Killer feature for big Education deployments: kiosk returns

Most of the people I’ve met that participate in taking the decisions in IT related to Education in public administrations related are not technicians. Many people around libre software tend to think that the decision to go for Windows or Linux based desktops (GNOME  or KDE) has a lot to do with technical, usability or the look & feel features. Throughout the years, we have concentrate a lot is these aspects hoping that winning the any of those wars, we would suceed in being chosen as the default desktop in education.

During the decision process made by those people, when considering KDE and GNOME as default desktop compared to Windows, three considerations play on our side:
  • TCO cost
  • Availability of many useful applications within a classroom.
  • Computer’s lifecycle increase.
Thanks to our effort, most of the good applications we have in Linux plattforms, are already availiable for Windows. KDE has done a huge and succesful effort in this area (KDE for Windows project).

The TCO cost is a relevant one, but it is not the most important one. The experience tell us that it is the mainteinance and support the biggest piece of the cake in the medium term.

That cost has basically 3 sources:

  1. Communication (connectivity)
  2. Hardware
  3. Software
If we ask any user support department from a IT Education oriented organization, they will tell you that most of the software support queries comes from:

  1. Users that do not know how to use the software
  2. Teachers that report that the software do not work properly because an unexpected action from a student. 

The second queries are fatal ones since they are more difficult and more expensive, to solve.

When talkign about migrating schools from Windows to Linux based desktops, one of the major features KDE had to offer in the past was our ability to port in a more scalable and cheaper way many of the features implementd in schools related to user profiles and desktop lockdown offered with Windows desktop + Active Directory. We could do that because of Kiosk.

During the KDE Edu Sprint public event that is took place yesterday in Bilbao, two people from two different Edu projects, one from Portugal and another one from Spain, pointed out the strong effort that is taking to them porting what they usually did in KDE3 with Kiosk to KDE4. In fact, they both agreed that support queries will increase due to unexpected actions done by students with the new software (KDE4).

It is easy to think that for big deployments, not having fully implemented kiosk is a major obstacle for switching from KDE3 to KDE4. Without kiosk mode working properly, we cannot compete with the Adctive Directory + Windows desktop in most of the features related with user profiles and lockdown of unusable features either.

From my point of view, related to Education, our priority should be to have a  fully inplementation of kiosk mode for KDE4. If we want to beat Windows in Education, we have to think about the maintenance cost of having a huge number of desktops to take care of. Kiosk is in these situations is the best feature we can offer.

We have talked about this during the KDE Edu Sprint. Alex Fiestas  is already doing some previous work in order to know what is missing and what is the effort needed to bring kiosk mode back in KDE 4.

I cannot think on a better way of having in the near future more new deployments in schools based on KDE 4, and the ones we already have switching smoothly to KDE 4, than giving them a killer feature that has a direct impact in medium term costs. Kiosk was our strongest feature in this area. It is worth it to have it back, even better if we can.

7 thoughts on “Killer feature for big Education deployments: kiosk returns

  1. It is impossible to fix what is not known, and hard to fix what is not properly reported. In that sense Aaron, you're obviously right.

    My idea was first to bring some attention to kiosk supporting the experience from some Edu projects. Then putting some effort on convincing at least one of them (edu projects with big deployments that are migrating from KDE 3.5 to KDE 4 and did not worked upstream in the past) that now they should try to work more upstream.

    We are sensible to convert kiosk and profile configurations in a much better feature than it was in the past, that was really already very good.

    The technology behing KDE 4 is much more powerful than KDE 3.5, but for these edu projects it can take some effort the transition. We know that and we have talked and worked on this in the past.

    We can help them more than ever but we need them to learn the procedures to work upstream. They have never done that in the past. We need a couple of examples and Caixa Maxica or Bardinux can be a great start point.

    Let's see if we can manage to make it…..we are trying.

    If you have deployed some KDE desktops in education enviroments and are interested in helping us and help yourself in this area (kiosk and profile features), contact me so we can figure out how to start.

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  2. Hi,

    We've been using KDE 4 in our university department since January 2010.

    While I've been a KDE fan for a long time and I think it's the most awesome DE, I've recently thought on migrating to another one… mainly because students tends to break up everything. We get called very often to repair such “breakage”.

    I've never heard about kiosk before, but I'm really happy to see that such a software exist, because that means we might be able to keep KDE on our computers 🙂

    I'll have a look at it and I'll see what I can do to help you !

    Cheers

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  3. OK. Just a simple idea: limiting the ability to change the wallpaper to an arbitrary image. I know it's possible to set things to be immutable, but it would be nice to have a bit more (or less?) control than that. For example let the user pick a wallpaper from the ones installed on the system, but not allow using arbitrary files.

    Anyway, documentation is required for sure 🙂

    EDIT: yes, there are resource restrictions for wallpapers, but last time I tried, they didn't prevent the user from picking any file they wanted.

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  4. kiosk remains in Platform 4 (always has) and is still quite useful. what is true is that many changes made to the Platform or apps built on it are likely not fully using kiosk as they should. documenting those cases and then addressing them will be great.

    when i read this:

    “pointed out the strong effort that is taking to them porting what they usually did in KDE3 with Kiosk to KDE4.”

    i immediately wonder what those things are. they need to be documented somewhere developers can access, and then that documentation needs to be announced (probably more than once 🙂 to the development community.

    i hope that is what happens, as that will really help things.

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  5. “There are new parts to KDE that need updating to use Kiosk, like the Plasma desktop.”

    such as?

    in addition to the 'usual' kiosk keys such as “can run arbitrary commands”, there are also these keys implemented:

    http://techbase.kde.org/KDE_System_Administration/Kiosk/Keys#Plasma

    if there are things missing or not working, please let us know or, even better, provide patches. we have implemented things that have been requested very quickly in the past.

    it isn't, however, useful to see vague “plasma desktop needs something” as that doesn't help anyone know what those things are.

    the problem often isn't implementing things, it's knowing what people, such as yourself, feel are missing.

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  6. Hello.
    I've done some work with kiosk last year, and there's a lot to do to make it work properly again. To be honest, it's still there and ready to be used. You can set up some Kiosk profiles (different directories to load configuration files from) and they will 'sort of' work.

    It undoubtedly accumulated some bugs and bit-rot, but the main problem is updating the rest of KDE to use it properly. There are new parts to KDE that need updating to use Kiosk, like the Plasma desktop. New Kiosk actions need to be added and documented, and so on.

    I've hacked for a bit on the Kiosk GUI tool and put an updated fork of it into KDE playground. It has less bugs than the old version (it can create the profiles properly and doesn't crash so much). If you have any questions about it, I'm normally idling in #kde-devel, so ping 'peterix' and we can talk a bit more directly 🙂

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