Remote centre to get Linux makeover

The nation's peak Linux body is heading far north into Arnhem Land to transform the desktops of a community centre. Located in the community of Nhulunbuy, the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation's medical centre is on the north-western side of the Northern Territory's Gulf of Carpenteria.

The nation's peak Linux body is heading far north into Arnhem Land to transform the desktops of a community centre.

Located in the community of Nhulunbuy, the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation's medical centre is on the north-western side of the Northern Territory's Gulf of Carpenteria. Most of the centre's IT systems -- which provide computer access to the community -- have fallen in disrepair and were riddled with viruses and other problems, according to Linux Australia vice-president Pia Waugh.

Waugh's solution is to set up the centre with a Linux-based server, driving a network of legacy machines converted into Linux-based thin-client desktops. The project will take place in the closing days of September, with several Linux Australia members flying in to take up the challenge. Some additional support is expected from Linux enthusiasts based in relatively close-by Darwin.

"They [centre] just don't have resources to get new machines or proprietary software," Waugh told ZDNet Australia, noting the makeover was a good opportunity for her organisation to give something back to the community and address the digital divide.

"What we're really trying to do is to give them some tools to help the local community gain some skills," she said.

The Nhulunbuy centre is the second to benefit from the program, after a similar effort in Riverwood, Sydney.

"What we're hoping for next year is to do a lot more," said Waugh. "We're initiating contact with the business community at the moment for support and for donations … I would hope we would get a really serious rollout of support to community centres."

Providing disadvantaged groups with access to technology is close to Waugh's heart. "It means they can create music and art and sell it online," she said. "It gives them new skills; if someone wants to undertake a business degree, they may not be able to do it locally, they may not be able to afford to go to school. But often enough [with PC access] they can go and learn various skills, particularly in IT."

The free software enthusiast contended it was easier for users to train themselves for careers in IT if they used open-source software, due to a greater availability of documentation, online support and the ability to read source code.

Although Waugh had organised some spare computer parts and desktop machines to be shipped north, the current need was for someone to donate a second-hand server to the project. "It's very easy to drum up thin clients from around the place," she said, "but the server has become the sticking point". The centre needs a second-hand or brand new machine with a fairly recent CPU and around 700 megabytes of memory.

Ultimately the project aims to give the community the ability to maintain their own systems. "We'll make it so they can just re-image the server if there's ever a problem, or very easily reinstall," said Waugh, "so we're trying to give them a lot of ability to sustain their own environment once it's put in place." She added that some training would be provided to the community.

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