[Server-devel] XS wishlist

Sameer Verma sverma at sfsu.edu
Fri May 27 12:30:26 EDT 2011

Came across this via Twitter: http://asingh.com.np/blog/olpc-xs-my-wishlist/

Here is a copy and paste for archival purposes:


elow is a list of changes that I wish to have in the OLPC XS (some of
which comes from our own list of customization):

Porting XS to new version of Fedora
Fedora Project has come to the release of version 15 of their Linux
distribution host a lot of interesting features, but OLPC XS is still
stuck with Fedora 9 (which itself has moved to “End of Life”). This
state hinders us from using more stable software components, access to
bug-fixes, and improved infrastructure. This also forces packagers to
package software for Fedora 9. Porting XS to Fedora 15 will bring into
all the awesomeness, but again it will be a lot of work porting the
patches and packages (developed by OLPC community) to Fedora 15.

Support for multiple architecture
Though XS is targeted to be run on generic low-end servers (mostly
i386 architecture), but the recent trend of hardware price fall,
deployers will tend to use more advanced hardware (which might support
x86_64 architecture). Current XS effort is targeted at i386 (32 bit)
builds, but adding x86_64 (64 bit) builds would not be that
cumbersome, and would definitely attract deployers eyeing 64bit

Basic Self Tests
It would be great to have basic self tests embedded into the XS, which
will help the school side to diagnose and fix the problem easily.
Individuals at the school looking after the school server might not be
proficient with GNU/Linux and would have a hard time to diagnose and
fix a problem with XS; this is a case with the Nepalese deployments.
Adding to this, for a fix, either the support team needs to be
dispatched to the school (which might be located in a remote place),
or the ask the school to bring back the school server to the support
centre. Given the scenario in Nepal, with just a single support
centre, this fix can cost a lot of time, effort, and money. Basic self
tests, with mechanism to provide instructions on now to fix simple
problems is greatly going to ease the hassle. The self tests can
contain testing services, network status and such.

Inclusion of new packages
systemd: a replacement for SysVinit and Upstart that acts as a system
and session manager.
usb-modeswitch: a library/utility for handling Mode-Switching USB
Devices on Linux. This package is required to access internet through
3G cards (e.g. Mobile broadband).
ipcheck: a Dyndns.org client to register your dynamic IP address. It
helps to configure the server with dynamic dns and with port
forwarding enabled on the Internet gateway, eases accessing the
schoolserver from anywhere on the Internet.
MySQL: a relational database server, and a de-facto backend for many
services. Also it would be good to ditch PostgreSQL for Moodle. MySQL
management is easy than PostgreSQL and there is more documentation,
community support and human resource for MySQL.
PHP with required extensions: a powerful server-side HTML embedded
scripting language. OLE Nepal’s digital library “E-Pustakalaya” runs
on PHP and MySQL. Also we might need some PHP extensions like
php-mysql, php-gd, php-xml.
Python 2.x and Python 3.x: an interpreted, interactive,
object-oriented, extensible programming language. Python 2.x should be
included for backward compatibility as many python scripts and
applications still use the 2.x version. Python 3.x should be included
for forward compatibility — more apps would be coded in 3.x version in
coming days.
Expect: a Unix automation and testing tool and used to automate
interactive applications such as telnet, ftp, passwd, fsck, rlogin,
tip, etc. E-Pustakalaya uses Fedora Commons which has a interactive
setup; we use expect to automate the installation by providing all
answers to the setup program. Expect is useful to create headless
installers, and it also has a python wrapper.
libicu and unicode support: Adding unicode support in XS will help to
have localized web applications hosted on the XS (using gettext
Java: Adding a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) would add support for
running java based applications (e.g. Tomcat, Fedora Commons, etc.)
tzdata and extensions: Adding timezone data and its wrapper libraries
in various languages will help the support for timezone data in
applications hosted on XS (e.g. SchoolTool needs pytz).
SchoolTool: a free administrative software for schools around the
world. It provides a good administrative interface and facilities.
I’ve already packaged SchoolTool for Fedora and tested it on XS. OLE
Nepal is also in transition to pilot SchoolTool to a few schools. Also
that a integration of Moodle and SchoolTool is being worked out.
Moodle 2.x: a Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning
Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The
moodle on current XS is outdated. Moodle 2.x hosts improved interface
and additional features than its previous versions. With Moodle, a few
other features would be interesting:
Using MySQL instead of PostgreSQL
Integration with SchoolTool: See
http://docs.moodle.org/en/Development:SchoolTool_Integration for
A mechanism to consolidate Moodle data. The scenario would be like XS
would be shipped with some sample data, teachers and students at the
school would create some data, and additional data would be pushed
periodically through content updates. So there should be a mechanism
to consolidate all the data and retain it, without losing the previous
data while doing content update.
Content Updates
XO laptops with a limited storage can not hold much content, so heavy
content (e.g. E-Pustakalaya) is offloaded to the school server. Also
that the XS hosts sugar activity updates. In Nepalese deployment, we
generate content bundles including E-Pustakalaya and E-Paath along
with new releases of sugar activities every three month, and the
deployment team would generally visit each schools and update the
content. Nepalese XS is equipped with scripts to handle headless
content updates. Additionally we are also doing content update through
network/internet wherever feasible. Content update through network can
be really troublesome with deployment scenario of schools having
limited connectivity to internet and/or having only LAN level access
among schools. Devising content update would involve creating a
unified format for content bundles and devising a way to deploy
content updates easily through network with a minimal payload on the
content server. I would suggest a torrent based mechanism to handle
content deployment – it will offload content through local peers and
handle data checksums and all. Meanwhile a mechanism to support
loading content on a USB harddisk would be great as it will help to
deliver the content to the XS with no internet connectivity.

Web content filtering
XS with internet access are configured as a internet gateway for XO
laptops and other devices connecting to the network. This poses one
problem – children can be subjected to websites related with vandalism
and pornography. A content filtering mechanism for web browsing would
solve this problem. Additionally some file extensions and websites can
be blocked, so as to help traffic shaping. I would suggest
Dansguardian as a tool for this purpose. We have been using
Dansguardian on NE-XS (the Nepalese clone of OLPC XS), and has been
successfully using it. Dansguardian supports message/information
templates in case a extension or a website is blocked. Also that it
supports unicode message. Hence using a Dansguardian with customized
message templates in local languages would help a great for content
filtering, meanwhile displaying appropriate message in case of site

Journal Backup on a shared model distribution
I am aware that OLPC projec emphasizes the laptop distribution model
having 1:1 child-laptop ratio, that is to say each kid owns a laptop,
but sharing a laptops among few kids (say one laptop to be shared
among 3 kids) can be beneficial sometimes. For developing countries
like Nepal, it might take some time to arrange funds for mass OLPC
deployments. In such a scenario, where mass deployments might take
time, grounding on in available resources (XOs) would seem appropriate
than to wait to gather enough resources for mass deployments. This
focuses on having the XOs shared and utilized rather than keeping them
unused. Having said that, physically sharing a laptop among few kids
might seem no-brainer, but the complexity lies in how the XS interacts
with the school server and how services are provided/consumed. One
important aspect of this is Journal backup. XS has a service call
id-manager (idmgr) which registers a laptop with school server. The
registration uses the XO serial number as a unique key to maintain the
list and various service like ds-backup is provided based upon the
key. In the laptop-sharing scenario, the journal created on a laptop
might actually belong to more than one user, and managing journal
backups and restore can be troublesome. Meanwhile, multiple users
using one laptop means that more journal entries would be created and
hence the frequency for journal backup would increase inherently. To
solve this problem, the idmgr and the ds-backup service somehow needs
to recognize the user creating the journal entry rather than just
based upon the XO serial. Unfortunately, I do not know how to force
user logins on sugar; and forcing user logins consequently is going to
confuse the kids. Another way might be to use one folder per user per
XO serial. But then we need to tell idmgr and ds-backup on which
journal entry should go into which folder. I don’t yet have a clear
idea on how to implement this, but I would definitely like to have
this feature included with the XS

Socializing/Communication Platform
I have always been looking forward to implementing a socializing and
communication platform on the XS that will help users to socialize and
communicate. By this I mean inter-school and intra-school
communication. Also that this framework can be used to send messages
and notifications to users (teachers, administrators, and students).
Implementing an offline mail queue which keeps mail lined up and sends
them when it has internet connectivity would be a great features.
Schools in Nepal have sparse Internet connectivity, and such a mail
queue might help inter-school communication. I’m looking forward to
use Open Atrium as a tool for this purpose. Also a multi-node system
of Open Atrium, if it can be implemented, with a inter-node
communication, would ease the task a lot.

These were some of the customizations I envision would help a great
deal with the XS. I’m not even sure if items off my wishlist are
feasible at this time. What is your XS wishlist?

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