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Interactive Computer - OS development

Sep 5, 2013

In December of 2011 we joined a new project of customizing an Operating System to be used as part of a Interactive Computer in a bid from Federative Pact and Education Funding (FNDE - Fundo Nacional de Desenvolvimento da Educação).

This article will focus in the Operating System development as this was the part of project we were assigned to; the projector design and development has been done by Urmet Daruma. All the development were done in cooperation with Urmet Daruma - as being the company that were going to participate in the bid and also working hard in the projector design and development - and ThinNetworks that was the Interactive Board supplier and working in the customization of the Interactive Board software.

It turned to be a big challenge; we ended up doing three versions of the Operating System until we get it right and easy to use. The user-friendliness was a critical requirement because the target users was Teachers that might have any computer use experience.

The final version has been developed using Ubuntu 12.04 as base system. The decision of using the Ubuntu 12.04 system as base was a project decision as it is a Long Term Support release and thus alleviate the amount of work required by our development team to meet the quality and maintenance requirements of the FNDE bid. Besides the base system, we faced another difficult decision: the user environment. After testing many possible environments and configurations we choose to use the KDE Plasma Netbook Workspace. We found it very nice looking and easy to use by new users, so fitting very well in our user-friendliness requirement; it was very easy to customize and was designed to work with touchscreen devices.

Even though the Interactive Computer is not a touchscreen device, its use of it is mostly the same; we tried very hard to make it easy to use with the pen. We did some design tests and tried to make everything easy to find for people measuring 5’ 3.5" (161.1 cm) height, as this is the average height of female people in Brazil, and made some adjustments in the system behavior to make it more obvious and less error-prone.

As the project advanced we were capable to make some minor improvements in the usability of other software and make it feel very comfortable to use and with a clean design as can be seen in the movie bellow:

The project is now going to production and it is going to be deployed to more then 100 thousand machines, in schools all over Brazil. The Teachers and Students can be sure we did our best to make it work for them.