Friday, January 19, 2007

Packages, iTALC and SystemImager

There are two software packages that I would really love to work with, that I think most anyone in my situation would really love to work with, but they don't have .deb packages of the latest versions and the versions available from the Ubuntu repositories are far too old to be useful (all requests for support are answered with "first of all, you need to be using the latest version").

iTALC is one - Intelligent Teaching and Learning with Computers - which is a classroom management tool in the Big Brother tradition, which gives a simple, intuitive interface for the teacher to be aware of what their students are up to, and also give them a few remote control options that are pretty cool.

The other is SystemImager, which I've mentioned here before is a utility for installing and updating large numbers of identical computers (such as the 300 or so workstations I'm trying to manage).

Now, one of the great things about Ubuntu is the Package Management it inherits from Debian. I really dig apt-get and Synaptic. The only real problem with it is that most small free software projects (ok, generalizing based on personal experience here...) only seem to provide their releases in Red Hat's .rpm package format as well as in source.

While I have trudged my way through installing SystemImager from source on a server, with great hand-holding help from Andrea on the SystemImager mailing list, I really would rather not install stuff from source on the workstations. So, the other option would be building .deb packages from source on the server and installing the .debs on the workstations.

Only problem is, I have no experience with any of this. Compiling SystemImager from source was my first real compilation ever, and I wouldn't even know where to begin...

I was directed to, which unfortunately flies right over my head. I could beat my head against this for a while in order to figure this stuff out, but I really am hoping someone might be able to direct me to a simpler HOWTO that assumes a little less experience and hand-holds me through the process. Anyone?

P.S. It's my understanding that using alien to convert .rpms to .debs is not really a great solution. Anyone have experience with this?

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Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

Not to emphasize the negative here, but one thing I've learned from SchoolTool is that Debian packaging is HARD. So, while I think you're smart enough to learn it, know that it will be a serious investment of time, and perhaps just compiling these things from scratch is the more time-economical solution for now.

Also, make sure the Edubuntu team knows what you'd like to see packaged. That's what a distribution is all about, so they've got a lot of experience with the process and can do it far, far more efficiently than a newbie can.

12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to email the guy walking on Ubuntu Feisty's ThinClient Manager (TCM). It is exactly what you are talking about and will be integrated into the upcoming version of Ubuntu due out in April. here is a blog by the guy working on it.

-Jeff Schroeder

11:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Simón,
have you investiaged the debian-mentors and the debian-women mailing list and website. Debian mentors is about folks getting help making debs. Debian-women say that they are looking for people to mentor to help them become Debian developers.

7:26:00 AM  
Blogger Simón A. Ruiz said...

Actually, I'm on a couple of mailing lists with Pete, and I subscribe to the Ubuntu Planet.
The thing about the ThinClient Manager is that it only works with ThinClients, which we are not using. Our workstations are full Desktops.
Thanks for the thought, though!

:-) Thanks for the information. One thing, though: I am a man.

11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Simon,
I was aware you are not a she.
the Debian-women project is not a 'womans only' debian subproject. It has no policy dis-allowing men to join. One of its goals is to help people become developers in a supportive environment.

11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Simon,

I'll make a .deb package for you, do you need it for edgy or dapper?


10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Simón A. Ruiz said...

That would be awesome! Thanks! You don't know how much time and frustration you'll save me with this! (Then again, you probably do...)

We run Edgy on everything, both server and clients.

10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to help,

I'll do it asap, probably takes me couple of days to test it too... What hardware are you using? You can mail me at


10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Simón A. Ruiz said...

Kev :-)

Sorry. I get that a lot, though, since my name is feminine in French.

2:44:00 PM  
Blogger redboot said...

Hi Simón,
I played w/ SystemImager last summer enough to be dangerous using the versions included in the Ubuntu repositories. It's powerful stuff.

Don't know if this helps, but you may want to checkout which seems to be maintaining a current debian version. Would be glad to hear if this works.

7:33:00 AM  

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