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Thin Client Solutions For Libraries? 502

Posted by simoniker
from the squish-up dept.
phatlipmojo writes "I'm a librarian in the process of opening a brand new small public library from the ground up (literally; we don't even have a building yet). The library director and I are considering our options for public computing terminals. Having experienced the frustration of dealing with Dell machines running Windows XP on a daily basis, we're trying to consider other options, and we've been talking about maybe using thin clients. Have any of you used or worked in a library (or similar environment) that uses thin client stations for public computing? What are your impressions? What are the perks and what are the drawbacks?"
"I'm hoping that using thin clients could save us daily time troubleshooting bluescreens^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H computer glitches, allow us a greater degree of uniformity on the public terminals, save us the trouble and expense of putting Anti-virus software, Fortres, and Deep Freeze (or other such utilities) on each machine, and make our machines more difficult for black hat types to mess up on purpose. I'm also hoping we'll be able to offer web access (IE and Mozilla, hopefully. IE at a minimum), Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. And have floppy drives. Plus, it would really comfort me not to pump several hundred dollars per machine into a monopolist's coffers for an OS we're just going to debilitate anyway.

We're in the odd (for a public library) position of money not really being a significant factor in the decision. So, for those thin-client-lovers among you if cost weren't a factor, would you still prefer them to full-fledged PCs?

The other factor here is the tech skills required, because our IT department is me. As librarians go, I'm pretty tech-savvy, but as Slashdotters go, I'm pretty much a luser. So homebrew Linux solutions are really out (plus, vendor support is important for selling ideas like this to the municipal government), but systems requiring basic-to-intermediate networking and troubleshooting skills are in, and I'm not afraid of non-Windows OSes."
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Thin Client Solutions For Libraries?

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  • Not a luser! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hanzie (16075) * on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:43AM (#9945322)
    ..I'm pretty much a luser...

    Mmmmm. That word 'luser'. I don't think it means what you think it means....

    You're a public librarian. Thank god for you and your kind.

    hanzie.
    • Re:Not a luser! (Score:5, Informative)

      by cliffy2000 (185461) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:48AM (#9945344) Journal
      To quote Wikipedia: "In hackish, the word luser takes on a broader meaning, referring to any normal user (i.e. not a guru), especially one who is also a loser (luser and loser are pronouced the same)"
      So she's okay.
      • Re:Not a luser! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @08:35AM (#9946497) Journal
        She? Who said that phatlipmojo was a she? Not all librarians are women, you know.

        Looks like we could do with losing the stereotypes about librarians as well as the stereotypes about CS students.
        • Re:Not a luser! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by pomakis (323200) <pomakis@pobox.com> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @10:47AM (#9947849) Homepage
          he? Who said that phatlipmojo was a she? Not all librarians are women, you know.

          Wouldn't the use of "he" be just as presumptuous? The English language has flaws, and this is one of them. Since English has no third-person-singular gender-unspecific pronouns, speakers and writers of the english language have only six choices when referring to somebody whose gender isn't known:

          • Use "he/she". This can get very awkward (especially when spoken). E.g.: "Someone across the street bought a newspaper, and then he/she put it over his/her head so that he/she wouldn't get his/her hair wet."
          • Use "they". This is technically wrong because it's a plural pronoun, so in can lead to ambiguity and confusion. However, it's becoming increasingly common. E.g.: "Someone across the street bought a newspaper, and then they put it over their head so that they wouldn't get their hair wet."
          • Use new gender-unspecific pronouns and hope that they'll be understood and catch on. E.g.: "Someone across the street bought a newspaper, and then ey put it over eir head so that ey wouldn't get eir hair wet.". See http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/ [aetherlumina.com] for more information on such pronouns.
          • Always assume male. This was common and correct practice in bygone days, but I don't think it's reasonable nowadays.
          • Guess at a gender. This is a variation of the previous point, and is not only more fair, but more likely to be correct. In this case, the person in question is a librarian, and there are more female librarians than male librarians, so why not initially guess "she" rather than "he"? It's more likely to be correct.
          • Avoid the use of pronouns altogether. I think that this option is entirely unreasonable. E.g.: "Someone across the street bought a newspaper, and then that person put it over that person's head so that that person wouldn't get that person's hair wet."

          • Re:Not a luser! (Score:3, Insightful)

            by WIAKywbfatw (307557)
            Assuming the male form is arguably more scientific than guessing, which is what you seem to suggest should be done. Yes, it's what's historically been done and that's exactly why if you're not sure of someone's gender or want to make a general case using "he" is better than using "she". (Of course, using "he or she" or "s/he" is an alternative, but as you've pointed out it can become unwieldy.)

            (By the way, why is guessing that the librarian in question is a woman right? You could argue that the librarian i
          • The whole concept of the use of "they" as an incorrect gender neutral singular pronoun is somewhat silly. It is frequently used that way in common English speech (at least in the US, in most of the places I've lived), and it conceptually (i.e. linguistically) makes sense. Both "he" and "she" have strong gender connotations in English, and neither feels appropriate for the case of unknown gender. The confusion you reference with they is almost never a practical issue - as in the sentence you referenced, i

          • I'd like to take a moment to bring up my proposal from back in the day for a new, all-purpose pronoun to use when ambiguity rears its ugly head. Or is that his ugly head? Her?

            Anyway, recognizing that everyone is very sensitive about these things, I decided to combine three common pronouns, she, he, and it.

            My proposal for a new, generic pronoun:

            s/h/it.

            Face it, it makes as much sense as the other choices.
  • That was actually designed for a public library system...I remember reading an article about it somewhere (/. or other), but it contained almost everything needed (network tools, OO, browser, etc)...

    Anyone know what I'm talkin about? I've googled to no avail........
    • by thewldisntenuff (778302) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:55AM (#9945374) Homepage
      As Auger recently wrote in an article for Library Journal: "Our two Linux luminaries, Michael Ricksecker (network specialist) and Luis Salazar (network engineer), created a kernel and resulting user desktop that closely mimic not only the look and feel of a Windows desktop and browser but lack the unnecessary bells and whistles that come with a standard Windows installation."

      Using LFS as a starting point, Luis and Mike were able to build a minimal Linux kernel that included only the functionality required by the "kiosk style" machines. They added the Gnome desktop environment, the Mozilla browser, and OpenOffice.org to complete the picture. They call the new distribution "Lumix."

      Anywho, give that a try --

      Article From Newsforge-
      http://www.newsforge.com/os/04/05/03/1520209.shtml [newsforge.com]

      LumixTech (link from article doesn't work...give this a try or google it)
      http://www.lumixtech.com/ [lumixtech.com]

      Good luck with your new library!

      -thewldisntenuff
      • by Spy Hunter (317220) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:38AM (#9945516) Journal
        KDE now provides a "Kiosk mode" that is designed to make this kind of locked-down desktop easy to achieve on any distribution with KDE. Here's a recent article on the subject, [kde.org] and here's the project homepage [kde.org], and here's the KDE guide for sysadmins, which has lots of information useful to KDE server admins. [kde.org]
        • Mandrake Terminal Server available since, I think, 9.0. If you're running audio, video or just lots of screens, go for "diskless fat client" mode rather than "thin client" mode; NFS + Linux's caching makes the network bandwidth much nicer that way, and lots of things like plugging in USB thumbs, cameras or PDAs are easier to manage.

          If you want to charge for it, I've cobbled up an infrastructure based on Ruby and PostgreSQL which seems to work fine. It'll be released soon (weeks) under the name "lincaf" (GP
      • by atomic-penguin (100835) <wolfe21 AT marshall DOT edu> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @04:58AM (#9945731) Homepage Journal
        Here is the slashdot link:
        http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/05 /05/144 1249&tid=103&tid=106

        There is no publicly available cd image of this. You have to contact the authors to get a copy.

        I was going to try this out in one of the computer labs at school. I even contacted one of the author's and got no reply.

        Instead I just did it myself. We had some crappy 200 and 300 Mhz machines for this.

        1. I loaded a bare slackware system with network support.

        2. Put mozilla firefox on the systems.

        3. Unzip the browser.jar for mozilla (Java Archive, compatible with zip).

        4. Hand edit the browser.xul file to disable unwanted features (save to disk, bookmarks, preferences).

        5. Zip the new browser.xul into browser.jar.

        It might sound like a lot of work involved, but there are tutorials on kiosking a browser available via google. It took me two hours at the most to get mozilla locked down and kiosked.

        The hardest thing I had to do was get mozilla to start up in place of a logon manager. Because I tried it a few ways and ended up with nasty infinite loops that don't play nice with init. Beside the point, because you probably want something other than just browser access in your library. What I ended up with was a nice locked down browser in fullscreen mode and nothing else. Which was the original goal to have browser kiosk. Extremely easy to modify mozilla to fit your needs. One alternative I have seen is a 10 headed server (1 server, and 10 screens, keyboards and mice). A turnkey solution with applications loaded, exactly what you are looking for. The downside is a price ranging in tens of thousands, depending on what optional packages you want added.
    • While not specifically for libraries check out
      http://www.k12ltsp.org

      We currently use it at work on the Tech Floor, and it runs great... I can't remember the last time I replaced a hard drive in a machine.. oh wait I haven't... cause they all run off the server =) BLAH! Nightmare when each machine ran seperately.. replace hard drives, format, etc.
  • by js7a (579872) <james@NoSpaM.bovik.org> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:46AM (#9945335) Homepage Journal
    LTSP for Libraries HOWTO [meadvillelibrary.org]

    success story [slashdot.org]

    • corrected link (Score:5, Informative)

      by js7a (579872) <james@NoSpaM.bovik.org> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:49AM (#9945354) Homepage Journal
      success story here [techtarget.com], sorry
    • From a personal standpoint, I used LTSP for a classroom at my school, and it worked out great on even 233MHz w/ 128MB RAM. As long as you spend some money for a server, it should work great.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I would highly recommend K12LTSP as a good start. It is easy to set up and configure. The latest release which came out today is based on Fedora Core 2 and LTSP 4.0.1. Although it has not on the K12LTSP page at the moment you can read the announcement here.

      https://listman.redhat.com/archives/k12osn/2004- Au gust/msg00321.html

      All the best with your project
    • by Aber_Bryn (750337) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @08:03AM (#9946326) Homepage
      I've been working at the National Library of Wales [llgc.org.uk] developing an LTSP based system for our new Readers Room. We had decided to replace the old full WinNT desktops with LTSP stations served off a 1u Intel Xeon Server running Redhat 9 (for the trial system). I'm currently in the process of setting up the servers for the deployment version (Redhat Advanced Server on the same hardware).
      I personally found the LTSP for Libraries HowTo very useful, after reading it and a day's worth of work in it - our system happily serves Firefox [mozilla.org] to the terminals.
      You should bear in mind though that serving applications like Office to each terminal will mean quite a lot of your bandwidth being taken up. If its running on the same physical network as the rest of your machines (which it *really* shoudn't be imho) then your staff are going to start complaining.
      As for security concerns... provided the terminals arent served with an XTerm and you restrict the user logged in only to their home directory, firewall off the server and isolate it from the rest of your network (consider sticking it on a seperate V-LAN to the rest of your network) and keep the machine up to date. Then it will most likely be as safe as any other machine on your network.

      Bryn
  • by Ba3r (720309) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:47AM (#9945338)
    There are quite a few internet cafe packages out there, and there might even be one on sourceforge; combined with linux, I could not think of a better solution for a library, especially when the payment system is used administrate (and ensure that all patrons of your library have equal access).

    Sounds like a great project, good luck!
  • linux.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DZign (200479) <averheNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:57AM (#9945384) Homepage
    Some people already referenced to distros you can use.. so I don't have to do that anymore.

    But as I have some personal experience with this here's my post :-)

    Back in the day when I was studying at university a friend and I both worked a few hours a week in the uni library. They had the same problems you're describing, only on win95 then..
    The computers available could be used to surf and telnet to the library system to search books.
    Almost every week windows had to be re-installed,
    usually because someone messed up some settings, or there was a virus on it, .. (thank god spyware didn't exist back then, I don't want to imagine how bad it would be now :-))

    In the end we just installed linux. The login screen clearly said 'log in as 'guest' with password 'guest' and would then boot X with 2 nice large icons: Netscape and a telnet window to the library catalog. Nothing else was possible.

    For the next 6 months the year lasted, we didn't have to do any maintenance anymore on these systems..

    (bonus for us: we used it as email server too to get personal email out of the uni-system and having a box to telnet from was nice to.. hmm.. experiment a bit)
    • Re:linux.. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gbjbaanb (229885)
      not this karma-whoring post yet again.

      I refer to the 'it ran windows and was crap, so I installed linux and everything was fine forevermore'. Why do they keep getting modded insightful?

      --

      'Back in 1947, I saw the ENIAC system being deployed, but what a load of rubbish it was. It couldn't do a batch job unless you ran it overnight, needed a whole 16 k of valves to process any of its bloated hide, so one day, while the admins were off standing in a ration queue, I installed linux and KDE, and not only did n
    • Re:linux.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @06:47AM (#9945991) Homepage
      There is another step you can do if ou want to control the access and or monitor use.

      look on freshmeat for some of the cybercafe management systems. you can allocate time to a user and it will shut them down at the end of the alloted time. if your library is not busy, this is not needed, but some libraries are very busy and instead of having the librarians police the stations, you can have the computers police them for you so those waiting to use them will get their time at the terminal.

      It worked great for us at a company demonstration of broadband. we had people waiting to "feel the future" so I set up the linux boxes to only allow 15 minutes per user. it worked great and it eliminated the leaches sitting there for 5 hours hogging the access terminals.
  • by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:58AM (#9945391) Homepage
    If so, go here [koha.org] for the Koha Integrated Library System - an open-source ILS used by several libraries in New Zealand and elsewhere.

    Also go here [oss4lib.org] for the Open Source For Libraries Web site which has links to numerous open source library systems and tools. Including a story on how Arizona State University West moved entirely to Linux as the underlying OS for their library.

    Between those two sources, you should find plenty to check out.

  • Personally... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tuxedo Jack (648130) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:59AM (#9945393) Homepage
    I would use Knoppix.

    That's got everything you need on it - it's a full, live-on-CD version of Linux, and it's completely free. Boot off it, glue the CD-drives shut, and you're good. You'd need small hard drives for it, naturally, and quite a bit of memory (~512MB should do fine), but that'd do _very_ nicely for a workstation - KDE, OpenOffice, Mozilla, and a bunch of other things that make a workstation a workstation.
  • Sun Rays (Score:5, Informative)

    by trisweb (690296) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:59AM (#9945396) Journal

    I know you said that money is less important, but Sun Rays still might be out of your league. I have no idea what they go for.

    Sun Rays are the epitomy of the thin client. I mean, they really are thin. Only like 2 inches thin. They run off a Solaris central server, and have no hard disk or much of a CPU. I use them all the time in my CS lab at UC Berkeley.

    I'm commenting more on the general aspect of the thin client than these specifically, because I think something else might suit your needs better. So let me just say that in a lab of 30 sunrays, they always seemed slow. But then you (probably) don't have freshmen writing C programs with memory leaks and infinite loops that clog the pipes. If you had a moderate number running off a decent server, I'm sure they'd be fine for just about anything you do. Solaris is a pretty standard UNIX environment; you can offer Gnome and KDE and such, and all the applications you described, and they'll work fine as long as people don't expect 3D games.

    But I'd consider alternatives. It all depends on how many systems you want to offer. If it were 5-10 systems, I'd just get cheap PCs and install RedHat or other linux, or an old version of Windows. Then keep a disk image handy so you can wipe them whenever you want. But if you need a lot of workstations, then a thin client might be more economical. Work it out and see.

    • Re:Sun Rays (Score:5, Informative)

      by WebCrapper (667046) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:32AM (#9945497)
      I recently did a study on Sun Rays and think I can share some data...

      For 40 Sun Thin Clients with 1 Server: $74,935 (for Library use, you can probably add up to 60 Thin Clients on one server due to usage)

      For 40 Dells (with required antivirus and Ghost):$76,307.28 (with small business discount)

      Upside of thin clients is - no work locally, its all on the server. Good technical support (they answered our test call within 2 minutes) will help out with any issues you can't take care of.

      If you want an 8 page report on the pro's and cons between the average windows workstations and thin clients (as well as 3 PC manufacturers compared to Sun's Thin clients), feel free to email me.
      • I was wondering what Sun's increasingly idle salesmen were doing these days. Slashdot, is it?

        For 40 Dells (with required antivirus and Ghost):$76,307.28 (with small business discount)

        Now, why is it exactly that you would choose to not just use the *Dells* as thin clients with Linux? At, say, $1k a machine, you can get a decent new machine to use as a thin client -- and who cares whether the box is two or six inches thick?
      • Re:Sun Rays (Score:5, Informative)

        by mleopold (415280) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @07:46AM (#9946240) Homepage

        I work in the Computer Science Department at the University of Copenhagen (DIKU) and our undergrad and grad student labs are made up of SunRay stations (I guess about 120 of them or so). They are run by 3 fairly slow SunFireV440 and require a number of application servers that can handle the load - in our case that is a pile of cheap Linux-boxes. With an LTSP solution you might be able to get by with fewer application servers as LTSP is able run applications locally.

        The setup performs well for most tasks that our studens perform: browsing, compiling, emacs, lyx, etc. However getting audio from the application on a different server through the network into the V440 and finally to the earphone plug on the terminal is a challenge - and ofen more than the SunRay servers can handle.

        They require very little attendance from the administrator - except for hardware failures everything can be handled remotely.

        I don't know which prices you used for you calculations, but Sun just announced that SunRay software should be on the way for Linux [slashdot.org] which should bring the price on the servers down substancially.

      • Cheap thin clients (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Alan Cox (27532)
        Yes but if you instead get 40 little epia boxes with no disk just a CF card, and a server its much cheaper. If you recycle old PC's as thin clients it gets very cheap indeed
    • I used them at work some of the time, and so long as the server isn't completely slammed they are usually pretty responsive.

      Unfortunately mozilla, flash, staroffice etc... can end up being quite a resource hog.
    • Re:Sun Rays (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WebCrapper (667046) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:40AM (#9945523)
      I did a report on your average computer vs the Sun Rays:

      Dell: P4 2.8GHz, 512 memory, 20G HD (5400 rpm), 24x CD, Win 2k, Ultrasharp 19inch Flat panel that is height adjustable, standard keyboard, wheel mouse, bottom line external speakers, DVI-VGA video adapter, mouse pad, no floppy, no consumer anti-virus software, no Microsoft Office offered.

      Cost: $1,797 per unit

      Required Software: 40 licenses each of Norton Anti-Virus ($3,219.65) and Ghost (1,207.63), Corp Editions.

      Full cost: $76,307.28 for first initial order

      Support: A test call to their support line prompted advertisements for spyware removal programs, antivirus programs, network hardware to up sell customers as well as the standard "Your call is important to us." The call lasted 17 minutes before giving up the test call.

      Sun Thin Clients:
      Configuration Details: The SUN thin clients are, effectively, modern dumb terminals. There is no local processing, everything is done on the server side. A representative would need to insert their smart card, used as a username and password, into the thin client and their session would be brought up immediately, right where they left off before. This enables "hot desking", which means a representative can get up from one terminal, walk across the building and sit down at another terminal and begin working where they left off - zero configuration. The thin client works off of a central server, called a SUN Fire, that can house anywhere from 1 to 80 clients, depending on server type and load. These are normally very fast machines that have their memory maxed out.

      The Server runs the only copy of Solaris, so there is only 1 upgrade point and since it
      runs Solaris, it is impervious to roughly 99.9% of the viruses that attack computers. A major benefit is that the SUN Fire server requires, roughly, one System Administrator for 2000 thin clients.

      The Sun Ray 1G Thin Clients do have audio in and out jacks, giving representatives to listen to music over the network. This would require a CD collection somewhere, a network storage server dedicated to music, etc.

      Cost: $359 per unit + SUN Fire server ($12,995 - $29,490) + 19 inch monitors ($1,100 each)

      Required Software: None. The SUN Fire server has licenses for 20 to 40 users using Solaris with Gnome, a Windows like operating system as well as other software package like StarOffice (a Unix/Linux version of MicroSoft Office) and GAIM, a Unix/Linux version of AOL Instant Messenger.

      Required Hardware: The Sun Thin Clients require a monitor. While Sun offers 19inch LCD displays for $1,100 each, the Thin Clients do support any monitor that supports Display Identification Standard (DDC) ver. 1.2 or 2.1. There is more documentation on monitor needs on Sun's website. Other 19-inch monitors that appear to support the standard are priced at $800 to $1,100. I have also noticed that the Sun Monitor appears to support higher frequency ranges (60-80Hz) vs the low end competition. This can help reduce eyestrain for those that can see monitors flickering at anything below 70Hz, such as myself. The Sun monitors also support 1920x1200 with 24 bit color (2d rendering, no 3d).

      Full cost: $74,935 for first initial order

      Support: A test call to their support line was greeted with a simplistic menu. After the menu prompt was picked, a "Southern type" SUN technician greeted the caller after a short wait. Total call time to live rep: 2 minutes.

      Since the library isn't going to actually use them like we would, you can probably run around 60 per server since it would just be a browser and maybe a terminal window.

      Basically, after spending about a week on the issue of workstations for a call center environment, we found that the Sun Ray Thin Clients came out on top and we'll be deploying them ASAP. Hope this helps.
      • by daBass (56811) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @04:11AM (#9945586)
        Don't forget Sun has Sun Ray clients with either a 15" LCD or 17" CRT in an all in one design too at $1049 and $659(!) respectively. That's a big savings on 40 of these and for a library more than adequate

        The smart card is not a requirement either. You can simply log in (as guest if you like), you just don't get your hot desking. This brings the possibilty of giving regular users a real account with some space for documents as well and it keeps their settings. Guest logins are trivial to revert to "standard state" every time they are logged off too.

        You don't get IE but that only disables a small amount of websites that due to their stupid reliance on IE don't deserve your custom anyway.
      • Re:Sun Rays (Score:3, Interesting)

        by edunbar93 (141167)
        The Sun Thin Clients require a monitor. While Sun offers 19inch LCD displays for $1,100 each, the Thin Clients do support any monitor that supports Display Identification Standard (DDC) ver. 1.2 or 2.1. There is more documentation on monitor needs on Sun's website. Other 19-inch monitors that appear to support the standard are priced at $800 to $1,100.

        I've never known a library to use 19" monitors for anything, let alone 19" LCDs that cost 3 times more than the thin client they're attached to. In fact mos


        • not uber multitaskers like call center employees

          uber multitaskers? call centre employees? yes, some are good, even great, but many of them rank below the great unwashed masses in technical know-how and problem solving abilities... you can tell by the way drag their knuckles...

          *ahem*

          dave

      • Re:Sun Rays (Score:5, Interesting)

        by trisweb (690296) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @04:26AM (#9945633) Journal

        This seems blown up slightly -- A library (IMHO) does not need a 2.8GHz 512MB system. What are people going to do? 3D animation? raytracing? Doom III?

        I think a better estimate would be a 1.4 GHz AMD Athlon XP system with 256MB RAM and the bare min for hard disk and other. The monitor you chose also inflated the price a bit. You can get decent 15" monitors these days (either LCD panel, or Trinitron CRT for more savings) for under $300.

        And the software costs for the PCs are horribly inflated as well -- first of all, screw Windows. Install a basic Linux environment on them; there go your unnecessary Norton licenses. Use Gnome (or KDE), Firefox, OpenOffice, and a terminal for the Library and you're all set. If you're going to do a price comparison, at least bring the PCs up to the same level as the UNIX sunrays.

        Cost per unit: about $600-$800
        Total cost: around $30,000

        Hmm, significantly less. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems convenient that the sunrays beat out the PCs by only about two grand. Maybe for a call center environment you need the extra horsepower on your PCs (which is ironic, because you chose sunrays instead) but I doubt it. Aside from maintenance and support, the PCs are definately cheaper for the library.
      • Again, it seems to me that you spent around $30k more than you needed to spend by going Sun instead of x86 Linux. You can do thin clients just as well with stock x86 hardware hosting Linux, and you won't be paying an arm and a leg for the server.

        I'm also at a loss as to why you'd spend $1.1k/monitor on brand-name Sun monitors.

        Are you a Sun employee, Sun vendor, or have you consulted extensively with Sun products in the past?
      • Re:Sun Rays (Score:3, Informative)

        by WebCrapper (667046)
        I've gotten too many replies to respond to each one individually.

        The above post was cut and pasted parts of a report that I did for a company I'm working on getting funded.

        The PC's need to be able to last at least 3 years in a call center environment before being passed down. While I agree that a library doesn't need this much power, if they went with it, they could probably get 5 years+ out of them without a problem. The need for 3+ years is due to cost of replacement. The other thing is, power for the r
    • Re:Sun Rays (Score:5, Informative)

      by W. Justice Black (11445) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @04:23AM (#9945622) Homepage

      ObDisclaimer: I work for the Linux Server Group at Sun.

      I have also worked rather intimately with a few thin client technologies over the years, including SunRay, X Terminals (NCD, e.g.), and WinTerminals with WinFrame (NT 3.5) or MetaFrame (NT4/2k). I run a few SunRay servers today, and have run a 75-user cluster of Win/MetaFrame machines in the past. All of these solutions have their plusses (in fact, terminal services is the one Windows technology I like)...

      There are, however, bits of your specific set of issues that point me at the SunRay for you:

      1. Bandwidth to the clients are not an issue, so no need for the bandwidth saving that ICA gives you (ICA is really quite good over dial-up, e.g.), so that leaves:
      2. Windows compatibility. Since you don't seem to care about running Windows apps, all solutions are on more-or-less even footing.

      If you've got some coin and are willing to spend a little on systems, I'd recommend the SunRay because:

      1. Sessions tied to smart cards. Folks can log in, and wander anywhere in the library with their session tied to (e.g.) their library card. For folks doing combination book/internet research, this is awesome. Folks that haven't tried yet are really missing out.
      2. Soon, you won't be tied to Solaris/SPARC anymore. Sun has announced a port of the SunRay software to Linux, so you may well be able to reuse your existing server hardware. In fact, the beta is available for download here [sun.com].

      It never ceases to amaze me how many PC techs I know complain about crawling under desks or removing 25 lbs of personal effects to fetch a system so they can swap a dead drive or similar. When I tell them that thin client technology can guarantee them never having to crawl under a desk again (barring wiring or serious catastrophe), they definitely stop worrying about nonexistant 3D performance. Thin-client is an awesome way to go--you might not spend that much less on the machines, but maintenance and client upgrade costs go to zero.

      The downside is no Windows (excepting via e.g. VMWare, Wine, etc.). OTOH, even on Windows Terminal Services you have programs that aren't really written to be run by multiple users on the same machine (even Office gave us fits at times with entries in HKLM instead of HKCU). It's gotten better over the years, though...

      Short version: Even if you don't go SunRay, save yourself a lot of headache and go with a thin client.

      • you may well be able to reuse your existing server hardware.

        Duh, re-read the original post. You're really building it from the ground up, so you need servers, too. We got those, too :-)

  • by azadism (578262) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @02:59AM (#9945397) Homepage
    If you have the money for Citrix, they provide a great thin-client on option where with the hardware you can put Linux on the client and have put straight into Citrix. 99.99% of the users will never know the difference.
  • EZLINK (Score:2, Funny)

    by IronMagnus (777535)
    ...just use the EZLink internet terminals from Pantheon.. if Adam west endorses it.. it must be good!!! :(
  • Sun's SunRays [sun.com] always seemed fairly interesting. And I've seen them used by a crew who run the dataroom for a national security conference (with glowing praise).
  • It works.

    If you've attended the Apple stores they have Macs sitting around for people to interact with and even though a good deal of the interaction is unsupervised, nothing destructive happens with the box and life is relatively good.
    • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes.xmsnet@nl> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:42AM (#9945529)
      And maybe use NetBoot [apple.com] for centralized administration, which should make it easy to reset the clients to a default state.
      • Works nicely now. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ciryon (218518)
        I have some experience of setting up Netbootet Macs. Prior to 10.3 it was hell, but now it works nicely. If you can afford it, buy some iMac TFT's and remove the harddrives.

        With NetBoot you can add software to all machines on the fly and the new Apple Remote Desktop 2 [apple.com] has loads of features, including VNC support so you can monitor the machines from your PDA while you relax on the beach. :)

        It's also easy to set the machines in kiosk mode where they, say, only can access a web browser - or whatever you wa
      • Macs with Netboot! (Score:3, Informative)

        by filmguy1105 (673892)
        I've set up this kind of system for a number of local non-profits specifically because they don't have an IT department. It works great. After you set it up it just works. If a client starts acting funny, you just restart it and it gets a brand new copy of software. You can configure how much access users have to software. You can make different rules for different users or different computers if necessary. It's really stable. The ones that I have running right now are up from security patch to secu
    • Um, the guy said that "IE was a minimum", that's IE for Windows not for MacOS - they are totally different and IE for Mac can't render all the pages IE for Windows can.

      Let's assume the poster is serious about their requirements. If you're just going to ignore hard customer specifications like "must run IE" then feel free to post but it will be ignored by the people actually doing the work (ie, them).

      If you read the whole post it seems the only two systems that'd do what (s)he needs are:

      1) Windows Ter

      • by guet (525509)
        And why would IE for Windows be necessary (or even desirable)?

        If a standards compliant browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari, IE for mac, IE for Windows (almost)) can't browse your web pages, you have a problem with the web pages, not with the browser.

        Perhaps it's time to step back and question those assumptions, after all, they're not even at the building/buying stage. Choosing IE for Windows is basically choosing windows, which as you point out, makes the question almost a non-question - they may as well go b
      • IE or Mozilla was also mentioned.
        From this I think Mozilla on another platform would also be acceptable.

        Jeroen
    • I second that. Macs are the most user-friendly solution (at least equal to Windows, if not better) and are also undoubtedly easier to administer. And considering that iMacs are no more expensive than decent Dells with LCD monitors, and maybe even cheaper than Sun Rays and such, there's no real downside.

      The other advantage Macs have over Sun Rays is that users won't think "what the heck is this?" when they walk up to the thing.

      Linux is probably a bit cheaper (although eMacs could probably compete even th
  • Thinstation (Score:5, Informative)

    by Errtu76 (776778) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:11AM (#9945422) Journal
    Thinstation [sf.net] is a 'distro' that i'm currently using at work (a hospital). It can be used to connect to Citrix, RDP, VNC, Unix, Telnet/SSH, or (with the help of fluxbox/icewm) as a lightweight standalone linux workstation (with an optional FireFox package). The people on the mailinglist are VERY helpful as well, so you don't need to worry about support when you've a problem.

    I can really recommend it as a thinclient solution.
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Combuchan (123208) <sean&emvis,net> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:11AM (#9945424) Homepage
    phatlipmojo writes "I'm a librarian ..."

    Funny. When I was a kid librarians were named Ann, Phyllis, or Doris.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:12AM (#9945427)
    There are plenty of resources for thin client computing in a library environment.

    I would start by checking out the case studies that are listed at citrix.com. One immediately comes to mind: http://www.citrix.com/site/aboutCitrix/caseStudies /caseStudy.asp?storyID=13818 [citrix.com]

    Incidentally, the man in question here runs a little site by the name of http://www.thethin.net/ [thethin.net]. It is hands down, the number one resource for thin client solutions on the web. Join the list and listen in for a while, I guarantee you'll learn more about terminal server and thin clients during the first week on this list than you will learn in any classroom.

    Good luck to you!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:13AM (#9945431)

    At my university (http://www.kuleuven.be/ [kuleuven.be]) the library uses Sun terminals. Searching for books can be done online from your dorm or from one of the netscape browsers running on the Sun thingies.

    The Sun computers look very sharp, are very small and are all accompanied by a LCD display. They run some sort of Linux-Unix like OS.

    There is also StarOffice installed on all computers so you can type something and mail it to yourself

    The books themselves have RFID tags on them (or something like that, the building knows when you take a book) and you have to enter/leave by using your University ID card

    • The Sun computers look very sharp, are very small and are all accompanied by a LCD display. They run some sort of Linux-Unix like OS.

      I'm waiting for that guy posting all the pro-Sun stuff to see this and gag. ;-)
  • IE requirement? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmaiBLUEl.com minus berry> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:16AM (#9945443) Homepage Journal

    I'm also hoping we'll be able to offer web access (IE and Mozilla, hopefully. IE at a minimum)

    How much would the administration be willing to budge on the IE requirement?

  • I am not sure if this will help you at all. There is a Kiosk HOWTO [tldp.org] that might give you some ideas. A lot of it is very old. It however explains how to use only one program, a browser. I am sure you could link function keys to different programs.

    Also links to robust keyboards and mice.

    If you decide NOT to go for thin clients, see that the hardware is able to reboot from scratch, so when you do a remote instalation (or upgrade) you do not have to go to each and every PC to press a key to get the machine boo
  • The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh used to have a couple of labs of Sun Ray 100s. Bit on the pricy side, but they kicked ass when they were in service.

    Unfortunately, CLP canned 'em and replaced them with Windows boxes. Most likely cheaper than a Sun support contract. :-|

    Sick thing is that due to tax / tax code reasons, they couldn't donate the hardware to anyone else. It got tossed into the dumpster. :(
  • by tpgp (48001) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:19AM (#9945460) Homepage
    The great mob of volunteers down at Computerbank [computerbank.org.au] (a charitable organisation that refurbishes used PCs to run linux and be donated to community groups & individuals) have implemented a thin client system running linux at the Footscray Library in Melbourne, Australia.

    Done for virtually no money- and plenty of the users prefer the interface to the more complicated windows systems running along side it!

    Read their white paper [computerbank.org.au] and (if in Melbourne) go down to the Footscray Library (56 Paisley St, Footscray) and check it out!
  • Real answers... (Score:5, Informative)

    by wcdw (179126) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:23AM (#9945475) Homepage
    Lots of people talking about 'how-to', but nobody really answering your question. Typical slashdot...

    The advantages of thin clients in this type of environment are many. It's almost impossible for a user to screw up what is effectively nothing but a terminal.

    Downsides would include the need for a more expensive server on the back-end, as all the horsepower now has to reside in one place. Also, when the server dies, _everybody_ dies.

    And if you use commodity hardware for the thin client, it can be harder to lock things down on the client end. General rule of thumb is NO drives of any kind with the client configured to boot across the network.

    Many people have suggested the SunRay, and it's hard to argue with that - it's one of the first thin clients that's really usable (IMHO).

    http://www.theboyz.biz/ [theboyz.biz] Computer parts & more!
  • eMacs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by panurge (573432) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:23AM (#9945476)
    If you have the room. Their downsides (very heavy single box solution) become virtues when the general public is concerned. They are hard to move, hard to steal, and - this is very important - can withstand abuse like an LCD can't. The keyboards are robust, you canuse ordinary cheap USB mice, the screen is bright and clear.
    The design, with all the vents at the back, makes it hard for kids to try dropping paperclips and so on inside.

    The only thing missing is the floppy drive, and I'd question whether that really is "missing". There are several workrounds if someone really needs floppy access.

    SunRays are a good idea in more controlled environments but, at the end of the day, you still need physical terminals for the users. Terminals designed for use in uncontrolled environments tend to be expensive and not particularly state of the art as far as display type goes. I still think that most people still underestimate how well the eMac is designed for its environment.

    • Re:eMacs (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bobo the hobo (302407)
      I helped set up an emac lab in my school's library. They're pretty good, OSX is great for restricting things down to being able to configure open-firmware to not boot from CDs without a password. Only real problems were kids stealing and breaking mice.
    • Re:eMacs (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I agree totally. Emacs is the perfect choice. Surely in this day and age everybody ought to know at least the basics like C-x C-f, C-x C-s etc. Web surfing can be done easily through w3m and as for mail users can bring their own .gnus files.

      As you mention, emacs does need quite a heavy box to run though, but you can gain better performance if you run emacs in a nice 80x25 terminal.
  • Here's how to do it. (Score:3, Informative)

    by kinki (578041) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:23AM (#9945478) Homepage Journal
    1) get a server, Raid1, 1G+ memory, gigabit ethernet. ie. the usual stuff.

    2) install mandrake linux official 10.0 on it

    3) install ltsp 4.1 http://www.ltsp.org/ [ltsp.org] on top of it

    4) get a load of old PC hardware (everything up from pentium goes, all you need is a non s3-grahic card and one spare pci-bus)

    5) rid the PCs with all moving parts (leave the fans though...)

    6) get pxe-booting network cards for the clients (100mbit is fine, via-rhine for example)

    7) fire up.

    if you want to do it with new hardware, just buy some via epia+case combos =)

    Mail me for more details - I can also do the actual job if being paid =)

    • by julesh (229690)
      4) get a load of old PC hardware (everything up from pentium goes, all you need is a non s3-grahic card and one spare pci-bus)

      5) rid the PCs with all moving parts (leave the fans though...)


      I've found you can run anything up to a pentium 200MMX without a fan, if you have a large enough heatsink. And as the CPU cooling fan is _always_ the first component to fail in every computer I've ever put together, this is an important consideration.
  • There are a couple of thin and thick (fat?) client combination solutions that may technically violate the Windows XP EULA, if you're interested. The easy one is Thinsoft's [thinsoftinc.com] BeTwin -- which allows you to run up to five stations off a PC if you've got enough video cards and USB keyboards and mice. That bit arguably doesn't violate the EULA. As a bonus it gives you one concurrent terminal services session that you can connect a thin client (or any RDP client) to. That does violate the EULA. If that doesn't
    • Let me give a shout out to my homies at Thinsoft.
      I dont recomend them.

      We had a server go down running that was running BeTwin, we wanted to fix the problem remotely using one of the backup machines. But Thinsoft wouldn't authorize the backup computer. I dont mean the software, we called them up and they said no. I think we actually ended up purchasing another license. But we were done with them and moved on to 2003 servers.

  • Our faculty library still uses vt220's. They are never down, and there are always enough fere.

    PC's are too often either down, messed up, or used for non-library purposes.
  • I work in a lab using several thin clients (I believe they're WYSE brand). They work very well, except for when floppies are needed. Since the clients don't have them, there's a media machine connected to the network with its floppy drive mounted as a network drive. A lot of users don't understand this. Also, I've got to say... we tried using SuSE on it, and a lot of users flat out refused to use it. We're at a college, so we've got to provide something people will use, and so we went back to Windows 2
  • Tarantella (Score:3, Interesting)

    by canadiangoose (606308) <djgraham&gmail,com> on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:35AM (#9945506)
    I'm not a big fan of Windows, but there might be a good, cheap Windows solution that fits your needs. Remember SCO before they turned evil? They are still in business, but they have changed their name to Tarantella, and they sell this excellent product called 'Secure Global Desktop' (Yes, the name sucks) that works with all sorts of thin clients, from old Windows machines, to Linux, to new Wyse terminals. It requires a copy of Windows 2000 installed as a terminal server, but it's really, REALLY easy to use, and it's about half the price of Citrix. It's easy to add servers at any time to improve performance or uptime, and it's flexible enough that you could probably run the entire library system off of it, not just the public terminals.

    I have to connections to Tarantella in any way, and I dislike Windows, but I must admit that this is a very good option.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://k12ltsp.org/

    K-12 Linux Terminal Server Project
    Perfect for what you're looking for and already in use in various schools and libraries.
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @03:40AM (#9945520)

    I'm also hoping we'll be able to offer web access (IE and Mozilla, hopefully. IE at a minimum), Word, Excel, and Powerpoint....

    it would really comfort me not to pump several hundred dollars per machine into a monopolist's coffers for an OS we're just going to debilitate anyway


    So you don't want Windows, but you want IE, Word, Excel and Powerpoint? I think MacOS has the office programs, but unless you want to run the ancient IE5, you're SOL.

    I'd personally try to push you away from supporting a lot of apps outside of just plain-jane internet access. Supporting the apps is going to be a pain in the ass, and people are going to be taking up lots of time writing term papers, etc when others just want to check their email.

    I really think you need to step back and look at what you really _need_ the system to do. From the details you've provided it doesn't seem like you really have a good grasp about what you want to provide, what your maintenance requirements are, etc.

    Thin client is a nice buzz-word, but it doesn't have a huge amount of meaning. Does each client have a HD, or only minimal boot-roms? What about if the central server goes down, any thin-client won't be able to restart.

    Hire someone that actually can help you with these problems and analyze the requirements, do research, etc. Slashdot can provide you with very raw information, but it really sounds like you need someone with more tech experience to analyze your situation.

  • Go try server based computing based on Jetro
    The Jetro CockpIT Universal Connector can make your life much easier providing you with 100% remote managed services with zero client side maintenance.

    The nice part is that you can select ANY client device you want.

    Go check: http://www.jp-inc.com

    [note: I am employed by this company, but it is one of the greatest products I've ever worked on]

  • If you're looking for thin clients at the library, I'd suggest keeping lending lots of books on diet and exercise.
  • Thin client is no magic bullet, but it has been useful to me and my department. Unless there was a good reason, I wouldn't use it on a local LAN, but where speed of access was a factor (screen updates versus full file transfer via WAN/VPN).

    Example: One country connects to specific line of business applications hosted application at our Data Center. That application, whilst customised, still yanks a bucket load of data each query. Keeping the application local to the LAN yeilds 10^2 or 10^3 better performan
  • morphix derivative - (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Seraphim_72 (622457) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @04:02AM (#9945564)
    There is a morphix derivative that is a pure kiosk style Firefox. Currently I am trying to remaster it a bit, not doing so well, but that is me and how little time I have put into it, and thae fact that I want it locked down hard. Oh - here [sourceforge.net] look toward the bottom for the firefox iso.

    Sera
  • LTSP is a very nice thin client solution that really works well. There are a couple of turn key isos out there that installs just like any dist, no messing around. Try k12ltsp.org or skolelinux.

    There are also a couple of apps you put into your XP machine to lock it down wich works very well.

    Third you could get yourself a Tandberg Safaty card wich restores the harddrive completely on reboot. No matter how much someone messes the computer up it will be just as before after reboot.

    I did k12ltsp and have had
  • A lot of people here go full linux, but you were asking for a thin client solution so I'm posting some options here:
    IBM's thin clients [ibm.com]
    nomachine (they give a nice .edu & .org discount) [nomachine.com]
    and Athena (which offers both Windows & linux flavors) [acropolis.nl]

    Some of these boxes also have pcmcia support, if you want to go wireless (some also have this integrated). As a backend solution, you have several options like Windows Terminal Server, Citrix, Linux and Sun.

  • LTSP, with support! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Delusional (574271)
    Check out disklessworkstations.com [disklessworkstations.com]. It's run by the guy(s) who developed LTSP; they have several years of experience now setting up and maintaining thin-client setups.

    There is no justification for ever installing full-blown PCs in this kind of environment. (No, I don't work for or with these guys, I just have way more experience than I ever wanted administering extensive networks of independent PCs in environments where the cumulative equivalent of VT's Big Mac was brought to bear on tasks that cumula

  • Get yourself a PC which has a CD-Rom + Network access and just boot something like knoppix with a browser so if it gets "hacked" you just reboot to the default setting

    Rus
  • by ikeleib (125180) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @04:14AM (#9945593) Homepage
    Don't forget to pick hardware that won't require lots of care. My suggestion is to get one of those VIA fanless jobbers and net boot it. That way, there's no fans do die, no hard drive to die, and no noise to disturbe library patrons.
  • by zozzi (576178)
    Use ltsp [ltsp.org]. It's the only thing you'll need. First decide if you want a Windows solution or a Linux one. If you want to go to Linux, configure the thin clients to boot to X (trivial!). Otherwise configure it to run rdesktop in full screen mode to connect to a Windows Terminal Server (also very easy to do). Runs perfectly well here.
  • We have a moderatly large customer base mostly running XP and 2k, and we get hardly any blue screens/lockups. When we do it is mostly shoddy hardware that we did not supply (eg Dell).

    Having said that, Thin clients are great, as the Terminal server can be locked down so that _nothing_ can be changed from login to login, yet the users can still do their wordprocessing and internetting.

    Mind you, getting a good terminal server will set you back a lot (At min, SERVER motherboard, 2 CPU, 1-2GB RAM, SCSI Drives)
  • For your purposes I don't think thin clients are the proper solution to your problem. On paper they look attractive but you lose a lot of flexibility with them. With thin clients the amount of utility you've got is directly related to the amount of power you've got on your server. When you add more clients you only stress the server's resources more. While web browsing might now be too intensive you're proposing having productivity apps running on the network.

    The biggest feature of the thin clients is also
  • From personal experience, thin clients are excellent for public libraries. The libraries in my city had what looked like a telnet interface, with a central server and several thin clients scattered around. It was intuitive and worked perfectly.

    Now they have switched to Windows computers, using a web interface. On good days, it's slow. On bad days, it's hard to find a computer that works, or the library may not be able to lend books, because the server is down.

    Libraries are not the only example. I've been
  • by ChrisRijk (1818) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @05:40AM (#9945825)
    Sun Rays [sun.com] are dead silent (no moving parts), very low power (20W) which also saves you on air-con, last forever, require no maintenance on the client side, are very secure (air traffic control for Air Force One is run off a network of Sun Rays) and easy to setup.

    Version 3.0 of the server software [sun.com] also runs on Linux. V3 is also bandwidth efficient enough that you can deploy over broadband or a group over 10Mb Ethernet.

    As for how much they cost, on modern hardware the main thing to bear in mind is the amount of main memory you have. Sun have a sizing guide [sun.com] to help. For lightweight usage, eg a library, they suggest you can run 40 clients off a server with 4GB of main memory.

    So 40x Sun Ray 1g = $359 * 40 = $14.4K (re-use monitors from your existing systems). On server side, a Sun Fire v20z with 2x Opteron 250s and 4GB of memory is $7k, though you could get a model with slower CPUs and pay for more memory. As a library, you should be able to get an educational discount too.
  • by ELBnet (463690) on Thursday August 12, 2004 @07:50AM (#9946262) Homepage
    I have created a customized LTSP installation for libraries that is currently running in 7 public libraries. The system provides Web browsing and an Office Suite with timed sessions, print management, use statistics, floppy disk access, filtering (or not!). You can see one example install here [elbnet.com]

    The system is completely GPL, requires no special hardware and I am currently working on an automated install system to make installation easier. If you are interested I can give you the email addresses of the directors that are using the system if you contact me: pete at elbnet.com.
  • by rueger (210566) * on Thursday August 12, 2004 @08:02AM (#9946323) Homepage
    All that I can say is avoid software from Dynix [dynix.com]. Our local Hamilton Public Library [hamilton.on.ca], usually a superb outfit, just moved all of their catalogues to Dynix systems and it has been a total disaster.

    The terminals in the library are very, very slow to respond, and for the first month the search funtion only worked about 10% of the time.

    Talk to them before buying Dynix to find out what went so wrong.

One good reason why computers can do more work than people is that they never have to stop and answer the phone.

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