We’ve talked about Linux software for kids a few times here at MakeTechEasier, but so far we’ve never actually sat down to take a closer look at whole distributions intended for children. Many people are familiar with Edubuntu, the Ubuntu spinoff intended for school and other educational institutions, but you may not know much about Qimo. Unlike Edubuntu, which is designed for a client-server network model, Qimo is intended for a sole desktop user – in this case children 3 years old and up. It uses a customized version of the XFCE desktop, with large icons and simple menus, to make it easy to navigate. Included are many of the top titles in kids software for Linux, such as GCompris and TuxPaint. Today we’ll take a look at what Qimo has to offer, and submit it to the ultimate test: a real live toddler.
Download and Installation
If you wish, you do not have to actually install Qimo to try it out. It’s a fully functional Live CD based on Ubuntu, so you (or your child) will have the opportunity to test the software yourselves to see if it’s what you want.
As Qimo is an Ubuntu variant, the installation process is nearly identical to the standard Ubuntu install. For details on that process, see the documentation provided on the Ubuntu Desktop Download page.
The Qimo Desktop
As noted above, Qimo runs on a custom version of the XFCE desktop environment. XFCE has always been a fast, simple, and reasonably lightweight package, so it makes sense to use as the basis for a desktop where simplicity is key.
That said, it’s somewhat disappointing that it’s just a customized XFCE setup. Don’t get me wrong, XFCE is a nice system, but I can’t help but feel that the developers are missing out on an opportunity to do something a little simpler and possibly more interesting.
Qimo’s greatest benefit is that it’s packed with some of the top software available for kids on Linux. Many of the most notable packages include:
GCompris: Arguably the closest thing Linux has to a “killer app” for kids, no junior distribution would be complete without GCompris. This package includes dozens of games and activities, including several that aim to teach toddlers and young children how to use the mouse and keyboard. I can speak from experience as to the effectiveness of some of these, as I recently watched a 2 year old go from zero mouse skill to browsing YouTube after spending about 15 minutes in one of the GCompris mouse skill games.
Child’s Play: Along the same lines as GCompris, Child’s Play is a collection of games and activities. It does not have the number of games that GCompris has, but there are a few interesting activities (like a sound association game) that do not have counterparts in GCompris.
TuxPaint: This is an application we’ve mentioned more than once, so I won’t go into much detail here. TuxPaint is a fun and flexible drawing program for kids that includes simple shapes and stamps. A must-have for any young artists.
Tux Math: Tux Math is a game requiring quick thinking, and as the name implies, a bit of math skill. Comets fall from the sky and it is the player’s duty to save the igloo homes of your penguin brothers. Tux Math also has a multiplayer mode, where up to four people take turns battling the incoming comets.
Laby: For older kids, Laby could be a lot of fun, and a great gateway into the world of programming. Levels are created as puzzles, and the player must “code their way out” using simple instruction like left, right, and forward. By default, Laby uses a small custom Python subset to act on the game elements, but the design appears to allow room for alternate languages.
While the basic Qimo desktop isn’t particularly inspiring, the system does have a few shining tidbits, such as the excellent software selection and the fact that nearly all games and applications are set to start in full-screen – much more convenient for young ones. To find out for sure just how fun and simple it was, I set my 2.5 year old toddler down at the computer in front of the Qimo desktop earlier today. I’ll let you know when he gets down.