Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gotta Love the HP 4410t

I'm just about done with our thin client updated operating system, and am *very* impressed with the HP 4410t laptop form factor. It boots super quickly to the chooser, and the Intel Xorg drivers found in Debian Squeeze/Sid are excellent. 3D rendering is fast and responsive, video playback is fast and frame rates are high. I finally got Pulse installed and it found the audio hardware and playback is excellent.

My thanks for everyone that works on all of these software packages, you make my job a lot easier!

Shot below is two concurrent video and audio streams with cube turning. The 4410 was able to do this perfectly with no dropouts. This test was performed on the 1Gb ethernet port and everything is being pushed over the network.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

OpenProj Performance Issue Fixed

We were having some slowness with OpenProj over remote display. In the area marked in black, scrolling was sluggish with certain types of charts.

So a bit of Google work and the issue was resolved. There is a java setting that seems to greatly increase performance to remote display. The setting is found in the run.conf file which is placed in $HOME/.openproj. Change the JAVA_OPTS line to disable pmoffscreen:

JAVA_OPTS="-Xms128m -Xmx768m -Dsun.java2d.pmoffscreen=false -Djava.util.prefs.userRoot=/home/drichard/.java/.userPrefs -Djava.util.prefs.systemRoot=/home/drichard/.openproj"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Detailed Thin Client Specs & Designs Coming

One of the things that people mentioned on Amazon concerning the thin client book that I wrote was they wanted to have detailed information concerning specific hardware. When I was writing the book, I considered this fact and had to weigh also the time that it takes to get a book to press (over a year). The computer world changes greatly in 6 months, let alone 12 or more months. Proof of that fact is that our HP 5725 thin clients from 2 years ago are already discontinued and the 5735 has completely different specs.

I find that this blog has been a great resource for *me*. I frequently look back at things that I wrote and that helps me refresh my memory on current projects. So over the next week or so I'm going to publish detailed blogs concerning my re-design of our current thin clients to newer operating systems. I'm also going to include information concerning changes made, because for the most part they occurred based on direct user feedback. If you bought that book and wanted more information, consider this a free Appendix. :)

The first few blogs are in my mind, and will be:

1) Thin client hardware, detailed specs of 5725, 5735 and 4410t (laptop) devices. I'll open them up and take pictures.

2) Operating system installs. The 5725 and 5735 have Debian Etch on them, but I had to do make a good amount of changes to make them work for our needs. I'll describe what I added and how I got 3D enabled. I'll also describe how I got common and consistent interfaces and code running on all of them. All 3 thin clients have identical functionality.

3) First Boot. I don't like plug-and-pray/generic Xorg.conf files because they sometimes give the users unexpected results. Have you ever tried to explain to users why their icons are different sizes periodically? On first boot, the thin clients ask appropriate questions, and precise Xorg.conf files are generated for their hardware. Users are not allowed to change hardware, so we are assured that an IT staff member will make selections.

4) Chooser. After a thin client boots, the users select from multiple computers servers. The old thin clients would start a second X instance on vt9 and the chooser would continue to run on vt7. This was the default behavior from the HP build. I didn't like this design and modified it. I'll describe how I got one Xserver to quit and another to start, and the technical benefits that we now gained. Hint: You can't kill cleanly a running Xserver from a script and expect the video to continue working!

5) USB Access. When a user plugs in a USB stick, it's only known to the local thin client. I did not want the server to attempt to mount these ports. The old OS used FTP to allow the users to gain access to their files. I made some big improvements in this design. I built on what was working, and made it much easier.

So that's it for now. I'm sure I'll have a few more topics. I spend a good amount of time researching issues online, and things that people post are *always* helpful to me. I'm always hopeful that I'm returning the favor.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Interesting Usage Stats

We have 2 servers that allow users to get GNOME desktops from our thin clients. I wrote a little script to display usage stats just for my information. Now that we have been live for a while, the data is probably settled to a plateau. Just north of 50% of users have continued using Compiz/3D effects. Around 1/4 of those that enable 3D effects also turn on Avant Window Navigator. I would be happy to share all of my observations at a Largo Hackfest (cough, cough), once the dates are scheduled! :)

The first server (A):

Total Users: 162
3D Users : 78
NX Users : 32
AWN Users : 19
Total On 3D Capable Hardware : 130
Percent Running 3D : 60 %

The second server (B):

Total Users: 118
3D Users : 41
NX Users : 32
AWN Users : 14
Total On 3D Capable Hardware : 86
Percent Running 3D : 47 %

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Thin Client Laptop Making Progress

I continue to work on staging a common functionality build for the HP 5725, 5735 and 4410 thin clients. I'm making good progress, and have alpha testers on all of the hardware configurations and pushing them updates every few days. Xinerama is working well on 3 screens, and the people love having the real estate. We received a second 4410 laptop thin client for testing, so I have moved one to my desktop for fulltime usage. I'm tinkering with some battery notification ideas. The GNOME "desktop" is on the server, and your battery status is not known at all to the server. I think I am going to just cron a job to check for status on the command line and then pass them a simple zenity dialog when it gets low. Looks like these devices are going to run about 3 hours on battery, which should work great for us.

I downloaded the latest xorg intel packages for Sid and they are working well. No more Vesa, and I can put it into the native 1366x768 wide screen mode. Nice crisp clean fonts. The device detects if you are on the wired network and then makes use of XDM and provides 3D (shot below). Otherwise NX is used.

Up next for me is a cleaned up chooser GUI, notification dialog when network cord is not plugged into the desktop thin clients, pulseaudio cleanups, ftpd configuration for remote access to USB sticks. This update will offer the users a fresh set of features, and build on the success of our current deployment.