It is pretty interesting how many CMU students want to try out linux but don't know how. And these are not just male CS students -- a diverse range of people is interested in what else is out there. Firefox has huge exposure at CMU and on other college campuses. People know about Linux but don't know how to take the plunge. I think it is important that we try to incubate new Linux users at universities like CMU. These are our future engineers, scientists, and programmers.
So, I think the best way to start thinking about this is "what do students do with their computers?" With a corporate desktop (like NLD) this part of the game is pretty easy. Employees have well defined tasks. College students are a much more interesting crowd. I don't think we will be able to replicate 100% the programs that students are used to. But let's take a look at what is important:
- Being able to play every video and music format on Earth.
- P2P sharing (i2hub!)
- Using Flash
- Fully functional java environment (eclipse+tools+your choice of gcj or sun java)
- Being able to read every pdf thrown at them (that means acroread -- I love evince but there are some documents it does not want to read).
- 0-hassle integration with their campus network (at CMU, afs should be mounted)
- Allow easy installation of university licensed software (mathematica!)
- iPods must work with no hassle.
- All wireless cards must work (I had to go through some hoops to get my Dell laptop's wireless to work. Not cool).
The most important part is taking a stock distro and making it do the tasks I listed above extremely easily. We can't expect people to go through 100 hoops just to play a DVD. There are some obvious legal issues here. But given that we college students have found ways to host terrabytes of copyrighted music and video, I don't see why it should be such a challenge for us to host a small amount of software that may have whatever issues.
Once this step is done, we would need to consider how to get Linux out to users. I think this has two aspects. First we need to have "Linux Heros" who can help people out. facebook would be a great place to start this. The second aspect is making it easy to actually install Linux. On a campus network, bandwidth is virtually free (at least within the univ. and other internet2 campuses). Therefore, the media should come from the campus network. I think a pxeboot system would be very powerful: with the help of a person familiar with how to use the BIOS, Linux can be installed with no physical media. Also, "kickstart" disks could be distributed that would boot to the pxe system for people with network cards that don't support pxe or who don't know how to use the bios.
I guess the way to start making this work would be to get a list of rpms that can be installed to make my above task list work. If packages don't exist, we need to create them. Where possible, we should prefer open source, patent-free stuff, but where that does not exist/does not have the functionality students need/etc, other solutions are needed.
Late breaking ideas
- What if we make a Windows program that modifies the MBR so that on the next boot, it will go to the pxe server. This allows people to use pxe without touching the bios and without needing any physical media
- Presentations / Demos of Linux
- Form a community. Do some non-geeky stuff. Ice cream social for Linux. Could be integrated with presentations (hook them with ice cream, get them to watch the demo of linux)
- Give "Linux Heros" free t-shirts. If we have enough heros, it won't be hard to find a person wearing their tshirt on any given day. These people can answer questions.
- See GRUB docs for ideas about booting from the network. So we give the user a grub config file with the pxe server specified
- Install grub on windows without touching the MBR. If I understand this correctly, it would mean a dual stage boot: first it goes into the NTLDR menu then the grub menu. But, it sounds a bit less risky.
- A guide to installing Linux with no media
- Going with the community, how about an irc hangout for linux users at university?