Linux Educacional (LE) is a distro packaged by the SEED team at the Ministry of Education in Brazil. I posted about the previous versions already, you can find more info on the archives here and here.
The LE team has been working on the 2011 version for a while. Previous releases used KDE 3.5, and the next one is going to be the first deployed over a KDE 4.x desktop. Helio Castro and I went to Brasilia a few months ago to field some questions, discuss a couple of design decisions that are important for the transition and to offer the help of the KDE community, if needed. We were very happy to learn that among all the options available the decision was made to stick with KDE as the LE desktop: one of the reasons was the possibility of deep and easy customization offered by the Plasma environment; as well as the need to preserve the existing investment in training for teachers and IT people and the familiarity of teachers and students with the existing KDE-Edu software.
Then, during Akademy, we saw a lot of interest on this project coming from members of the Plasma, Edu and Oxygen teams. The plan was to foster collaboration between the KDE and the LE teams, and if possible to develop most of the customization features they needed upstream. A mailing list and a wiki page were created, and some ideas floated around.
But… working upstream proved to be very difficult for this project. There were language barriers, and also issues related to timing and the decision-making chain. I find it understandable, but personally frustrating. Development is happening mostly at closed doors, as I was told the team is under a very tight schedule. Apparently a portion of the project is now being handled by the computer science department of UFPR, a federal university in the Paraná state in Brazil. Their staff is known for its technical excellence and skill, so I have high hopes for the quality of the final implementation. Some of the people involved have been spotted on the #kde-brasil IRC channel, and the KDE community at large is still available to help of course, if required.
So, even if we could not really collaborate in the true open source fashion for now, it is nice to know that the work we are doing is useful and relevant to the educational community, and that a KDE4-based LE will equip thousands of computer labs next year. And I can see as well that this is a slow learning process, and maybe one day we will have the opportunity of really working together on a global scale on a deployment like this.
Thanks to all members of the KDE community who spent some time during Akademy and in the following weeks thinking about the educational desktop and how to contribute to efforts like the LE customization. I am sure we will have the opportunity to build on several of these ideas when the right time comes. For now, the “we build it and they use it” paradigm remains the most common, and it is not a bad one per se. But I still hope upstream development and collaboration slowly becomes the norm and not the exception.