Ubuntu CE (Christian Edition) Update

While I am a Linux hobbyist, I am not Linux expert, as was made clear in my first post on Ubuntu Christian Edition (CE). In that post I said that you won't find a life-changing experience with CE. For David Kuntadi, the Development Lead, and the rest of the team, CE is not a game or a hobby, it is an opportunity to bring Linux to the Christian community. While I agreed with the premise, I disagreed with the distribution, stating that I could essentially do everything on any old Linux distro that they were doing with CE.

That was wrong.

Because I had been able to do a few things on my own with a different distro, I assumed I could do everything without the official CE distribution. To prove my point, I downloaded Fedora Core 11 and installed it on my computer. Then I began downloading everything I wanted, like Xiphos, Dansguardian, etc, in order to basically create my own Christian Edition. It can't be done. Some of those programs are part of the CE repository exclusively, as David informed me in his comments to my first post. I retract that statement from my original post. I was wrong.

Another area that I was troubled in was the fact that OpenOffice.org didn't come standard with Ubuntu CE. It turns out that it didn't come standard with Fedora Core 11 either. Again, I could fix it with a quick download, but the fact that I took special pains to announce it regarding CE was out of line. David asked a great question in his comments on my original post. I now pose that question: Would I accept having to download a DVD instead of a CD in order to get OpenOffice.org standard? I said that I would take the DVD. But I want to hear how you feel too.

Finally, I said that CE needed church administration software before it could truly contend with Windows and Mac OS X for the church market. I still believe this is the case, but I'm more hopeful now than ever that this will happen in the future. David was kind enough to let me know that he was currently working on church administration software that would be coupled with a future server version of the distribution. That, in my opinion, will make Ubuntu CE a contender.

So, church leaders and computer geeks, please comment! I want to know what you think!

--How seriously would you consider Linux as the OS for your church staff?
--What would you need to see before you were able to use it for church applications?
--And don't forget the question from David...would you accept having to download a DVD, which is larger than a CD?


Tony Farson said...

Alright so David I admire your desire to serve in such a way. I too am a Christian and I am an IT Manager / Sys Admin. I can and have admin'd both closed and "open / free" infrastructures. Here is my question for you... Who is going to set it all up? Most churches don't have Linux guys on staff.

I DO believe that in terms of reliability, performance and even usability that UCE can replace Windows (mac is my preference, but isn't used too often in non-profit... too expensive) in a church or Christian School. HOWEVER, the costs of hiring professionals to locate alternative programs, configure wine ported Windows apps, migrate data, setup systems and train end-users is NOT cost-effective therefore not doable by most non-profits.

There is a common misconception out there in the "freeness" of a Linux infrastructures. Torvalds wanted Linux to be "free to develop and change" not necessarily monetarily free. The reality is that NOTHING is free, and while you may be able to obtain the OS for free, you will not obtain the assistance for implementing and administrating it. I have found that in the long run churches will do better to stick with what they are used to.

We also have to remember the server side of things. UCE is great for end-user replacements, but there is still the servers to think about. Stick with Windows and you really aren't helping yourself in terms of reliability and cost. Setting up and keeping a mixed environment is a new adventure too. If you move to Linux, then you need an employee(s) who know the code, or keep a consultant on retainer to help as needed. Both are costly options to say the least.

David, as a sysadmin I can tell you that going Open is a scary proposition in terms of levels of support. I also have a problem with going to a single source for all my software needs... Are you going to offer it for free or will there be a charge for either the license or a support contract? What happens if the LORD calls you home, and there is no one left to provide updates and customizations for your church admin program? I am not trying to discourage you or tell you what you are doing isn't worthwhile i am just sharing my concerns as a professional.

I know, I know I sound like a Linux hater, but I am not... I am a technology realist. Moving Linux mainstream (it isn't, nor will it be anytime soon) just isn't happening. The reason it isn't happening is because the idealists behind the free / open movement would have to compromise most of their beliefs to make it happen. Not the least of which is charging for an easy to admin, highly refined OS that will entice big time software developers to build for the platform. Look at OS X. It is just such a beast... Apple threw a TON of money at the BSD OS code, super refined it and built a support system for it, and it has taken 20 years for it to even pop up on MS's radars... It cut $15B deep into MS last quarter, and It still only has 7% of the market share to show for it. And software is still limited on the platform. Linux has been at 1% or less for decades.

In my opinion the best solution for non-profits and most small businesses is to stay with Windows, setup a good firewall (a MUST no matter what) with content management built-in, or use ethershield by www.internetsafety.com in conjunction with their End-Point Internet Filter and call it a day. The main issue isn't COST as much as it is cash flow. Churches can usually handle the woes of Windows problems because most of the time the costs are spread out into different quarterly budgets. Making a major change to a whole new platform take money! Lots of money pretty much all at once ON TOP of the Windows stuff until everything is changed. There my two cents.

Unknown said...


1. For wine ported application, I just support e-Sword and some Platinum software (run without any teak). It is not easy to run e-Sword through wine. But if you use the e-Sword installer, it is "no brainer". you do not even need to know what is wine.

2. For the server side, I agree with you there is no "easy install" so far, all must be configured by hand. Now I am looking at 2 alternatives:
a. A simple script to setup necessary server, with dialog boxes may be.
b. Setup a working server, put "minimum" gnome desktop, create a Live CD/DVD of the current installation plus ubiquity to facilitate easy installation, just like installing desktop.

3. I am not writing software, I just bring it to Ubuntu CE. What I have in mind now is to bring Churchinfo ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/churchinfo/ ). It is not easy to install but I am looking for a way to automate the installation. How about if The Lord call me home? Presently, practically only me working on this project. I hope there would be more people joining the development. And the more people use linux, the easier to maintain later on. Two and a half year back, I do not anything about linux. But now I could install and configure linux server, and make some script to automate certain job. I hope with Ubuntu CE, more and more christians will be familiar with linux and could help their church later on.

I myself is still learning. What I want to do is to create automation of the the installation and administration, so that finally it would be "no brainer" to install and use linux. At that time, many people could be "system administrator" with just little training. You could see the dansguardian gui for example, it save you a lot of trouble configuring iptables, proxy, and dansguardian. With just few clicks you will have dansguardian up and running. My next project is to add easy internet connection sharing to the LAN, windows xp style but with dansguardian filtering. With few clicks you will be able to share internet connection with DHCP server. The client could be windows or linux, just turn on the dhcp client and it would be automatically connected.

The Navy Christian said...

I want to thank both of you for this great and inspiring conversation. Let's think of this, if I may, in terms of the small church context. There are some realities to consider:
1. Small churches can't afford IT no matter what.
2. Small churches can't afford a server to run Windows or Linux.
3. Small churches need to save money.
4. Small churches constitute over 80% of churches in America (and I assume the world over).

Small churches use what, maybe three or four computers? Any file sharing that would be needed could be done as a peer or "home" network (sorry to borrow a suspect term). And for those churches that only have say, one computer for the secretary and one for the pastor, this is even easier to answer, in my opinion.

If we can somehow get the administration software going then I think we could help a large number of churches. I love the idea of churchinfo, so the thought is, can we get that into a Linux platform and then at least, for these smaller churches, we could get something going.

Ok, I'm not a developer and almost failed even my Java classes in college, but we can surely find a way to help somehow.

Tony Farson said...

I think that an "admin in a box" approach is doable, but it will need to be well thought out. I do not think it is practical to expect even small churches be able to do this without IT help... But we can make it cheap and relatively painless. In this circumstance UCE will probably work well. Here is what I see...

1. Email: Google has some killer offers for educational and non-profit organizations which allows for cheap email services hosted on their servers. Keeping email web based decreases the risk of email viruses, and means one less thing for churches and staff to worry about in terms of software, space considerations and what not.

2. I draw the line at 5 PC's for a strictly P2P network environment. After that things just get messy. So two versions would be ideal.

P2P: 1-5 PC's can do P2P, and the computer that is on the most will be the share host. Give it larger storage capacities, more RAM and CPU power, a battery backup and remote data backup and you are good to go for central storage. Other PC's can be cheaper ones that connect mapped drives to the host.

NAS: 6-50 users should have a RAID NAS (network attached storage). These are pretty cheap, I just checked on NewEgg and can get a 4 bay 2TB RAID 0, 1 or 5 capable device for $500. That is a great deal, and would even be worth sacrificing some specs or quality on desktops to get it.

3. The software needs to be solid. The admin software MUST be modular and easily expandable. This is where a church will save the most money hands down. If you can survey the church demographic for the types of modules they most need and design the software to match then I think we would be golden. These modules should be self-installable and wizard based in their configuration.

4. Basic infrastructure considerations: I am not a fan of a network without dedicated security... Not even a full-blown linux environment. They need a firewall. Smoothwall, and IPCop make good ones, and can run on old desktops with crummy specs until the cows come home. But I think UCE should create a similar firewall solution with danguardian, and other protection features built right in. It needs to have built-in reporting features and limited user interaction to configure.

They will also need either a WiFi config that will just work out of the box. My recommendation is complete pre-staging of an entire "network in a box" product. I have done this before, setup all components at my shop, had the shares configured, printers configured, network equipment and software databases, permissions, and usernames configured. All the users have to do is open their boxes follow the easy to read instructions and BAM the network is up and running, they are sharing data, and the admin software is working.

I think if someone were to do this, that giving hardware at cost, and charging minimal configuration and support fees would really help these churches save money. There is nothing wrong with charging churches for what they need. To be honest, most non-profits have money to spend on IT, but they don't make it a priority either because they are gunshy about tech, or they just would rather put it towards things that are more important to them.

I can get an Intel Atom based desktop for about $250 that will run UCE quite well. so I don't think hardware will be an issue in terms of cost.

There is a lot of planning that would need to go into something like this but it is doable, and would be super fun and rewarding. Lemme if I can help somehow.

Dave Faulkner said...

As a solo minister in small churches, I am the church staff! In one sense, choice of OS is entirely mine. I dual boot my laptop between Vista and Ubuntu. However, more times I end up using Vista, because I can make the wifi work in that. Much as I like free, open source and low RAM usage, the lack of support for my wifi device seriously limits me. Also, I don't know a major UK mobile (cell) phone network that supports any flavour of Linux for mobile broadband. They all seem to be Win or Mac.

Working from home (no church office for me), I have to share a desktop with my wife. Much as I'd like to experiment with Linux there (and wifi would be less of an issue as I plug straight into the router with Ethernet), my wife needs Windows and MS Office. I can boot into Ubuntu and I do have OpenOffice on the desktop, but defaults are all set to Vista and MS Office. The one exception is Firefox as default browser.

In such a small market as the UK, I'd be more than pleasantly surprised if a Linux equivalent to the church software produced by Data Developments arrived, but I'm not holding my breath.

So to conclude, in my circumstances, Ubuntu CE is a nice idea and I'd be delighted if it took off, but I'm afraid I'm not optimistic.

Tony Farson said...

To Dave F. I respect your concerns, and I honestly share them. Considering the size of your flock do you have much of a need for church admin software? Sounds like you could even get away with paper, pen and a good Franklin Covey date book.

I could get you up and running on CE as your sole laptop, no dual boot that WORKS with WiFi and even Cellular data for about $600 bucks. The key to these things is a netbook with bluetooth if you can stand a 10" screen... or buying a USB bluetooth transceiver for your existing lappy. having a bluetooth module in your notebook could open up the door to you creating a PAN between your data enabled cell phone and your notebook is much easier than trying to get a USB modem to work on Linux. Also there are devices out in the UK (I think) called Cellular routers which can fit in your pocket and make you a walking "hotspot" for up to 5 devices. All you need is a functional WiFi card in your notebook and cell phone and you are connected to the Internet all the time. You can usually get these added to your cellular service for about 35.00EU, cancel your data plan on your phone and go all router.

The Navy Christian said...

Dave F, Tony, David, thank you all for these comments.

Dave F, would a netbook work in terms of your one-man-show that is your ministry over in the UK? Since we're trying to find a viable alternative to spending all of the money that churches spend on technology now days, let's find out if this would work. Let me know.

Also, Tony, how would a pastor or church administrator set up a network for a Windows machine now without paying for it? Or are you saying there's no way to get away with paying nothing? Meaning, no matter what system I use, am I always going to end up paying for tech help?

I think that speaks specifically to the weakness of church...it relies heavily on volunteer work. That is also the church's biggest strength, to be honest. If no one in the church understand tech issues, then the church is left to pay for things.

There has to be an answer, but we have to get there over time.

Tony Farson said...

There are plenty of howto's out there for setting up Wired and WiFi networks, sometimes you can even get help for free from the hardware manufacturers, and the problem still hasn't been solved. So no, churches don't HAVE to use tech services to get these things done, but the more the ministry grows, the more complex the tech requirements will be. Here is the bigger problem... Most end-users will not go through the steps necessary to properly configure security, and network settings opening up (leaving open really) gapping holes.

Here is the bottom line...

The issue cannot be "how can we make this happen in a self-help fashion?" Most end-users, pastors and church staff included ARE the problem when it comes to IT issues. Many will not do it simply because it is too hard.

I know this fact from years of experience in the IT Service Space. It is, indeed a fact. I even came up with a acronym for it... PEBKEC "Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair."

At the end of the day a church is still a business, as responsibly managers the elders deacons and pastors need to decide whether IT is something they need to focus some attention on from time to time.
I have heard of a few ministries hiring grant writers to petition for technology grants to get the stuff they need. Many grant writers don't require payment until they get you your money, then they take a percentage. I will be going down this road early next year with the ministry I am going to be working for. I believe I will be able to get between $250K - $500K to completely renovate the infrastructure on three campuses worldwide.

Churches also do fundraisers, and take offerings for specific things all the time, IT projects can be handled the same way.

What NFP's (not for profits) need are service men and women who are willing to do work on a discount, or pro bono basis. Assisted configuration is a much better model to go with for NFP's. It is what I described in my last post. IT Pro's...

1) Interview the decision makers over the phone
2) Source the hardware, assist in purchasing
3) Pre-configure said hardware offsite
4) Ship the hardware with detailed instructions on how to setup
5) Be available for walkthrough help over the phone.

Unknown said...

Frankly, Ubuntu CE for Church admin and server is still far in the future. The present Ubuntu CE is intended for Desktop or home LAN use.

I have just got a complain from user that he could not ssh among PC on LAN anymore after installing Ubuntu CE ( http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1222630 ).
That is because firewall is on together with dansguardian, blocking all holes. I make an update to remove firewall so that now he could ssh again. Off course a better solution is to open a hole for ssh only.

So, Ubuntu CE is just the first step to get people using linux at home, and gain expertise from using it just like me. If we could get one or two church member with linux skills comparable to mine, that would solve the IT problem.

That is why the main feature is:
1. Dansguardian easy setup and management: To protect kids while surfing internet
2. e-Sword installer: Many windows user miss e-Sword as it could be install easily in linux.
3. Daily verse and trivia:
There is no (not much) such package for linux desktop so far, so I bring it to ubuntu.

In future, if more people already use linux, the ubuntu CE might not required anymore.

So, start using linux at home.

The Navy Christian said...

I want you to know that this conversation has increased my respect for you a hundred fold. You have shown grace and patience as you work through this topic with us. I'm sold on your efforts to help the Christian community and the Linux community at the same time. Well done, sir!

So to anyone who hasn't already decided it...get Ubuntu CE!

Unknown said...

The dream comes true, I have release ubuntu ce server edition. Below is a "soft release":

The Navy Christian said...

I'm posting about this today. Thank you for the update! Listen, I want to interview you sometime on my blog, if you would be interested. Of course, my blog is not the most popular around, but it might help to get the word out about your work. Let me know! You can email me at: sdansmith@gmail.com.