Martin Langhoff Brings Change to XS-ive OLPC School Server


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

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, 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 is 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 so need administration tools and manageability they are begging in other forums:

The XS prototype OLPC school server
"The actual XS school servers won't look anything like this"
I am utterly disappointed with [OLPC's] 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 handled/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 Krstić 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.

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The XS server project has been behind for a good long time. This is not news to those who follow the development lists or the wiki, but it is new to most so thanks for highlighting this. I mean, other people have lives, right ;-).

I'm happy they are dedicating teams to hardware and software SEPARATELY. A server package should NOT be tied to any specific hardware platform, though it should special hardware features if possible. Implementors should be free to customize and run XS on the hardware they have. Now that the XO-1 is out of the door, at least some developer resources should be free. Nice that they also picked up another ridiculously competent developer for their staff.

Finally, if Ivan Krstić says something shouldn't be included in a production distribution, I'd believe him. If Ubuntu had to dump it entirely, I wouldn't touch it either.

i happen to know where the quote re: martin joining OLPC came from (OLPC's Community News, i believe), but i'd like to be able to read more about ivan's webmin comments, and don't know where to look.

on an important news portal like this one (will flattery help? :-) all quotations should be accompanied by citations. thanks!

@paul The announcement by John Watlington I used came from the server-devel list linked at the top of the article; I have a mild distaste for deep-linking directly to archived emails, even when they're on a publicly-accessible mailman archive. It's very searchable (the archive) and infinitely informative -- if you're at all interested in the XS server process (or the issues surrounding it) I highly recommend subscribing; it's medium-traffic load.

I happen to agree with you - there should be a direct link to the very email Jon quotes, especially since he made a direct link to the forum post. Maybe Jon will link to it if I offer him a beer to cleanse his palliate and say its a OLPC News rule to cleanse his conscious.

J. McNair,
OLPC News is here for the express purpose to highlight aspects of the OLPC program that fly under the radar unless you live the program. The School Server is a great example of that. If you're in deployment, you're living the headache every day, while if your not, you don;t even know its an issue.

@wayan: you owe me a beer.

@paul, @wayan: the email can be found here and I've linkified the article above.

thanks for the link! jon -- you're right -- i should subscribe.

p.s. where's this beer happening? i'll join you both! :-)

One Lager Per Geek?

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