FOSS kids software wishlist – Admin interface

March 11, 2008

Gcompris and Childsplay are great. They seem to get more polished with each release. Some of the activities are really quite ingenious. Others are odd or obscure and insufficiently documented. (I’d write the docs if someone wanted to spend a day explaining what we’re supposed to do.)

What I would like to see is some sort of administrative interface for running sessions. Preferably a command line one for easy use over SSH. Really the only thing it needs is a way to kill the program safely. Killing the process the normal way leaves the screen resolution all messed up. Maybe this command could have options like --dinner and --bedtime to customize the warning dialog it shows to the user. Then they couldn’t use the excuse that they thought it crashed and just restarted it.

Most of the time, though, it’s not intransigence I’m dealing with. Both of these programs are meant to be used as an entirely self-contained environment. At home, though, they don’t quite live up to that, as the selection of activities appropriate for any given age group is limited. So often the kids will want to play a few activities in one or the other and then move on to something else. And they have an acute sense of their time running out. Both of these programs make it hard to get out of them.  There’s an “Are you sure you want to quit?” dialog, which can be frustrating for the pre-literate. If you’re in TuxPaint or the animation tool, you may find yourself facing three or four dialogs before you can escape. Short of, or in addition to, the administrative tool, it would be nice to disable all of these dialogs at run time. In GCompris you can disable the exit button – presumably to run safely in some sort of kiosk mode. I’m not sure how administrators are expected, then, to close it. I presume you just have to kill it and then restart X.

Gcompris does have an extensive set of administrative options, and it’s worth looking over the documentation for that – you might find something useful you never knew about.

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