School Server 0.5.1 – holding the XO universe together

A couple of weeks ago, OLPC XS 0.5.1 was released with little fanfare. Everyone was busy — understandably so — and the announcement went unnoticed.

So perhaps it is time to go back and look at it in detail. The School Server is a Fedora-based distro that auto-installs and (mostly) auto configures itself into a server that complements with the XO laptop. Even if it is not obvious, the XO behaves much better when it is working on a network managed by a School Server. And in locations with limited or no Internet access, a School Server with a bounty of educational content makes a huge difference.

XS 0.5.x is a big leap forward from the earlier series. It upgrades the base OS from Fedora 7 to Fedora 9, streamlines instalation and configuration, and is a better platform to build upon. Ah, yes! It also has some cool new features.

So what does the XS do for your XOs?

  • Standard network services: NAT, routing and an HTTP proxy
  • Can route HTTP traffic through an upstream content filter
  • Supports various wired and wireless network setups
  • Provides a scalable presence and collaboration service, so mesh-based collaboration scales to more XO laptops
  • Acts as installation and upgrade server for the XOs for their core OS and activities
  • Has an initial activation server
  • Is the backup server for the laptops

For large scale deployments,

  • Server installation and upgrades can be completely automated
  • A One-Time-Pad password scheme (SOTP) is available to handle administrator passwords
  • Content and configuration can be deployed to the XS via untrusted means safely, thanks to a cryptographic signing scheme.

In terms of education and discovery tools, XS 0.5.1 has a flexible collaboration, learning and publishing tools based on a tailored version of the award-winning Moodle course management system. The Moodle setup on v0.5.1 is a work in progress, and is a major focus going forward.

Next steps…

The XS team has a lot of work to do. Here’s a shortlist of what’s cooking in the pot:

  • Polish on the Moodle user experience, including automagic XO-XS authentication when using Browse.xo
  • Get the XS software running on XO hardware (plus an external hard drive) — ideal for small schools
  • Bring in more content, make it easy to install and update a library of content
  • Better scalability for collaboration in large schools
  • Better integration with OS and activity installation/upgrade control panels
  • More support for lease management
  • Better administration tools for very large deployments

The School Server is moving forward apace. The good news is that from the 0.5.x release to the next few cycles (0.6.x, 0.7.x) the upgrade process will be simple and straightforward.

So if you are working with a deployment that is large, medium or small, get your hands on XS-0.5.1 today.

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