Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts Tagged / thin client

  • Jul 31 / 2014
  • 1
Linux in Education, technology

Converting A Small School To GNU/Linux in 1 Hour

Of course this can be done using Debian GNU/Linux but it takes more knowledge than a newbie might have. A distro designed for the purpose gets a teacher off to a good start. My first experience with GNU/Linux in a lab came from K12LTSP GNU/Linux when it was a real distro based on Fedora GNU/Linux. It installed a working LTSP server in less than an hour and all I had to do was collect a few addresses and edit a few files. Easy.

More recently I recommended EdUbuntu for the job but with the strange sharp turns of Canonical away from a near perfect desktop OS to some kind of compromise, I thought I should try Debian Edu/SkoleLinux which does the same but is based on Debian more solidly.

I downloaded the beta CD from


One can verify the correctness of a 600MB download using the md5sum command on a working GNU/Linux system or just trust to luck. These days it is rare to have a bad download. One can boot from the CD and do an internal test as well.

I created a virtual machine of 40gB and booted the CD. Screenshots follow. The process installs applications, an OS and services to boot a bunch of PCs by PXE and run sessions on the subject PC. This is a great convenience. One installation does the whole bunch. One just needs to set all the client PCs to boot PXE/network from the BIOS and it helps to have two NICs (Network Interface Controllers) on the server PC. One will connect to the outside world and the other will supply the clients in the school or lab. If the server PC has 200MB RAM per client and a good modern CPU, it should be able to run 24 PCs with no problems for normal click and gawk computing. It’s not a super-computer, so don’t expect all clients to be able to solve the secrets of the universe simultaneously but they sure can give a nice snappy learning environment. GNU/Linux runs well under load.

This installation pulls packages in from the Internet, so speed is dependent on that connection. I have a local server which makes things much faster but one needs to select “expert” to be able to specify the proxy.

The installation guides the newbie through the steps:

There are 2600 packages installed in the main file-system and the chroot for thin clients. It even installs LDAP and xrdp, much more than a minimal installation. I fear this is bloat for a lot of schools who just need a lab running… Without a fast local mirror, this installation takes many hours and I can see teachers taking up much of a weekend to do it.

I recommend doing a minimal installation of Debian GNU/Linux and adding the LTSP parts manually to avoid the bloat. That way you can get XFCE4, turn off encryption and use a local mirror or cache of packages. That will save downloading packages twice, once for the file-system and once again for the chroot and if you need to repeat the installation, the second try will be much faster.

  • Jun 08 / 2014
  • 19

Thin Clients Are The Real Thing In IT

I’ve long touted thin clients as the right way to do IT. For most purposes“Wal-Mart had a huge IT department, with each branch or region the responsibility of a team of tech managers. Over 1,000 people maintained the company’s office computers used for inventory counts, correspondence, etc. Now they have an IT maintenance department of just two people, who manage the systems for all 9,000 Wal-Mart branches in the US from one place.” they work exactly like legacy PCs but they have fewer moving parts, use less power and cost a lot less to maintain. Here is some evidence of that from the supplier of thin clients to Wal-mart: 1000 IT guys were replaced by just two when the switch to thin clients was made.

Of course, I don’t want to see anyone out of work but people in IT should be doing the right thing, making IT that’s as efficient as possible at the lowest cost. Running a fleet of PCs running M$’s OS is not that. PC Chip uses GNU/Linux on most of its thin clients. Fewer re-re-reboots, BSODs, malware, etc. all lower the cost of IT as well as having smaller power supplies, boxes, fewer fans and fewer hard drives. Less is better when it comes to performance/dollar. The folks who used to service PCs could well be put to work running thin client terminal servers in the cloud. That’s a growing industry as is anything connected with */Linux.

See 'Thin' PC systems help cut corporate fat, says CEO.

  • Apr 16 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

GNU/Linux Works In Computer Labs In Greece

After years of using GNU/Linux in schools and introducing it to many students and teachers,“All these tools together, Sch-scripts for setting-up PC labs, Epoptes for managing them, and LTSP are used in more than 500 schools, all over Greece. The free and open source solutions help save teachers valuable time. One grateful teacher posted a testimonial on the support forum for Sch-script in 2010: "Within one hour, a PC lab set-up which had been giving me all kind of headaches (8 computers with Windows 2000 and dozens of problems) became operable… from my laptop! Tomorrow, I am doing the first real test-drive with students, but it was amazing how fast and easy everything was. I’m speechless. Now I can share my desktop with all the lab PC users, and monitor them, it is incredible."” I became skilful enough to set up a lab in an hour or so, replacing that other OS with something that worked. That’s becoming “old school” these days with many distros provide setting up the software through the package-manager.

Now even more of the configuration and additional tools are all available by a set of scripts developed in Greece. 500 schools is a whole bunch more than I worked. GNU/Linux works in education. It can work anywhere. Finding the recipes for all this and sharing is obviously more efficient than buying solutions sold by M$ and “partners” that cost too much or don’t work at all sometimes. The world can and does make its own software better than those guys. This is just another example of doing IT the right way.

See Computer lab management tool in over 500 Greek schools.

  • Feb 24 / 2014
  • 0

Yes, You Can Run (most of) a Winery On GNU/Linux

The crazies who come to my blog keep saying one must have that other OS everywhere on full thick clients. Here’s another anecdote of doing the obvious, running GNU/Linux thin clients almost everywhere with all kinds of benefits: “Our original GT shipped with an early 2.x Gnome release. This had more to do with my general lack of skills with package management and live image building than by design. Since the distro I was using at the time shipped Gnome by default – I went along with it. Since then, we’ve migrated to KDE 3.5, back to Gnome 2.8 and finally to KDE 4.9 which we’ve just completed the rollout for, and which now makes up approximately three quarters of our 250+ desktop fleet.
The key to all smooth migrations we’ve found is Desktop Environment consistency. Keep the major applications cross-platform where we can (browsers, office suites, assorted tools). Keep the icons where people are expecting them (they’re in the same spot on our Windows desktops too).”

Amen! Give the users a little consideration and better performance at lower cost and you’re well on your way to software Freedom. I recommend Debian GNU/Linux and XFCE4 but whatever you choose will work for you and your organization.

See KDE Software Down Under.

  • Feb 14 / 2014
  • 67

Chip! Chip! Chipping Away At Wintel

The last obstacles to widespread offering of */Linux to consumers have been pushed aside with Android/Linux devices and Chromebooks but now Google has figured out how to push M$ aside (a bit) on business desktops. There, M$ has businesses locked in with all kinds of business-centric software that is only available on TOOS (That Other OS). Google is getting together with VMware to offer those applications on Chromebooks. Whoohoo!
“Google Chromebooks can save businesses about $5,000 per computer when compared to traditional PCs. Chromebooks are designed for the way people use computers today and are a secure, easy and cost-effective solution to help organizations embrace a new way of doing business. Through our partnership with VMware, businesses can now capitalize on these advantages with access to legacy applications, data and desktops they need to keep employees productive.”

Lest there be any confusion, this solution envisions allowing software to run on a server somewhere dealing with users out there using Chromebooks. “Lowest cost of delivery – open source based technology eliminates MS licensing fees from the cost of hosting desktops, no third party software to manage” (VMware Horizon DaaS Platform). This will hurt M$’s enterprise bottom line if businesses go this way. This will bring more FLOSS and */Linux to the desktops and servers of big businesses. It’s all good.

See News Release from VMware.

  • Feb 09 / 2014
  • 10
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

A Bunch Of Reasons Why I Use The GNU/Linux Operating System

I just read a trollish/clickbaitish article, you know, one of those “umpteen reasons to use that other OS…” things. It was sickening. All the usual arguments evanglists of M$ use wrapped in a “user-friendliness” package with a ribbon were there. I won’t even link to it. It was just too far gone. I will write my own such article based on real experiences in the real world.

I used to put up with that other OS when it crashed a dozen times a day. I saved files early and often… When almost every PC on Earth shipped with that, what was the choice? I knew about UNIX but the last time I checked folks wanted $1000 for permission to use it. I had never heard of Minix and I though GNU/Linux was just for computergeeks or huge companies. I had seen a guy attempt to install GNU/Linux just once. It was a disaster and lead to a CLI (commandline interface) that was foreign. I had used DOS a lot but this was different. Nevertheless, I was in the Arctic with five PCs running that other OS, Lose ’95 flavour, and one or another crashed almost hourly. What I had tolerated as an individual user for years was intolerable to me when I was a paid professional teacher in charge of the futures of two dozen real human beings entrusted to me by their parents.

I read that GNU/Linux didn’t crash and I had to have it. It took 10 days of nights and weekends at dial-up speed to get one CD of Caldera e-Desktop. I had never installed an OS before except copying DOS to a hard drive, but I figured it out and the installation was flawless, except I couldn’t get the GUI to run. I needed to look up data for our five different monitors and put the sweep frequencies into a file. So, a day or two later I had five PCs that didn’t crash. They ran six months without a single crash. I was sold.

M$ had been able to sell that crap because they had exclusive deals with OEMs, retailers, ISV’s (not so Independent Software Vendors) and had extended the monopoly granted by IBM to the ends of the Earth. IBM had adopted GNU/Linux a year or so before I discovered it so M$ had to change but GNU/Linux was far ahead in the stability department. I was amazed that a dying application could not lock up the OS. I learned about “Xkill” and carried on. We had an office suite, StarOffice, and a browser, Netscape, that did everything I knew how to do on a PC about education. I and my students were free of M$.

No student complained that GNU/Linux was not that other OS or that some list of applications would not run on it or that other OS was prettier. No one cared. The PCs loved it. The students loved it except for a couple whose parents thought more than 15 minutes per day was excessive use of a PC. My students were getting more than 60 minutes per day. It was like having another teacher in the room. I worked out lessons for students and distributed documents or papers to those PCs and the students took care of the rest. Vocabularies improved. Writing skills improved. I was able to give more attention to the rest of the class. What’s not to love about GNU/Linux?

Since then, the things I was able to get GNU/Linux to do for me multiplied greatly. I learned about file-sharing and printing and X and openSSH so I could control one or a hundred computers as if they were one bringing more computing power to each user as needed. The use of the hardware was only limited by my imagination and the imaginations of students and teachers, not some stupid EULA…

Let me tell you about M$’s EULA (End User Licence Agreement). First off, it’s not an agreement. You are forced to say you agree to it if you want to use your PC. That’s not an agreement. That’s extortion. Pay us if you want to stay in business… Further, the “agreement” is unconscionable. You have to agree not to connect more than X PCs together. Yep. A school with 100 XP machines on a LAN would be in violation if they shared files or ran thin clients. M$ wants you to cripple your PCs so they can sell you a “server” licence with a per-seat charge. Then there’s the thing about not studying the OS. You are not legally able to study M$’s OS and figure out what it’s doing to you. M$ also wants you to agree that M$ should be able to install whatever malware it wants on your computer. M$ wants to use the hardware you own to work for M$. For agreeing to this enslavement, they also charge a fee. That’s insane.

GNU/Linux on the other hand runs on FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) licences. The common theme is that you can run the software any way you want on as many computers as you want making as many copies as you want and you may study the software including source code and/or modify it… Oh… Vive la difference…

That’s Software Freedom, actually freedom for developers and users to make the best use of IT. If you are a developer you will like the fact that you can start a huge project from scratch and reuse and modify all the software you can get legally and without a fee in most cases. That enables anyone to start a huge project that could go far for very little cost. That’s perfect for students, young folk and start-ups as well as individuals and organizations. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you’re a user, you can use your hardware to full advantage with few restrictions, very little cost and no organization can tell you what to do with your hardware. It doesn’t get any better than that.

GNU/Linux largely uses open standards so whatever applications and computers you have can all talk to each other and speak the same languages. That allows you to turn a lab or a school into a super-computer as needed. That allows you to set up as many databases, search engines, web-servers, clients thick (resourceful) and thin (using resources of a server), as you need, want or can afford. Basically, you don’t need a brand new PC to get great performance if you can connect to another powerful computer running the software you need. GNU/Linux lets you do that transparently.

Let me give you an example. I like the application, GNUmeric, for doing spreadsheets. It makes the lovely graphs I display on my blog. They are SVG so they scale nicely no matter what size your screen. They take just a few seconds for me to set up from templates and they are infinitely customisable. The latest version of GNUmeric does not run directly on the version of GNU/Linux I have on my main PC, Beast. It wants the latest version of GNU/Linux. So, I set up another PC, a virtual one, that runs on Beast, installed the latest version of GNU/Linux from the Debian organization, and interact with it as if it were installed on Beast in the usual way by creating an icon that runs this simple command, ssh -Y jessie “gnumeric”. The “ssh” part runs a remote secure shell on the other computer, jessie. The “gnumeric” part runs GNUmeric for me on the other PC and the -Y part connect the application to my PC in a transparent fashion, a window automatically appears in front of me and I’m off. I also share the directories where I download and keep my documents so the apparent file-structure on Jessie is identical to my normal one. It’s all transparent to me, the user. I basically get to use two PCs as if they were one. If necessary, I could make Jessie some powerful super-computer and get better performance, or I could run more applications simultaneously by having more RAM on two systems than I could on one or… See? It’s only limited by my imagination, not some crazy EULA designed to sell more licences to remove crippling. The city of Largo in Florida does this for all their major applications. There are a bunch of powerful servers running their pet application for hundreds of users who access the application from small cheap computers on their desks. This is the lowest cost and the highest performing system you can have. Essentially, you don’t need a noisy, bulky heat-source in your working environment. It can be cool and quiet and serene thanks to GNU/Linux. M$? They charge extra for that and you still have all the other problems of that other OS: malware, re-re-reboots and the damned EULA.

So, we’ve covered reliability and flexibility and freedom. What about the actual design of the software? GNU/Linux has many parts. The GNU part is an ancient imitation of the UNIX OS from the olden days. The Linux part is a kernel that knows just about every bit of hardware you can connect to a PC and a benevolent dictator, Linus Torvalds, herds the Linux developers/cats in good directions, keeping things from breaking as much as possible and always trying to improve performance and security. On the other hand, M$ is anxious to sell as many licences as possible by every trick in the book including breaking things so a new licence will fix things until M$ needs more money, inviting malware in so computers slow down or “fail” and they are not above installing stuff that slows down your computer so you constantly feel the need to buy a new one, hoping faster hardware would save you from M$. M$ is run by salesmen. GNU/Linux is a product of the world which can and does make its own software to work for us not against us.

Have I missed anything? Probably. I will finish with some of the fabulous software I use in my home doing the computing that I do. There’s no lack of valuable software available from the Debian GNU/Linux repositories and I can install any of it in a few minutes by typing simple commands or clicking a mouse a few times.

  • Gnumeric, which I have described above,
  • LibreOffice, a general office suite which does almost everything perfectly for me except huge documents and the graphs in spreadsheets,
  • Lyx is what I like to create huge documents like books. It allows the writer to concentrate on content rather than formatting,
  • Inkscape is a programme designed to create and modify SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) images,
  • FireFox web browser,
  • ImageMagick, a toolbox for handling image files,
  • Gimp, a complex image editor, capable of almost anything for images used on the web or computer screen,
  • VLC, a video viewer/streamer/convertor,
  • Mplayer, a video player,
  • OpenShot video editor,
  • SoX, audio toolbox,
  • Audacity, audio editor,
  • Apache web server,
  • MySQL/MariaDB database,
  • PostgreSQL database,
  • Swish-e search engine,
  • Recoll search engine,
  • AutoKey, which inserts various strings in my texts by typing simple “hot keys”,
  • APT software packaging system,
  • and thousand of others

Notice that several of these are usually found on servers, not PCs, like Apache or MySQL. That’s OK. GNU/Linux doesn’t limit your freedom to run whatever you want wherever you want. Remember? Some trolls might mention that most of these can run on that other OS but if I don’t have to sell my soul to use my PC, why should I run that other OS? I don’t owe M$ a living. I don’t own M$ anything. If anything, I should send M$ a bill for the thousands of re-re-reboots they inflicted on me over the years.

There, I’m done. There are no good reasons for me to run that other OS and plenty for me to run Debian GNU/Linux. You should too unless you’re a slave and want to remain a slave.

  • Feb 09 / 2014
  • 4

Even Dell Is Getting Into Smaller/Cheaper Personal Computers

“The Cloud Connect isn’t much larger than a USB flash drive and plugs into the HDMI or MHL port of your display. It has a multi-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of flash storage. The Cloud Connect supports WiFi and Bluetooth, has micro USB and mini USB ports, and features a microSD card slot.”Thin clients aren’t standing still. While that other OS on legacy PCs sinks into the mud, ARM+*/Linux is everywhere helping to make small cheap computers smaller and cheaper. Dell gets this and is giving people what they want, perhaps before they know they want it. That’s the way to catch the wave of adoption. That’s what M$ has missed.

Like FLOSS, these small cheap computers are limited mostly by the imaginations of users. Being able to whip something out of your pocket and to turn a TV/monitor into an access port to the LAN or the Internet connecting to one or a hundred powerful web applications opens up a whole new world of computing. I expect we will see Dell selling theft/loss insurance for these guys soon. There are so many ways to use/profit from FLOSS on ARM.

See Dell Wyse Cloud Connect launches for $129 (Pocket-sized thin client).

See also, Fat Client, Thin Client

  • Feb 07 / 2014
  • 3

Gartner’s View of the PC Market

I read yet another article by Gartner on the market for PCs and had to respond. This is the e-mail that I sent:
“In an article with this title, the statement, “Data includes desk-based PCs and mobile PCs, including X86 tablets equipped with Windows 8, but excludes Chromebooks and other tablets.” is just silly. It’s like describing an elephant by examining its trunk. “Personal computers” includes everything from smartphones to a wide variety of thin clients to powerful workstations. Slicing up the market arbitrarily is scarcely relevant to anything. Many producers of “legacy” PCs produce the newer formats as well. Retailers are seeing the legacy devices gather dust while the “other tablets” are flying off the shelves. A growing segment of consumers see their smartphone as their personal computer.
Who would have read your article if it had been correctly entitled, “Market For an Arbitrary Subset of Personal Computers…”? The article as written gives the reader little information about the market for personal computers.
The world has moved on from a dependency on Microsoft. Gartner should too.

See article on entitled, Gartner Says PC Market in Western Europe Declined 4 Percent in Fourth Quarter of 2013.

  • Feb 05 / 2014
  • 3
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Schools Allowing Drug-Dealers To Operate In The Parking Lots

No, not literally, but figuratively, the generosity of many IT-companies to “help” schools afford IT is more about enslaving students to use and be locked-in to those companies’ products rather than choosing what works best for the students and teachers. I am surprised that M$ is not on the list…

  • “Apple’s pledging $100 million in iPads, Macbooks, products and teacher training.”
  • “AT&T is giving $100 million in mobile broadband for 3 years to middle schools and for teacher development.”
  • “The Verizon Foundation is giving $100 million to educate teachers, with the Verizon Innovative Leading Schools program, among other initiatives.”
  • “Autodesk will offer free design software to every secondary school.”

Sigh… No one should have to donate software for schools because FLOSS is already ~$0. They can use it for the price of a download. Training? Just use it. Most software can be figured out in a few minutes of poke-and-click. The web is full of collaborative sites that require little or no training. Know a school for FaceBook? GMail? The concept of requiring training in schools is silly. That’s just a euphemism for allowing salesmen into schools. Just turn the students loose on it and they will put it to good use within the first hour. The benefits are only limited by imaginations of users, not the agreements companies force on schools.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux for schools. I have worked in dozens of schools where clients and servers just hummed on the LAN, trouble-free and fast with tons of FLOSS. Put a start-page on the browsers and stand back. Learning will happen. It will be hard to prevent. I have set up Moodle course management system in schools and local copies of Wikipedia, all for $0 and a few minutes of my time.

The high-speed Internet access is welcome, but how about cabling and wireless in the schools? How about gigabit/s to servers and multimedia stations? Is it there? What about thin clients? Is this “help” limited to expensive thick clients or to the optimal solution, thin client/server, for most tasks in education? Will students be able to learn anything beyond dependence on some monopolists?

See Apple And Others Fund $750 Million In Education Gadgets And Internet Broadband.

  • Jan 05 / 2014
  • 3

Schools Changing From XP to GNU/Linux And Loving It

“With Microsoft’s stated end-of-life for Windows XP in April 2014, we are now preparing to transition the majority of our remaining XP computers to largely Linux and open source systems. We have developed strategies for helping teachers who instruct digital media, industrial education, business education, and so forth to use software which will run on our Linux diskless client systems and support the curriculum. This is not without its challenges, however, as the same support structure developed for our first implementation we will see another approximately 500 workstations move to open source computing models. The aggregate total of our existing 2250 Linux diskless clients will swell to over 2700 systems across 16 sites.”

That’s much bigger than any migration I ever did but the mechanics are the same. Schools can choose to:

  • move away from M$’s bloatware and malware,
  • to the beauty of FLOSS on GNU/Linux or
  • just cut the budget.

It all works with FLOSS, the right way to do IT.

See How to upgrade your school system to open source.

  • Dec 29 / 2013
  • 1

Dave At City of Largo Reports Looking At NX and LibreOffice 4.1

While the trolls here constantly tell us how essential that other OS is people in the real world keep rolling along comfortably with GNU/Linux, LibreOffice and making unfettered (by M$’s EULA) use of the hardware they own.

“We jumped on LibreOffice 4.1 at 4.1.1 to solve some issues and improve file filters versus 4.0. Out of 800 users, about 20 had to be rolled back for various bugs, which is normal and expected. With release 4.1.4 we have been able to finally get everyone off of 4.0.”

For those who don’t know, Largo never used that other OS much so they were never locked in. They just went from a UNIX OS to GNU/Linux and never looked back. They use a cluster of huge powerful servers to run GNU/Linux thin clients. They can have hundreds of sessions open on a single server and have servers specialized for running a single application like LibreOffice. Single point of failure indeed… Chuckle. Instead of failure Largo has success, saving many $millions and getting great performance. They only have to “work” on a few servers and the thin clients just keep doing their thing. It’s not rocket science. Just keep a few servers working hard and many clients idling and performance happens with GNU/Linux.

The real puzzle is not why Largo is using GNU/Linux. The real puzzle is why many others continue to use that other OS at great expense and endless problems. My experience in schools using similar technology was that the effort required to keep the system running smoothly dropped an order of magnitude using GNU/Linux. That’s why Largo has the time to tweak their servers. They don’t have to tweak their clients.

See Dave Richards – City of Largo Work Blog: Thinning Thin Clients, And Other Projects.

  • Dec 16 / 2013
  • 50

I Don’t Care What They Say, X Is Wonderful

Lately there has been a lot of negativity around X11, the networked display technology used in GNU/Linux. Folks want to replace it with something newer because of its “shortcomings”. Last night I had some fun with it.

I was using Gnumeric to generate graphs for my blog but found the documentation (Version 1.12.x) and my software (Version 1.10.17 from Debian Wheezy) were out of sync and I wanted to try some “greyed-out” features. There were libraries incompatible between the two versions. Rather than using a chroot, I created a KVM virtual machine (minimal, just the bare minimum to boot plus Gnumeric, no X server at all, no GUI), and mounted the directories (sshfs pogson@beast:/home/pogson/Downloads /home/pogson/Downloads) I most use with Jessie_VMGnumeric, Downloads and Documents, in the virtual machine using SSHFS. Works like a charm (ssh -Y jessie "gnumeric"). The virtual machine was surprisingly large, 1.3gB, without much GNOME stuff: root@jessie:~# dpkg --get-selections|grep gnome
gnome-desktop-data install
gnome-icon-theme install
gnome-icon-theme-symbolic install
gnome-user-guide install
policykit-1-gnome install

I guess that’s just the bloat of a modern GUI application.Gnumeric_on_Jessie

This magic comes courtesy of that flawed device, the X11 networked display. It works for me. It will work for you, allowing an application in one place to be used in another. I used a virtual machine. It could just as easily been another computer on the LAN or somewhere out in the web. The mind boggles at the possibilities. Jessie, BTW, seems flawless, at least for this exercise. It means another great release from Debian is in the pipeline.