1. What was the initial need to create a distribution specifically for students?
Prof. David Costa: This is actually a great question. I read some students saying " do we really need this ? We have slackware, debian redhat and many others which are perfect for students!" Actually this is a myth. Many of the students I know never heard of linux. I am talking about students in management, law or any other non computing subject. Initally we used in our computer lab Mandrake 8.1 and to my delusion many of the things i would and our student would expect where no there.
Flash and java plugins to name the browsing related ones. Network sharing with Windows computers to name another major concern. Not talking about movie player and excellent multimedia support. After all student life it's not just about assignments!
2. What kind of applications your distro includes that are particular to students?
Prof. David Costa: We added the complete Openoffice suite, browsers plug-in's all preconfigured, network sharing pre configured, windows emulator, many financial calculators/math tools, project management suite and practically everything you need for an easy move from windows to linux without having to give up on the convenience we are used to. Every students on CollegeLinux should not regret his choice.
Before the release we tested CollegeLinux with real students. They where expected not to need windows for the testing period, meaning the should have managed to do everything they did with windows on collegelinux. They did and, they are still using collegelinux.
3. Do you have any plans on 'feeding' your students in your College with laptops that run your distro? Some colleges and schools in USA have just started this initiative (reference here).
Prof. David Costa: We are mainly a career college, our student population is diverse but we are mainly dealing with adults. It's easier to change your habits when you are young, so while I am convinced that linux is the best enviroment to learn I do respect the views of students and faculty members who might disagree with me. What we will do is starting some classed on a dual major diploma programme: management and linux computing. Then our distribution will be the base of the computing component.
Another think I don't like is try to push a distribution or OS with the pre-installed "trick". Afterall the installation is part of the linux learning process. I learned a lot during failed installs, you can tell ;)
4. Who is actually doing the work on packaging and putting the distro together? How big is the dev team?
Prof. David Costa: We are currently 4. The lead developer is Mihai Secasiu, other developers are Manoj Apte and Lalita Godbole. Todd Kulesza (from dropline system, the father of dropline gnome) might soon join us for the integration of dropline gnome and a collegelinux robot/auto upated in the next release scheduled for May.
I know it's a small team but we do pay (not that well but) our developers. This a not for profit project fully sponsored by the Robert Kennedy College. Many linux developers are working free of charge (e.g. Debian) but with a small paid team we can better control the development and its timelines.
5. What are your future plans for College Linux?
Prof. David Costa: The next release will bring some interesting surprises. While dropline gnome is already working fine on CollegeLinux 2.1. The Jedi, we are trying to go a mile further with a perfect integration which will allow our users to keep their packages constantly updated. In this way students will benefit from a stable and complete OS constantly updated with a click.
We are also fixing some of the problems with the installer (which was created from scratch) and we take into serious account all the installation problems reported by collegelinux users.
We will add more plugins (RealMedia) to the browsers and must important we will constanctly updated our distribution to allow its installation in a great number of configurations.
6. Why Slackware was picked as the "mother" distribution for College Linux, instead of say... Debian or Red Hat?
Prof. David Costa: First of all Slackware is a great learning enviroment.Its base allows the more experienced users to customize the system as the want. Red Hat and Debian are excellent distributions but we didn't want to bring another clone to the world. I have seen many of the over 50 Red Hat based distributions. They all use the same installer and system..so I ask myself, why should someone get a clone of the original and not the real Red Hat ? Some of these distribution are certainly justified (e.g. RedFlag linux with the Chinese language support) but many others are just personal experiments.
Slackware is one of the oldest distribution well know for its stability and the simple but great package system.We didn't want to bring the rpm dependencies nightmare to our users. Slackware It's probably one the best distributions, the only thing missing (and attention, not because they didn't care about it..is just the way it is to leave more feedom to the experienced user) is a better configured desktop tailored version.
It was a challenge, but there are already desktop distributions based on Debian (one I like particularly is Knoppix) and they do their job greatly.