live-helper progress

Now that live-helper1 has superceded live-package I have a config for the junior livecd work-in-progress in the debian-live repository:

sudo apt-get install live-helper
svn co svn://
sudo make-live --root junior &>make-live.log

This will build a usb image for the gnome-junior package list. If you want a regular iso image or want to try the kde-junior or xfce-junior lists, just make the appropriate changes in config.

I have tested the usb image on a 1G usb key. At this point I’m not layering on customizations, but am focusing on basic usability issues: X autoconfiguration, sound, menus, etc. Once I’m happy with these I’ll move on to the kinds of customizations we’d like to make for children.

1 live-helper is still in NEW at the moment. I’ve been checking it out from svn and building the package myself, though you can also get Daniel’s packages from his site. My config should work with a2-1 or later.


For the time being it is best to stick with live-helper from svn, as my configs are being developed to work with trunk, which is still in flux (e.g. config variables are renamed without notice, etc.)

svn co svn://
cd live-helper ; debuild -us -uc

make-live -p gnome-junior

Ever since I started working towards a Debian Jr. livecd back in November, I’ve played off and on with qemu, approx and debian-live.

Yesterday, I took another kick at the can. Being frustrated with make-live’s inability to combine two package lists, Daniel Baumann came to my rescue, promptly commiting and then releasing live-package 0.99.23-1
with three new package lists for Debian Jr.

  • gnome-junior
  • kde-junior
  • xfce-junior

So now we have something to play with. Try it out. Install live-package 0.99.23-1 or later, configure /etc/make-live.conf to set LIVE_MIRROR to your favourite mirror (I use the apt caching proxy approx to avoid re-downloading the same packages from one run to the next) and pick an image and type to build, e.g.

$ sudo make-live -t usb -p gnome-junior

This makes a ./debian-live/binary.img that can be put on a 1G usb key flashdrive.

We have more work to do to polish this. Particularly, since the GNOME and KDE flavours are larger than a 700M CD, some fat could be trimmed. If you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear your ideas on


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