Joachim Breitner

Turnkey Linux for Internet Cafés

Published 2006-10-19 in sections English, Digital World.

While thinking how to spread Free Software in Ghana more effectively I noticed some important factor: Internet cafés. On the one hand they are for most people the first contact to comuters (in contrast to Europe or US, where it's probably the family or school computer), so getting Linux on there would make a difference. On the other hand, for them a Linux system is a very viable choice: Cheap per computer (although in Ghana the argument reads “legal”, not “cheap”), provides good software for the usual internet café’s user’s needs (browsing, word processing, chatting) and is very suitable to be locked down and run safely.

There are a lot of internet cafés in Ghana, at least in the Accra Region, but most of the people that run these are not he most advanced computer users, so they just go the seemingly simple road: Windows on clients and servers, and probably some software like CyberCafe, also pirated, for the accounting and the computer lockdown.

My idea this evening was: Would it be possible to create something like Skolelinux, just for internet cafés? A CD that the owner of the café just puts in what’s meant to be the server and boots, answers a few questions, and a second CD for the clients where he does not have to answer any questions, and what he gets is a complete system with approximately these features:

  • Workstations locked down to a sane level, while still allowing the typical uses like accessing USB drives etc.
  • Complete pre-paid accounting system, where at the management workstation the owner prints little password papers for a certain amount of time, and using these the customer can login and browse the net/use the computer for the specified time.
  • If possible, integrated accounting of printing and CD writing.
  • Easy to use interface for the customer.

If such a distribution already exists, I’d like to hear about it. If not, it might be an interesting project for the Linux Accra User Group or If successful, this might help Free Software gaining mind share in developing countries big time. Of course I’m also very interested in comments from those who read this through


While I do not know of any such distro, it'd be a worthy project for LinuxAccra. Most cafe admins will be glad to get their hands on such a distro anyways. The cafe from which I'm making this post is a good example. The owner is open to the idea of replacing al his (pirated) windows installations with an easy to use linux distro and I'm sure there are others out there like him. This is a great idea Joachim, and I think we should pursue it.
#1 Odzangba (Homepage) am 2006-10-19
Although there are good projects to take code from – Skolelinux, LTSP, etc – there is much that has to done by hand. I’m not sure how far one can get by doing this in the free time.

If OTOH maybe KACE could sponsor such a project and a few people could work on it in their work time, or a few people make it their won buisness, planing to make money through support, it might actually work out.
#2 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-19
When I was in Guatemala running an Internet Cafe, I gave it a try with Linux clients. Biggest issues were mounting floppies, voice & video chat (msn & yahoo), MS Publisher, and user training.
#3 chele (Homepage) am 2006-10-20
I fully agree with the need for video chat. Although I don't use it, but the few friends who I have converted to Linux have asked me the question about "Webcam software in Linux" at some point (before, during or after installation). Ekiga might be a candidate for this, but I haven't had the chance to use it either. MS Publisher --> Scribus can give a printable pdf :).

Joachim not only Ghana, a populous country like India would also be benefit from such a distro. Although the economic betterment of India might say that people have their own computers, a lot of them still go to internet cafes for checking their email. The most advantageous thing about special Linux distro for cafes is that it can only have the *required* applications installed without any extra cruft unlike Windows. And then is the case of lesser number of *reboots* :p
#4 KDS (Homepage) am 2006-10-20
The issue with MS Publisher was that people have tons of documents already in that format. I was never able to find an application that could read publisher formatted documents.

Ekiga could be a reasonable video option, as Windows users can be on Windows Messenger (not msn messenger). The issue would be walking the windows users on the other side through setting up Windows Messenger and getting an account. I wonder if it is possible to write a .bat file that can handle all that setup, and then be emailed to the poor windows users?
#5 chele am 2006-10-20

I'm writing this from Tchad, where I also thought about the issue of Internet-Cafés. Unfortunatly I didn't find anything useful, neither. The only thing I see here is the use of IPCop as the server.

For a good Internet-Café-Linux, one would have to make a KNOPPIX-like installation CD that handles everything. As default it would work as a client (just to show off), but it could also install and work as a server...

Ah, so much of work to do, and so little time ;) Anybody knows of some work on open-source being done in Tchad?


#6 Linus Gasser (Homepage) am 2006-10-20 has a firefox only livecd client called livekiosk
#7 Jure am 2006-10-20
<strong>Trackback:</strong> <a href="">Kofi-Annan Center for Excellence in ICT</a><br />

Until now, I always had to tell the not very joyful story of the motivated volunteer who came to Ghana to run against a wall of disinterest and misunderstandings. Luckily, things will change:Yesterday, I had an appointment with the Director of the Ghana
#8 nomeata's mind shares (Homepage) am 2006-11-16
Hello Joachim:

Have you looked at ZyberCafe?

It's not a distro as such, but sounds close to what you're looking for. (Actually, I was searching for "linux cybercafe distribution" when I found this page.) Good luck!
#9 robert morrison am 2006-11-17
Thanks, I’m actually looking into that. Seems to be the only free software in this category.
#10 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-17
<strong>Trackback:</strong> <a href="">DeCaf taking on form</a><br />

A few month ago, I blogged a way to spread Free Software effectively, especially in developing countries: By deploying Free Software in internet cafés, where most people learn their way around computers. Most of them (and there are a lot, much more tha
#11 nomeata's mind shares (Homepage) am 2006-12-11
I source also linux cybercafe distribution or linux cybercafe admin tools for new cybercafe in Morocco. If anybody know or have some useful information please write to me:

Best regards

#12 Preben Virkus am 2007-06-16
Check out
#13 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2007-06-16
ZenCafe is a distro you're looking for (more or less).

Also, there is OpenKiosk which can be used with just any distro.
#14 SileNT (Homepage) am 2007-12-03

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