The Little Woman Now Uses a GNU/Linux Terminal Server

Her former terminal has an aluminium case that sings and must be positioned and burdened just so to minimize the noise. In the hot days of this summer it also put out too much heat so it is banished to the basement in a dark closet. In its place she will be using a tiny thin client about the size of a box of chocolates.

The setup was easy. I just edited /etc/gdm3/daemon.conf on her old PC with
DisallowTCP = false
Enable = true

and restarted gdm to enable XDMCP. This is quite insecure but our network is pretty tight…

I then installed Debian GNU/Linux packages ltsp-server and ltspfs (to allow automounting USB devices over the network). I ran ltsp-build-client and after a few minutes there only remained a little tweak of /etc/exports for NFS.
/opt/ltsp ipaddress(ro,no_root_squash,async,no_subtree_check)
so the thin client would be able to mount its root filesystem over the network.

/etc/init.d/nfs-kernel-server restart loaded the configuration.

I tweaked the DHCP server in the router with the fixed IP address of the thin client and set the “next server” to the IP address of her old PC and told it to load /ltsp/i386/pxelinux.0 and mount as root filesystem, /opt/ltsp/i386. To make USB mounts transparent I needed to add her to the “fuse” group.
usermod -a -G fuse little_woman

I needed to set the BIOS of her old machine to ignore “no keyboard” conditions to run headless. The hardest part was finding the password for the DHCP server…

The thin client was set to connect to a server back at my last school so I rejigged the BIOS to boot PXE.

Her USB ports, monitor, keyboard and mouse will function exactly as they did and she will have all her files and menus as before. She already has a request in for a second station in the dining room…

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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20 Responses to The Little Woman Now Uses a GNU/Linux Terminal Server

  1. Lea says:

    Whenever I get a new machine, the little man gets my old one. I have to put Mepis on it for him. All he does is surf the net so there’s not much to set up for him.

  2. oldman says:

    Fair enough. But your usage is also irrelevant to my point.

  3. oiaohm says:

    Where in my personal usage it is becoming more tempting. To avoid some issues of PC not being moveable enough.

  4. oldman says:

    “oldman You did specified that it was a personal opinion. But my statement that mainframe is back is based on the new options.”

    This is all fine and good Mr. oiaohm, but in the end beside the point. I was relating personal experience – why I personally left a shared environment and why I personally will never go back in my personal useage.

    I am not talking about what is possible with centralized shared services…

    I am not talking about inquisitional use of shared services…

    So that your entire comment, while I may actually agree with it as a professional, is completely and totally irrelevant to the point that I was making.

  5. oiaohm says:

    oldman You did specified that it was a personal opinion. But my statement that mainframe is back is based on the new options.

    Biggest issue at the moment is still gpu power. Cpu and Ram issues are solved by cluster and virtual machine solutions.

    To get around gpu power issues I have ended up using ip kvms. The big advantage is the means to check on where the processing is even when I am in a different part of the office. Of course long term I hope I will see remote able to use gpu just as well as local so no longer require the hack.

    Basically the main reason for leaving the desktop model and returning to server room for fixed location machines is flexibility and maintenance. Of course it provides other advantages if your machine fails for some reason you can tell the thinclient to connect to the shared thin terminal server and still get work done without having to fight for access on someone else desk.

    Yes Access is the issue as well. Where and how. Most importantly that a access location is less likely to be rendered completely useless so having less cases of not enough access to get stuff done. Less disputes over computers as well.

    Maintenance all the moving parts are in 1 location. Anything that spins is more likely to fail than any other part in a computer. It also simpler to keep the harddrives and other parts are stable temps in a server rooms compared to general office so extending life.

    Yes when it was first done we had a few people argue that they were going to get less access due to there mainframe experiences. All of them have end up surprised that is has normally ended up the other way. Less worry that cleaner will pull plug on the computer you left running overnight as well.

    My personal option is different to yours. Most likely from the different environment I have seen.

  6. oldman says:


    I don’t get it. What part of the personalness of my narrative don’t you understand. Aside from the case where I might need access to a compute resource that it is beyond my means to acquire, there is zero reason for me Personally to even consider returning to a shared computing environment.

  7. oldman says:

    “Depends on what you are doing oldman. 3d modeling that eating solo machines for lunch. Waiting you turn on shared resources does not feel that bad compared to having to wait many months to process it solo.”

    I believe I specified that this was a personal opinion. Your comment is irrelevant to me.

  8. Of course, that model works, but sharing works for more people. In schools where I have worked the school was at the limit of affordability having a single lab of thick clients. By sharing they can afford a cluster of thin clients in each classroom. That give far more flexibility than not having PCs in the classroom. Typically using GNU/Linux, a school can afford twice as many PCs whether the measure is CAPEX, maintenance, or price/performance. It does cost more to wire a school to each classroom but most new buildings have cabling built in or plan to be wireless. Even schools that use cast-off PCs with software donated by M$ are better off to use GNU/Linux because of the EULA which prevents file-sharing among more than 10 PCs and because powerful servers can be set up for hardware-only prices.

    In particular, what works for an individual content generator may not be optimal for larger numbers of collaborators. Consider just the licences. School divisions and larger schools need a database for tracking non-free licences to make sure they are not paying twice etc. whereas with FLOSS they get the licence with each instance of the software and there is much less complexity. I have been in many schools where there were more licence bought than used. That’s just a silly waste of tax dollars. Failure of PCs with OEM licences, lost/damaged product codes, decrease in number of PCs due to hardware failure all cost schools time, manpower and money for nothing with non-free licences. Many schools have turned to FLOSS for this issue, alone.

    Russia moved to GNU/Linux in schools in response to the prosecution of a principal for having an unauthencticated OS on his school’s PCs. He bought machines with software pre-installed. Russia is moving to GNU/Linux in government for many reasons.
    “Deputy Head of the Ministry of Communications Ilya Massukh told CNews, the document provides a complete transition of the federal authorities and state employees to free software.” Organizations and societies have different priorities than some individuals.

  9. oiaohm says:

    Depends on what you are doing oldman. 3d modeling that eating solo machines for lunch. Waiting you turn on shared resources does not feel that bad compared to having to wait many months to process it solo.

    I have got darn good on que management over the years.

    Just like this case we are seeing more of the single computer pure user with thin client interfaces. Reason it is my machine. I leave it number crunching over night it is still my machine. Of course if I am not using the machine it get pulled back into a cluster to data process something else.

    Difference is I can be anywhere in the office using a thin-client to control it as well even not even in the office.

    Basically the new mainframe tech is not that of the 30 where you were sharing the cpu and ram with others all the time. But exclusive access while you want to use it and reallocated when you don’t.

    Of course not all people need exclusive power of a machine to themselves.

    “I dont have to ask and dont have to share,”

    Exactly look at what was setup here closely it one machine for one person with many thin clients. This is not sharing but making the 1 single machine strong to damage and more accessible where the user wants.

    Mainframes did leave for a while replaced with pure clusters. Mainframes running the office machines is coming back. Really its a combination of both.

    Mainframe idea of single machine many terminals. and the cluster idea where each user has a individual machine but when they are not using it the power of that machine taken for other processing company needs done.

    Of course depending on the users what one fits.

    Basically designs have come a long way for desktop from server/servers in the past 10 years.

  10. oldman says:

    “So yes the age of the Mainframe is back.”

    Speaking professionally, it never left.

    Our shop still has enterprise LOB apps running on an IBM z10 BC and we are seriously looking at an IBM system z114, which when equipped with specialized CPU’s running IBM Intetegated Facility for Linux microcode and running IBM zVM, will allow us to run thousands of Red Hat Linux VM’s on a single box with 5 9’s up time at a surprising reasonable price, even when compared with a stack of blade servers.

    The reason I personally left the mainframe environment for the world of what was known as personal computers, was for one reason and on reason only – Access. Having to ask and possibly wait ones turn to use a shared resource doesn’t work when you are creating. Even the PC class technology of 1982 gave me more access to create than I had on the old shared system, and the technology available now puts at my fingertips on demand all of the power that I need to create on my own schedule, and I dont have to ask and dont have to share,

    I just do.

  11. She is little, about 5′ 0″.

    The fact that GNU/Linux can do the magic of a networked display as a built-in feature is not a failure. It allows her to have a multi-seat system out of the box.

    I did not purchase that box. It was a gift for my wife. I have never purchased an aluminium computer case. They are over-priced and fragile and prone to “singing”. I prefer steel. I was a welder. My Beast has a steel case and has travelled through dozens of airports and shipments. It has a few dents but is still solid.

    She has two notebooks which she uses wirelessly. Moving to thin client could be done wirelessly as well but she also uses the notebooks off-site. The second thin client station was her idea because at certain times of the day she would like to work in other rooms. We have cabled the whole house and it is not difficult to put in another copper line. The only complication with her chosen site is that it will be on an outer wall and we have to work around thermal insulation. We might add a USB wireless dongle to the thin client. It is trivial to put the right code in the LTSP chroot using standard Debian measures. I can probably configure that in the same chroot as the other or give the wireless station its own.

  12. My wife does destroy tech. Her desk is littered with coffee cups and snack trays. I have to reach over stuff if I use her machine…

  13. oiaohm says:

    D-G Number 1 until solid state is someone near dependable and affordable I would still avoid notebooks where I can.

    Yes she dropped here notebook now how files are not accessible. Not a nice time for the tech particularly when you are stuck in the same house.

    “tiny thin client about the size of a box of chocolates.” These devices are almost bomb proof and it does not matter. If they are destroyed by someone spilling coffee over them otherwise bad results is nothing to the data.

    Mainframe design does have some advantages as long as where you place the Mainframe is sane and safe risks are reduced.

    Basically thin clients are great for high risk environments like kitchens, saw mills and other equally nasty locations.

  14. D-G says:

    Wow, the “little woman”. What an affectionate nickname, Pog.

    The real question, of course, is: could “little woman” have done this on her own? No. And therefore GNU/Linux fails again. YOU fail again. On top of that you are evidently unable to purchase solid hardware.

    How about buying her a frackin’ notebook? I’m sure you have some ancient models from the turn of the century lying around.

  15. oiaohm says:

    Really oldman after 30 years the same problems exist.

    How to make computer power be where we want it without it taking up excessive space.

    Terminal services on Windows is also the old style mainframe idea.

    As price of power goes up having high power eating boxes at each desk is going to be come less and less tolerated. Arm is not always going to be able to everything.

    So yes the age of the Mainframe is back.

  16. Her old PC will become the GNU/Linux terminal server. This machine will be located in the basement once we have done any further reconfiguration with it. The thin client will rattle around in the space where the old machine and a UPS were in her office.

  17. twitter says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. Ray says:

    Where is the server and client located?

  19. The performance of my wife’s PC is many times what that old IBM 360 did, including I/O. We used to have hundreds of people depending on that big iron. She gets the PC all to herself but now it will be cooler and quieter and more convenient to use. There are some things and at some times she likes to work in her office and some times she likes to work on the dining room table. She could go wireless or I can put in another line. It’s all good. You left the mainframe mostly because $millions of big iron could be replaced by $thousands of microprocessor. We can have the best of both worlds still.

  20. oldman says:

    Congratulations Pog, You have finally gotten back to the mainframe that we all left 30 years ago.


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