Towards a Debian Jr. Live CD

Debian Jr. development revived

Recently there has been some lively discussion on the Debian Jr. list about how to arrange an account for a child of 1 to 3 years of age. Suggestions included using set-top box software like Freevo, tailoring DEs with panels and large buttons, using simpler WMs like fvwm, or using an “activity centre” app like Gcompris.

Now, I respect those parents who hold that a child this young should interact more with the “real world”. While I wouldn’t go so far as to outright prohibit my young ones from computer use, I can see the wisdom in keeping it to a minimum. But, for better or worse, our family is one of several who have some experience helping our youngest members use our Debian systems. We would like to share what we’ve learned through the Debian Jr. project.

Getting started with

To that end, last week I was inspired to follow the Debian Live ISO Howto to produce my first rough draft of a Debian Jr. live CD built from scratch on Etch.

For the final product, we’ll want to use a local partial Debian archive mirror, as it not only optimizes fetching packages for several build iterations, but also can be kept stable, which is important as we near release. But for this draft, I ran into trouble building the complete package list to populate the partial mirror, as cdebootstrap, which make-live uses, has no handy --print-debs switch like debootstrap does. So for now, I rely on approx to cache packages for optimization only.

A straightforward process to create a working live CD

The rest of the process was straightforward: using live-package, I created a package list1 containing Gnome and the Debian Jr. metapackages, I configured /etc/make-live.conf to point at my proxy, and then I ran the make-live script on the package list. The end result was ./debian-live/binary.iso, which successfully booted under qemu.

At this stage, there is not much to show. To be truly useful, the live CD needs to be set up so that children and their guides can immediately find and use the material intended for them. We will need not only one live CD user, but four, varying in age range and role. (More about this in a future article.) However, it is an encouraging start, and shows that we may be able to produce something usable by the time Etch releases.

1 For this exercise, I simply combined /usr/share/make-live/lists/gnome with the junior-* metapackages in Etch, and added mozilla-firefox-gnome-support to satisfy Gnome’s web browser dependency and cut down on redundancy, resulting in the following list.

eject sudo
console-common locales
gdm gdm-themes gnome-desktop-environment gnome-cups-manager gnome-screensaver
rhythmbox synaptic