The XS School Server list has been a hotbed of activity the past few weeks with management changes as well as some disgruntled people seem to realize that the XS Server is not quite what they were hoping for in terms of functionality, ease-of-use, or ruggedness; despite some goals in these areas.
Martin Langhoff, the new
XS (Software) Architect Change is afoot, though. John Watlington announced on February 28th that he would “increasingly focus on the hardware, as we renew our efforts to provide low power, environmentally robust servers for rural schools”; with Martin Langhoff coming in as the School Server Architect in mid-March: Martin is currently one of the lead developers of Moodle — a FOSS Course Management System for online learning (https://moodle.org/), although he has contributed to a number of other FOSS projects. Most of his last 10 years of work is well indexed by Google. Interesting keywords to try include mod_perl, GIT, Midgard, Arch (or GNU Arch), Moodle, OSCOM, metadata, dublin core, performance, Eduforge, Elgg, e-Prints, Mahara, PostgreSQL, Debian, TWIG, Ubuntu.
He will continue to reside in New Zealand. He's fluent in English and Spanish, and can speak some Portuguese, Catalan, Italian and German.
So, congratulations to both OLPC and Martin -- it looks like good change for the server project, which has been lagging behind the XO Laptop, but yet seems to be a key ingredient in successful deployments.
For small schools; an XO laptop plus an external storage drive can serve as small server for an estimated 30 students, but beyond that the discussion has shifted to more standard, off-the-shelf PCs with all the care and feeding that they require (things like reliable electricity being problematic).
The School Server is of course two different projects; there is the software and services side now under Martin, and the XS as specific hardware implementation which John Watlington will now be focusing on to make it more adapted to the situations the OLPC laptops already face.
The software side however will be no easy road; as the developers will have to balance server functionality, administrative tools for the XO laptops in the server's province, and ease-of-use to reduce the training/expertise required to manage it all.
Various list members already involved in active deployments are begging for administration tools and maneagability to the extent of begging in other forums:
I am working on a volunteer basis with the One Laptop Per Child https://laptop.org program's school server setup.
And I am utterly disappointed with their way of administrating the school server. I wouldn't have been, had I not a CentOS SME server running at home proving that "all" their tasks (dansguardian, moodle, squid, apache) can be handeled/administrated in a non-geek way. Very smoothly, securely, and efficiently.
The OLPC project will IMHO suffer performance and acceptance problems for lack of administrability. And that would be a REAL DESASTER.
Btw: I never wrote all capitalized words in a posting before either...
Another contributor suggested existing software solutions like webmin. So far these hacks have been received coolly by the OLPC server-development team (OLPC Security guru Ivan KrstiÄ‡ responded to the webmin suggestion with:
Webmin is a hopelessly broken, horrifyingly bad piece of software. So much so that we had it removed from the Ubuntu archives entirely since installing it meant almost certain system breakage. Let's not go there.
So here's hoping that the shuffle in management and new dual focus can move the school server to a reasonably easy to manage, useful part of XO deployments -- there's certainly a lot of work to be done.
Cross-posted with a comment thread at OLPCNews