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Creating a Linux-based internet workstation

It’s child’s play on the ALIX

by Paul McGowan, Technical Manager, Yawarra Information AppliancesOnce upon a time when my little boy was only 2 years old, I noticed he liked to imitate what I was doing on my computer. So I gave him his own.

ALIX 1 internet workstation in use

The ALIX 1 internet workstation in use by my 3yo son

I cobbled together a computer from old bits and pieces and put a copy of Win95 on it so he could play with it, which he did at great length, using Paint, Notepad and FaxViewer to create digital works of art.

All was well, until one day, he became proficient enough to “reconfigure” it. At about the same time, he had begun to ask more often to use his mum’s computer because it had access to the internet and gave him the chance to play with Bob (the Builder), Thomas (the Tank Engine) and (Bottletop) Bill, to name but a few.

Notwithstanding the fact that he had already managed to install all sorts of things on his (non-networked) Win95 machine, there was no way I was going to put a Win95 box on the internet, so I needed another solution.

I chose to use the ALIX 1 as it uses very little power (33-35W for the LCD screen and 5-7W for the ALIX 1), can run from a CF card and has a ready-made desktop environment available in iMedia Linux. So with very little effort, I built him a full featured internet capable machine that was far less likely to get him into trouble online.

The iMedia distribution comes with Firefox installed, allowing him to play all he likes while leaving his mother to use her computer in relative peace.

Thanks to the wonder of pbskids.org, he is learning to spell, count and sing and sees it all as one big game. The interface is easy to use and took him very little time to learn how to start up, shut down and open the browser. Sometimes, it’s a bit humbling how fast kids can learn to do this stuff. I also really like the fact that he’s learning to do all of this in a Linux desktop environment, instead of in Windows.

ALIX 1 internet workstation on back of monitor

The ALIX 1 mounted securely on the back of the monitor

The ALIX 1 handles his web browsing really well, and only struggles when he tries to play larger Flash games, which demand all of the memory and most of the CPU. They still work, but run really slowly, which tests his patience at times and prompts renewed requests to use his mum’s computer instead.

I also had to upgrade our broadband plan when we found ourselves speed-limited, having used up our 2GB download limit in less than a week.

The ALIX also has all the necessary mounting points required to mount it on the back of a flat screen monitor meaning it literally takes up no desk space at all. This means we’ve been able to put his computer on a small table in the hall allowing him easy access to use it, and giving us easy access to see what he’s up to.

ALIX 1 internet workstation ready to go

The ALIX 1 hidden neatly away, connected up and ready to use

Seeing the ALIX 1 work so effortlessly as an internet workstation got me excited about the possibilities, like using it with a touch screen for automating business processes, or as a digital display device.

It’s so small and powerful, and yet low cost, that it’s possible to deploy it for pretty much anything.

By the time my son was four, he was using his computer like a pro – using the right-click menu to do things I didn’t even know you could do – and I expect he’ll be using this computer for some time to come.

Until I have to take it back to work, that is!

– Paul McGowan, Technical Manager, Yawarra Information Appliances
Proud (if somewhat intimidated) dad of a compter whiz

Yawarra Tiny Computers
Yawarra Tiny Computers
PO Box 606, Boronia VIC 3155
Tel: 1300 859 799
Email: enquiries@yawarra.com.au
Web: www.yawarra.com.au