24 Sep 2013

Patrick d'Emmabuntüs: Emmabuntüs is more than a Linux distribution

DarkDuck loves to interview different people in the Linux community. Especially if they are real developers of distributions, or take part in the development teams. Examples are Artyom Zorin, Anne Nicolas Eugeni Dodonov , Porteus Team, Robert Milasan and so on.

Today I am happy to introduce you a member of another team: Patrick from Emmabuntüs team.




DarkDuck: Hello Patrick. I think you’re not very famous in the Linux world yet. Could you please introduce yourself?

Patrick d'Emmabuntüs: I am Patrick d'Emmabuntüs and I came to the Linux World with the aim of helping refurbish computers in the Emmaüs Neuilly-Plaisance, the community in which the Mouvement Emmaüs was born in 1949 to combat poverty and homelessness. Since then I've taken part in the creation of the Collectif Emmabuntüs, which promotes its own Linux distribution: Emmabuntüs.

DD: You’re working on the Emmabuntus project. What is it?

PdE: This distribution was designed to facilitate the refurbishing of computers given to humanitarian organizations, especially Emmaüs communities, where the name comes from, and to promote the discovery of Linux by beginners, but also to extend the life of the equipment and to reduce waste caused by over-consumption of raw materials, as I have mentioned earlier.

DD: How old is the project?

PdE: In May 2010 I took part as a volunteer in the computer refurbishing activity of the Emmaüs community of Neuilly-Plaisance. I started by developing a set of scripts to handle the software installations in Windows XP, taking care not to corrupt the initial license.

After that, I noticed that the majority of the PCs were donated without a hard drive, so I had the idea of creating a script to install free software and a Dock on an Ubuntu Distribution, inspired by the scripts made for Windows XP.

I presented this work at the Ubuntu-party 10.10 in Paris; I wanted to inspire other people to:

  • Develop and promote a free distribution well suited for refurbishing the machines in Emmaüs communities.
  • Help these communities to refurbish and sell these PCs to beginners without any knowledge about Linux distributions.

During this Ubuntu-party I had the chance to meet Gérard and Hervé. They convinced me to create an ISO image dedicated to installation without an internet connection. Then in January 2011 Quentin, from Framasoft, offered to give me an interview to present this work on the Framablog.

After that, David and Morgan joined the core of the actual Collectif Emmabuntüs. David helps in publishing the distribution on Sourceforge, Morgan helps in publishing it to Freetorrent.

The first version of Emmabuntüs was released on the March, 29th 2011. It was based on Ubuntu 10.04.

DD: What are the main goals of the project? What is the target population for it?

PdE: The goal to reach is to build infrastructures that will help refurbishing old machines for charity or humanitarian organisations:
  • Beat the poverty in a certain layer of the population, by providing a new income source reselling the refurbished machines.
  • Beat the digital divide in France and the rest of the world, in particular in Africa, by providing a complete distribution based on free software.
  • Reduce the waste resulting from the overconsumption of raw materials by extending the life of computer hardware.
DD: How many members are in the team?

PdE: It is difficult to exactly say how many people are involved in the Emmabuntus Team because it is not a 1901 association, so there are no financial contributions and we do not have a reliable way to count our members. We can only say that up to 50 people are reading our mailing-list, and since this year we have a lot of informal partnerships with associations in the following domains:

  • Associations promoting free software: Société d'histoire Saint George & Dalayrac, Montpel'libre, Perpinux, Infothema;
  • FabLab: FacLab, ElectroLab, LabLab-MQ;
  • Association involved in refurbishing: Les Amis de la Terre, Festival Récup, PC de L'Espoir, AMELIOR, e-nexus.
And especially our collaboration with the Jerry DIT project. Jerry is an open source hardware project that is fully up-cycled and very low-cost. It gives a new life to computer components that would otherwise go in the trash. About a year ago this project chose Emmabuntüs as a favourite distribution on the Jerry desktop version, and on the JerryClan Ivory Coast work.
Emmabuntüs or Hold up of refurbishing computer for all
Photo credit: CC-BY-SA Sayf
JerryClan Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) have developed, on a Jerry and Emmabuntüs base, a set of services dedicated to medical assistance. This service is based on a free mobile application for SMS tracking of the tuberculosis victims, and on M-Pregnancy for the tracking of pregnancies and pregnant women. Look at this video about the last Jerry-Marathon in Bouaké.

DD: What is the difference between Emmabuntüs and other Ubuntu offspings like Pinguy, Zorin, Mint?

PdE: What makes this distribution unique is that it wants to be "simple, open and fair":
  • simple for the installation,
  • open for its exchange capacity with other proprietary systems,
  • fair for the choice whether or not to install proprietary formats.
But there is a reference in the beginning of this distribution: the help to Emmaüs communities. Independent bloggers explained it as "El Xubuntu humanitario", "All-Inclusive French Resort", "Multifunktional Kompakter Allrounder für ältere Computer" or "Emmabuntüs 2 pour tous et pour tout faire".

Here are the details of the distribution's features:
  • It uses only the stable versions of the underlying OS, in order to get access to updates for as long as possible. Since the beginning, we have used the LTS versions of Ubuntu (Ubuntu/Lubuntu 10.04 and now Xubuntu 12.04). We appreciate Ubuntu, but that doesn't mean this will always be the case.
  • It uses a dock (Cairo-Dock) to make the use very simple for Me Michu.
  • In short, accessibility is an important criterion in the choice of software to include in the Emmabuntüs distribution. This makes us sometimes include non-free applications such as Skype and Flash. We prefer not to insist on an ideological position and do integrate, rather than risk disappointing people used to these non-free applications. They do not understand that the world of Free Software is more restrictive than a proprietary world is. These non-free applications are included in the ISO and are installable by an end user on the first reboot after installing the distribution, or later from icons in the dock.

  • Lots of applications, up to 60, to provide end users with all the tools needed in the dock (or many versions of the dock depending on the user level: expert, beginner, or even kids, in version 2 of Emmabuntüs), without looking for it in the software store.


  • Configuration for Firefox and Chromium web browsers for kids’ protection against ads and phishing.
  • Office compatibility is taken into account, which allows installation of non-free fonts when requested by an end user.
  • No internet connection is required to perform the installation, which allows accomplishing this task over slow connections where Internet connectivity is not stable or entirely absent. In Koupela, in Burkina, or in Bouaké (Ivory Coast), it is not possible to download a gigabyte distribution or software. But it is still possible to send a DVD or a USB key with the Emmabuntüs ISO on it.
  • The last release has an automated script for different installation modes, allowing reducing the workload in refurbishing workshops.
DD: Why have you chosen Ubuntu and Xfce for your distribution?

PdE: We chose Ubuntu because:
  • it is easy to install and to use
  • it is compatible with lots of hardware
  • finally for the important support through its forum and its French website.
The use of Xfce started with the second version, with the aim of allowing the refurbishing of old computers, often more than ten years old.

DD: How many users do you currently have? Do you have any estimations and demographics?

PdE: In fact we are not concerned about the number of users we have, but the type of users we have. That's because our work is dedicated to associations, and how many computers we sold for these associations, and finally the refurbished machines for these associations.

We can estimate that we have 250-400 machines working with Emmabuntüs sold by 6 Emmaüs communities using it in France:
  • Ivry/Seine
  • Villiers-les-pots
  • Montpellier
  • Perpignan
  • Neuilly-Plaisance
  • Cabriès.
But Emmabuntüs is also actively used in 6 locations. The first is at Koupela, in Burkina-Faso. Then C@FISOL (L'Aigle, Orne), Sati 21 (Venarey-les-Laumes, Côte d'Or), CASA Poblano (Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis), Jerry Agor@ (Saint-Etienne, Loire), and Médiathèque d'Agneaux (Agneaux, Manche).

And we are very proud that Emmabuntus is used by the JerryClan Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) on the fifteen Jerry SMSes, which embodies the goals of the team:
  • help charity associations,
  • reduce the digital divide,
  • make computers live longer.
The JerryClan Côte d'Ivoire setup up the tuberculosis monitoring system with a Jerry working on an Emmabuntüs 2 and a cell phone.
Photo credit: CC-BY-SA JerryClan Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
For the statistics on the number and geographical distribution of downloads that have been performed from the new Sourceforge account (created September 2012 with the Emmabuntüs 2 1.02 issue), and older versions here.

DD: You’re currently on around 120th position in the Distrowatch rating. Any plans to go up?

PdE: In order to gain better international visibility in Africa and Latin America, we plan to improve our communication using multilingual articles about our distribution; this will probably result in a higher Distrowatch score. Since the beginning of the year, we have worked on a Wikipedia page presenting Emmabuntüs, and on its different translations in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

We also have the blog Cartas de Linux supporting us, and also Miguel P who wrote very good articles on Emmabuntüs and Jerry.

The different publications on our work can be found on our site http://reviews.emmabuntus.org

And if you want to participate in increasing our Distrowatch score, you can help by clicking on the link once a day. In this way we will soon be the first :).

DD: What is your personal choice of Operating System for your computer?

PdE: Personally I have been using Ubuntu since 2009 on the computer that I use to build and develop the Emmabuntüs, after trying two other distributions which weren't suitable. On my laptops I use different versions of Emmabuntüs to make evaluations, monitor the proper application of updates, etc.

But the other members of the team use, for their personal purpose, Ubuntu, Debian, Archlinux, Solaris, and even Windows and Mac OS X. This important diversity gives us more constructive exchanges, making the development choices better.

DD: What are your favourite applications?

PdE: My favourite application is Cairo-Dock, as it is the cornerstone of Emmabuntüs. It provides an added value to our distribution.


We updated it between the first Emmabuntüs 10.04 and Emmabuntüs 12.04. Now it is multilingual, split into 3 versions, and is foldable depending on the screen resolution.

DD: Do you read Linux notes from DarkDuck?

PdE: I apologise, but I do not have the time to read your blog, and I scarcely have the time to check the situation in the free software world. But some members of the Emmabuntüs Team do some technology intelligence and inform me about useful and interesting software to be added into the distribution.

DD: Other than computers, do you have any other hobbies or interests?

PdE: Yes, I had. :) But now I don't have enough time to practice painting, jogging or climbing.

Emmabuntüs was a turning point in my life, and now thanks to it, I have switched from pursuing hobbies to trying to change our society, because Emmabuntüs is more than a Linux distribution. It is a collective which does not accept the consumer society as it now exists: it is not long-term reliable for our planet, and it is not for us.

And the question we want to answer is: "Are we on a course of human endeavor which, in a couple of generations, will consume all the energy that has accumulated during dozens of thousands of years?"

DD: Thanks for the interview! I wish all the best to you and to your project!

PdE: Thanks you Dmitry for this interview, and for the first international review of Emmabuntüs a year ago. I wish a nice future to the “Gentil petit Canard” site, and also to all your personal projects, and wish to see you next year. ;)

I also want to thank David and Emery for proofreading and translation of this interview, and also all members of Emmabuntüs and JerryClan group, working for "Un jour, le monde sera libre!" It is the message on the wallpaper of Emmabuntüs: "One day the world will be Free!"

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