Monday, December 28, 2015

Computer plans for the kids

This is, after all, a parenting blog. I wanted to gather some notes while I was thinking of them.

Things are a bit in flux right now, but I've been thinking about the sorts of computer to get the kids when things settle down.

I have two kids. A male (4) and a female (7). The older has been using a Windows PC and has been enjoying the free software. She's also been extremely frustrated by how poorly it works. Her mother, however, wants something other than Linux. We're separating and this PC goes with her.

Finally, no more Windows machines in my house. But what to replace it with?

A Mac is cost prohibitive. The only reason she has a PC is because the whole thing -- with accessories -- cost under $100. (Local university surplus store.) She also has a Kindle Fire, which also cost under $100.

I have a choice to make. Another PC or go with a Raspberry Pi?

They both like games, so if it is a PC, I should at least look at a distro that makes that easy. Play-Linux is currently my favorite. If not that, I'd probably go with straight Debian or a Debian-derivative (which includes Ubuntu-derivatives).

The problem there, though, is that while it includes games, it may not include the sorts of games they want. The free Windows Store games set a really low standard for quality, though, so I'm not even sure that we need the power of a "real" desktop.

Which leads us to the Raspberry Pi.

The games she's used to playing are on the Kindle, mostly, or things that are on Android/iOS/Windows but she wishes they were on the Kindle. While BlueStacks allows folks to use Android apps on Windows and Mac systems, there isn't an easy solution for Linux. This is a negative for the Linux option, though the hope is that the native games could help offset the issue.

The thing is, though, if using a Raspberry Pi this may not be an issue. This is because Android is coming directly to the Raspberry Pi. Not available right this minute, okay, but I'm not looking for a solution right this minute. So the delay may align reasonably.

(If I were being impatient and wanted easy Android access earlier, I'd look for some sort of Android on a stick solution. These cost as much as a Pi and does less, though.)

There's a lot of popular options for the Raspberry Pi.

For NaNoWriMo (Young Writer's Program) with the kids, (the younger will be participating for the first time in 2016), we'd probably go with a general solution like Raspbian. This will also be the go-to operating system for allowing the kids to experiment with programming.

The thing is, though, that swapping out operating systems on a Pi is trivial and easy. The general purpose solution need not be the only solution.

We can get a selection of classic games by using RetroPie. Suddenly classic video games from my own youth become available.

So, one affordable device and three SD cards and you can have three distinct systems offering a wide range of games as well as all the traditional "general computing" options. The kids can experiment with programming, do their homework, play games both classic and modern, and...

If I want to do something with the systems, there's no risk of messing up the computers they need for homework. If we separate the "homework" general OS setup from the "playing games and experimenting" general OS setup, it becomes possible to pull access to the games without removing the needed computing functions... (This also removes the possibility of "but, I uninstalled LibreOffice to make room for this great new game.")

(And my personal uses for the systems may include things like OSMC for multimedia -- reducing the need for a standalone television -- or OpenMediaVault for a NAS -- reducing the need for a standalone NAS. These further drive down the total cost.)

And the core monitor and accessories? I should be able to get these at the same university surplus store that I would have gotten the PC. It might cost more than the Pi (and case), but it'll still be more affordable than the cheapest of the available HDMI-enabled televisions.