documents in "User Home" are touched.

A system restore is accomplished by pressing a key at startup and selecting "Restore Factory Settings" from the menu that appears.

Rapid Installation

Lastly, creating a mechanism for rapid installation of this configuration was essential. To accomplish this, we use a USB key to perform the install. No network or other connection is required to complete the installation, which completes in no more than about 4 minutes and 20 seconds. USB keys are inexpensive, so multiple keys can be used simultaneously for rapid deployment on multiple machines, and netbooks all have the capacity to boot from them. The key has a number of features, including a simple way to customize the installation settings to match your environment.

Give it a try!

For further details and to download and install, click on the links at the top-right under "Wiki Pages:Linux on Netbooks"

jklein, 01/27/13 07:23 (GMT)

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