UberStudent: An Academic-Oriented Linux Distribution

UberStudent main screenA few weeks ago, the good folks at LifeHacker ran a post on a new Linux distro called UberStudent. Readers can learn more about UberStudent and the philosophy behind it at their site (the tour is worth a look).

Given that UberStudent is specifically designed for academic work (calling itself “Linux for Learners”) and is, in their words, “Built from Freedom and Strength to Promote Computer Fluency,” I couldn’t resist taking it for a spin. It does sound very ProfHackerish, after all.

So I downloaded the live CD and went to work installing it on my MacBook. (I installed it in a dual-boot system using these instructions from LifeHacker and ignoring the Windows bits, but all of the screenshots in this post were taken of an installation running in VirtualBox.)

The installation process

Installing UberStudent was simple and straightforward. It involved: (1) Downloading and burning the .iso image (I chose the full DVD edition). (2) Booting the machine from the live DVD. (3) Following the installer’s prompts. (4) Waiting for the installer to finish doing its thing, then restarting the system.

Seriously, that was it. There were only two additional things I had to do. The first was to get the wireless connection working, and that was remarkably easy. All that was necessary was to be sure I was connected to the internet via Ethernet, then to go to System — hardware — hardware drivers. Once that finished loading, UberStudent told me I needed to activate the Broadcom STA wirelss driver, which I did. At that point, UberStudent went out to the repository, downloaded, installed, and activated the driver. A few minutes later I was connected to my wireless network and could cut the cord.

The second was to connect to my wireless printer. That was a little more challenging, but the difficulty was due to the printer, not to UberStudent (which saw the wired printer on our network with no problem). Resolving that issue took some Googling, then a visit to Canon’s Australia site to download the drivers. (For some reason, their USA site doesn’t have Linux drivers for the printer available for download, but their site in Australia does. Go figure.) Once I’d downloaded and installed those, printing worked fine, too.

What’s available in UberStudent?

So, installing the operating system wasn’t a terribly painful process. But why would anyone want to install this particular flavor of Linux?

The simplest, most direct answer? Because, at least for most humanities and social science students, anything they could possibly need for getting their work done is preinstalled. Word processing (on the desktop or in the cloud), email, presentations, research — it’s all here.

OpenOffice comes preinstalled in UberStudent, so working with documents, spreadsheets, and presentations is no problem. There’s also a link to Google Documents, for those who prefer to work in the cloud.

In fact, there’s a whole slew of cloud-based apps, as seen here (click on any of the images in this post for links to larger versions):

UberStudent Cloud Apps

For taking notes in class, students might appreciate KeepNote, a wiki-like note-taking application:


Those needing to look up unfamiliar words are also covered, as UberStudent comes with GoldenDict preinstalled:


For keeping track of research, UberStudent includes both Mendeley and Zotero. There are a number of other research-oriented applications available as well, as can be seen in the list below:

Research apps

You might note that one of the options available in that list is Zotero; selecting that starts FireFox with the Zotero pane maximized:

Zotero maximized

And the FireFox installation in UberStudent isn’t just a plain-vanilla variety:

FF WebBrowser Plus

It comes pre-loaded with fourteen extensions, designed to make use of the browser more productive.

Another handy application is Gutenbrowser, which puts the entire library of Project Gutenberg at the user’s fingertips:

Gutenbrowser 3

That’s particularly handy for students in the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. (On a personal note: many of the readings that I’ll assign my students in Political Thought next semester are available at Project Gutenberg, and I’ll be pointing them there as one possible source for their texts.)

So, is installing UberStudent a good idea?

Well, that really depends. Most, if not all, of the applications in UberStudent are available for other platforms, so one needn’t be using UberStudent to gain access to them. The extensions preinstalled in FireFox, though useful, will work wherever FireFox does — so again, they’re available to users of other platforms.

Those who are content with their present computer setups probably won’t want to take the time to mess around with UberStudent, unless they like playing with new bits of technology just to get a sense of what they’re like and how they work.

Those who are committed to the open source philosophy and/or those in the market for a new OS, however, will find much to like here. The price (free) can’t be beat, the OS can run on older equipment (the minimum memory requirement for the full version is 512MB) and I honestly can’t think of any application I’d absolutely need to work with on a regular basis that doesn’t come preinstalled. Though the applications in UberStudent are mostly available for other platforms, it takes far less time and effort to install the entire OS than it would to download and install each application or FireFox extension individually. If you’re in the market for a new OS, this one’s definitely worth a look.

Have you tried UberStudent? If so, let us know what you think of it in the comments.

[All images by Flickr user cavenderamy / Creative Commons licensed]

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