Li-f-e: Linux for Education 20.04 is out now!

Latest edition of Li-f-e: Linux for Education is now available. This version is based on Ubuntu MATE 20.04 LTS. A lot of useful applications are included on top of the already brillant Ubuntu MATE release to make this a complete operating system for education and home use.

More information about this release:

Download: https://sourceforge.net/projects/cyberorg-home/files/Li-f-e/

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I’m an educator myself and I’m disappointed to see that snap is disabled by default. I maintain a number of STEM education snaps which are very useful for your target audience.

  • West Point Bridge Designer is used in middle- and high-schools to give kids a realistic introduction to engineering by designing, building and testing a bridge. This is actually a Windows application but snaps allow me to package it together with a Windows emulation layer. This snap is the first time Bridge Designer is available for Linux.
  • Scratch for Arduino gives kids an introduction into robotics by allowing them to program robots using scratch. Although this application is still used for a lot for STEM introductions, it uses very old libraries, making it very hard to install on a recent Linux distribution. The snap removes that burden by shipping carefully crafted dependencies together with the application.
  • The Arduino IDE is the basis for any Arduino project. The Arduino boards are specifically designed for education. Although Arduino IDE is in the regular Ubuntu repositories, that version is very outdated, does not support many of the newer boards and functionality, and requires a lot of manual fiddling in order to get it working. The snap allows me to update the IDE every time Arduino produces a new release. It also includes an initial setup screen which helps users setup their OS correctly. Finally, it includes a preconfigured python environment with required dependencies.

Side note: all these applications are open source

I created these snaps because I want to make it as easy as possible for educators to use Linux in their courses. Making sure that the software they need is easy to install is an important step in that direction.

As with all software, snap also has its issues and not all snaps are of the same quality. Having much more software available, and specifically software which is very hard to install otherwise, far outweighs the downsides, in my opinion. I hope you reconsider the decision of forcing educators to jump through hoops to get the software they need for their courses.

My apologies for sounding so terse. I welcome any initiative to make Linux more suitable for education, but this decision is a slap in the face of everyone working hard to make this software easily available. In the end, this decision hurts the actual educators whom we are trying to help.

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Hi Merlijn

I agree 100% with “I want to make it as easy as possible for educators to use Linux in their courses.” This is the reason for Li-fe to exist :slight_smile:

Most applications that are commonly needed are already bundled so that educators do not need to search and install them.

I looked at the Bridge Designer, the process to install is exactly same as on Windows thanks to wine already preinstalled on Life: Download exe from https://bridgedesigner.org/download/, right click the downloaded file and “Open With > Wine”

Check out “apt update && apt search scratch(or use pre-installed synaptic GUI)” you’ll find scratch-web, which is next generation of scratch.

We have worked very hard to avoid educators jumping through hoops to get everything they need in one place, and as easy to get the rest. Snap is great idea, so is flatpack, AppImages etc. All of them should be easy to access. AppImages do not need anything extra running/installed, may be you can check it out to make Arduino available to wider audience.

It is also easy to get snap on Life, this is the best balance I could think of, make it easy to get what users want without forcing it by default for all:

Getting it is as easy as this:
sudo rm /etc/apt/preferences.d/anti-snap && sudo apt update && sudo apt install snap snapd

Do let me know if you need anything else added to this image, if it is not too big a package then we can add it easily. Any suggestion to improve are always welcome.

Cheers

Jigish

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did you test this so you are confident that it works on your install ? if I open the download link the first thing i am greeted with in firefox is “High Security Risk !! This website is insecure and uses an expired security certificate” with a 1cm big yellow frame around the window, sorry but that isnt anything a teacher (who probably does the IT maintenance as a side job because there is no IT dept. in his school) would easily move on with.

that’s a very high expectation of technical knowledge you have for a elementary school teacher here.

having been the initial lead developer of edubuntu i can tell you that 90% of your audience will not want or be able to “open a terminal”, they are just getting along with the GUI tools enough to keep the systems running, a lot of recent software is only available as snaps nowadays.

you are locking out your users of several thousands of packages that are otherwise found everywhere on systems that call themselves “Ubuntu based”

EDIT: did you consider going the opposite way and instead of minimizing the choice your users have, to broaden it, keep snap support but also add flatpack OOTB ? that would be truely innovative and ease the pain such teachers typically have…

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did you test this so you are confident that it works on your install

Yes I did. Outdated certificate will be same even for Windows users. I assume that is the URL teachers looking for that software regardless of platform will go to.

that’s a very high expectation of technical knowledge you have for a elementary school teacher here.

S4A and Arduino development packages mentioned requires little bit of terminal use even after installation from snap.

you are locking out your users of several thousands of packages

That is a bit of an overstating :slight_smile:

Life has been around for very long, many requested applications have already been included to make it easier for users who can get “everything” needed, covering most use cases, without even connecting to the internet.

No one is denying the ease snap/flatpak etc. brings, pros-cons have been discussed in depth elsewhere, they are all also available as easily as any other package using Synaptic GUI(terminal use is convenient but not compulsory).

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not for snap users (or flatpak ones if that app exists there) …

not really (note this number has more than doubled in the two years since that infographic exists):

you are… by having them edit a system file they do not even know what it is for and having them run commands in a terminal they usually would not even open …

but it is indeed your Ubuntu remix and your decision.

i just find it weird to deny educators the ease of secured one click installs for things like miro, openboard, sugarizer, nextcloud, lumi or even bridgedesigner…

in times where things like zoom or MS-teams get essential for some teachers you prefer to keep them away from the safest and easiest ways to get these apps without putting the users/students data at risk or having the “admin” (who is usually a teacher that only knows her basic ways around the system and does the classroom administration during spare time) jump through technical hoops …

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not really (note this number has more than doubled in the two years since that infographic exists

I mean about “locking users out part”

you are… by having them edit a system file they do not even know what it is for and having them run commands in a terminal they usually would not even open …

No need to edit anything or run commands, Synaptic can be used to install snap/flatpak, you seem to have missed that part. I agree that it would be more convenient to have snap+flatpak installed, but it is not inconvenient to install them if users wants them either.

You also overlooked the intention, the distribution is mostly meant to work out of the box for most users, without having to install anything extra, even without the need for internet connection.

Nothing is denied, Synaptic/gdebi/software boutique are available to get additional applications, including snap and flatpak through which users can choose to install all the other good stuff you mention.

It would be nice if we could include all of those too in the iso, but as you know space is a big constraint so this is how it is.

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Hi Jigish

Thanks for taking the time to respond!

This is not the impression I get when I read the release blogpost:

This release is also Snap free, if you must have it on your system then remove /etc/apt/preferences.d/ anti-snap and install it back using apt or various GUI package managers available on Life.

Edit: I just tried it myself and it does work with synaptic I have not tried it out myself because the ISO is still downloading, but this text gives me the impression that simply installing snapd will not be possible until you remove that file. I think few people will think to look in the release blogpost when they can’t install snapd. There is also a second issue, however: how will an educator know that there is an additional repository full of useful software? Many Ubuntu users I know have no idea that snaps even exist. They just install software using “Ubuntu Software”.

This is a great intention, but then I still wonder why you would disable snaps? Users who do not modify the computers will not know the difference. Users or administrators who do want to install more software will lose out on all the snaps.

These are not theoretical IT administrators I’m talking about. The reason why I started maintaining the Arduino snap is because a school IT administrator contacted me. They tried to install Arduino and the first thing they did was type “Arduino” into the search box of Ubuntu Software and installed it that way. This did not work, however, and they got no feedback as to what went wrong. The internet was not much help to them, because many websites contain wrong or outdated advice. The advice on the internet also assumed every account is an admin account, which is not the case in most schools.

This is why the Arduino snap checks if the permissions are configured correctly for the account. If they are not, the user gets a popup with the specific command they have to run in order to fix the issue. The command in the popup is generated automatically so that it has the correct username. This is so the command still works even when a different (admin) account runs it.

So yes, this is sadly true. This is not something I can fix. But as I mentioned before, the snap actually helps IT administrators by showing what command they need to run. When you install Arduino from the archive, it will just silently fail or throws a confusing error message.

It’s great that Wine is preinstalled on Life! I must add that Bridge Designer does not seem to work in regular Wine because of issues with OpenGL. I have not looked into the issue further but the snap does extra configuration and uses the wine-platform-* content snaps which contains the correct (32-bit) drivers for OpenGL to work with Windows applications.

Note: On Ubuntu (Gnome), I cannot choose “Wine” in the “Open With” dialog. Do you know how that works on Life?

That said, I do not think we should see Windows as the standard for “easy installation of software”. Many people install spyware or viruses by accident while trying to install an application on Windows. The habit of “searching the internet for an exe” when you want to install software is dangerous.

Many people developing Linux software initially approached it like they do on Windows: they create a package and put it on a Website somewhere. This is dangerous and complicated because there are so many different types of Linux installers and many installation methods require executing commands from a website. I have broken my computer a few times by running installation instructions which I did not understand. This is the reason why I am so supportive of snaps: regular users should be able to install any software without fear of breaking something. Linux contains a great number of good software, but this is useless if people cannot install it or are afraid of installing it.

Your approach of including all the software in the OS is a good solution to this. But as you say, the available space is limited. The snap store actually tries to solve that issue by having as much software as possible available in a single store.

And this approach is working: many software that was previously only available on a website is now available in the snap store. Now regular users can simply open Ubuntu Software, search what they need and install it with one click. Some software, such as Arduino, requires a bit more work, but snaps make it easy to include custom dialogs to inform users of additional steps.

Now the ISO for Li-f-e is downloaded, so I will try it out :slight_smile:

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I’ve updated with more clear explanation. I was not aware that snap could be installed without removing apt preferences file.

Very good point, these are early days mainstreaming of snap/flatpak/appimage, so with time I hope users will become eventually aware of many choices of application repositories available. May be next release will include choice of enabling any/all of these in mate-welcome as it does for web browsers if there is enough demand. One thing coronavirus has taught us is that teachers and students are much more resourceful and flexible than we thought, they’ll find what they need.

Yes there are many such issues, hence Life includes wine packages from winehq including i386.

cat /usr/share/applications/wine.desktop, comes with wine package, disabled on Ubuntu packages, you may find discussions about that online, like all decisions there are good arguments on both sides.

Looking forward to hearing what other improvements we can make.

Thanks for that, excellent tool for teachers, I had intef-exe in my ppa, including this as well. Kolibri/Moodle both support h5p contents, this would be very useful indeed.

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Thanks for the idea, done : https://cyberorg.wordpress.com/2020/07/07/li-f-e-installing-more-applications/

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