debateOS: The Ubuntu Spin for Debaters

How does a high school debate coach develop a free solution to paperless competitive debate? With the help of some high school debaters and coaches, Kickstart, Linux, and OpenOffice.

Over the past few years, competitive debate has moved toward a digital, paperless workflow, but that creates problems for school debate programs that don't have the extra dough to shell out for laptops and software licenses. Chris McCool, a debate coach at Ballard High School in Seattle, Washington, decided to create a free, open source solution that would work on older, used laptops. On the project's Kickstarter page, McCool explained:

"Last year, I helped Ballard High School start the first debate program to be based on the Open Office system and struggled through finding out what linux software, desktop interfaces and applets were most useful to debaters. Despite the hurdles, they successfully showed that a team can go "Open Source" and not have to pay for software. Now we are putting that knowledge together to create a USB bootable + installable (out of the box) version of Linux that embraces both the novice and the advanced debater."

In early February 2012, McCool announced the release of debateOS Columbia, the 32-bit version of the Ubuntu-based operating system. With only a little third-grade Basic programming experience under his belt, McCool attributes his debate research skills for helping him develop the system. "Bug fixes, development, and other issues, were all solved through efficient research skills," he explains on the debateOS project site.

What's on the Ubuntu spin? I couldn't find a complete list that looks current, but here are a few highlights from what I pulled out of the project's news history:

  • Calibre
  • KompoZer
  • SpiceBird
  • Spotify Linux Preview (beta)
  • Big Marker (free video conferencing)
  • Dropbox
  • UbuntuOne
  • Project2Manage
  • Writeboard
  • gPodder
  • Liferea RSS Feeder
  • Shotwell
  • Darktable
  • Kdenlive
  • ubiquity-slideshow customized for debateOS

The Policy Debate topic for the 2011-2012 school year focused on space exploration and development. McCool named the first version of the debate operating system debateOS Columbia and dedicated it to his father, Willie McCool, and the rest of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere in 2003. "My dad, Willie McCool, and the rest of the STS-107 crew died living this year’s high school debate topic," McCool wrote.

There are certainly plenty of parallels that can be drawn between space exploration and open source software development. In fact, before his last flight, Willie McCool said something that could also fit the vision many people in the open source community share:

"Most of what we're doing is enabling technology for the future."
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