Linux distro for Haiti project



I would appreciate feedback or suggestions for a project I'm considering to build computer stations in Haiti.

A thousand centuries ago, I installed Linux on a box I wanted to break to learn. I'm a web developer and tech nerd, and got it up and running. It took a lot of searches, though. I welcome any pointers any of you might have about this project.

I recently went to Haiti for a photography-based teaching project and saw a defunct and unused computer lab with around six desktop PCs. They looked like a few Dells, an HP, and two home builds. Just from the monitors, I assume most are from early to mid 2000s. It was at an art center for street kids and they were pretty proud of what they had.

The problem was, none of them were plugged in or setup for use. From what I heard, the computers were all donated and a local computer guy helped set them up at the beginning. They ran whatever Windows version that was installed. For those that didn't, bootlegged versions of Windows were installed. Also, the main Ethernet switch for the internet connection was kind of hanging in the corner. They said the lab worked at first, but when things went wrong, there wasn't a resource to figure out a solution.

They had run into three main problems. The first is that net access there is spotty at best and depends on pay-as-you-go access. It also fluctuates depending on the power grid output and battery levels in the building. That means they couldn't always Google-the-problem, or get security updates (especially for bootlegs). The second is that users would click all kinds of banners for free games, video players, and other things they were prompted to download. The PCs became virus/malware infested hives of scum and villainy, and also unusable. The third was, "Whose going to fix this?"

My thought was to find a Linux recipe for those PCs, because they weren't using much commercial software (other than Windows of course) or graphic intensive games. By coming up with a solution for that lab, I think the same solution could be applied in other contexts.


I'm looking for a Linux distro/approach that I could deploy and have it survive without me being there to tinker with, based on the following criteria:

Totally friendly UI for basic computer users
Ability to survive a computer shutdown from power loss without borking a bunch of temp files that paralyze the OS
Ability to install (at least basic) drivers for PC components without a command line or user feedback. i.e. "Let me handle that for you."
Internationalization in French and English
Some kind of PC problem resolution that is verbose and specific, at least in terms of a system problem
An included set of applications, or at least a one button install script (totally GUI), like GIMP, Firefox, etc.
If there are multiple updates, a way for the facility to go through each computer and just click "Update All", when they can plan for a need for net access for a few hours

[Super Important Thing] The ability to show program directors how to troubleshoot a malfunctioning machine (yes, I know it's really difficult to do in an easy way)

A list of fun games you can play in a web browser (without downloading anything)
An icon based splash page of common things they would do on a computer. Facebook, email, Google Docs (offline), games

Even more bonus:
A (GUI) way to check the Ethernet switch and see if it wasn't connected, or the minutes had just run out, and what to do about it

The future of something like this isn't just getting on the internet (a lot of kids I talked to thought Facebook was the internet), it could also be a path to online learning, e-commerce, Haiti news, and (the most asked for resource) soccer news.

I know this request isn't easily fixed by finding the right Linux distro, but I thought I'd start here, in this forum.


1) To some extent it will depend on the computers, particularly how much RAM have they got and if the amount of RAM can be increased.

2) Tell us more about the possible users. What age range are they? Specifically, what will they be using the computers for?

3) (I don't have a lot of experience but...) You might be better to use the computers as thin clients and work the whole system for one computer. Edbuntu might be "too young" but it is good for thin clients. Look at "Edbuntu – A great way to extend the useful life of school computers…" and "
Setting up Edubuntu as LTSP terminal server" -

4) You might benefit if you could contact someone like Ken Starks of the Reglue Project. He operates a project to give free computers to young people in Houston

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