After a long sequence of stupid stunts, I finally resorted to installing SuSe 6.4 on a machine at home just to get a working version of wxWindows running and try this German typing tutor. It wasn't worth the bother, in the sense that it didn't seem as useful for my kids, but at least I know I don't have to keep working on that rats nest of problems.
Everything ran fairly smoothly at school, computer-wise. I am beginning to see the benefits of my 8-computer scheme. As a new 7th grade teacher, despite the subtlety of my educational training and philosophy, I just need to get the little buggers to settle down a bit. Keeping a room full of 12-year olds even moderately under control is not an easy task. Luckily, I have classes between 12 - 24 kids, small for a public school. When eight of them are more or less focused on doing something vaguely productive on the computers, then I only have to keep a handle on the remaining 8 - 16 of them, which is managable even for me.
Having the computers running is also very good for the overall tone of my class. These kids have to feel like you care about them, but if they perceive any weakness in you they will exploit it, so it is a careful balancing act. Bringing in computers shows that you care and are trying to do something to help them, without just being a nice pushover.
I'm thinking about setting up e-mail service, just on my little intranet, so that is my next research task.