Friday, November 19, 2010

Another Week, More Progress

The weeks go very quickly around here, and I have made lots of progress on my projects.

The Firefox 4 sever is basically all done and ready to deploy. There are some policy issues related to content blocking that are being resolved. I'm not really involved in that decision, and it's being handled at an Administrative level. Once that is settled, I'll create a script to backup all of the users $HOME/.mozilla directories and move them over. We have done this before and it's very simple and easy. 800 users moved to a new version of Firefox with just a tarball and script change. :)

I finished writing the first release of our USB stick user interface idea. The beauty of this design is that we will be able to give this to employees and they will be able to insert a USB stick with photos (or camera) and the photos will display and once clicked go into the clipboard. This will allow us to eliminate the need for many users to have full access to the sticks. Those employees that do need full access to read and write USB sticks will use Nautilus to transfer files, just as they did before.

Regardless of the megapixel size used on the camera, the UI converts them to 1024x768 before placing the pictures into the clipboard. Currently we have a lot of people that shoot 10 megapixel and then insert that photo into a document and resize it to 1 inch by 1 inch with the resize handles of OpenOffice and then wonder why their resulting PDFs are so big. For many documents and email messages around here, 1024 is plenty big. The shot below shows the thumbnail screen that comes up when you insert a stick. It loops through the files and summarizes the file types and then sorts the photos into reverse date order and displays thumbnails of the newest pictures. The black lines demonstrate the thumbnail being pressed, and then a control-v in OpenOffice and Evolution and the photo is inserted. I gave the UI a nice icon (green line) which then displays in the lower panel cleanly.

The functionality of the MIME bars is pretty well locked now and finalized so I have been adding the final changes to make them look nicer. I found a nice script that allows you to use convert to dynamically create a drop shadow for any thumbnail. So now all of the bars look like the shot below. I just need to give the UI an icon and do some final spacing changes...but I'm pleased with how they work.

One of my ongoing projects is to try and get as much speed as possible running Microsoft Windows applications over RDP. In the last few months we moved the RDP client off of the server and made it run locally on the thin client. We also have started to trickle in the new HP t5745 thin client to the users that use graphics heavy Windows applications because its Gig networking and faster CPU is yielding about a 20% speed increase. Running RPD locally on the thin client also got us about 20% increase in speed, nice.

One other technique that can be used is to use cache to increase performance. On a computer with a hard drive, this works well and does in fact make things run faster. However, the thin clients have solid state Apacer flash memory in place of a physical hard drive. The write time of these drives was not a fit for trying to use it to hold cache from running software. Also, whenever the thin clients would perform a disk flush (sync) the software would sometimes slow for a few seconds. What I did in the new release of our thin client OS is make a 50MB ram drive, and then mount it to $HOME/.rdesktop of the 'user' account. This will allow cache to be sitting in memory and should yield better performance. I'll be pushing this change to beta testers later today.

The shot below shows the RAM file system which is then mounted into the cache directory.

Got a nice comment concerning the Rdesktop fork called FreeRDP. I'll be doing QA work on that in the coming weeks and see how it works. Very nice to see patches being merged and new releases.


Anonymous said...

This is not to bash your work, for which I have great respect, but the import tool looks pretty "high tech"/awful from a usability pov.

Dave Richards said...

@anonymous: The import tool design goal is to offer the pictures without the users having any skills for file management. They don't understand which files to grab, nor where to save them, what size and format they should be, nor how to get the files then into the software packages for document publication. We will see how it works and matures. I can't think of an easier way for users to process pictures than to see them, click on them and then paste...with the added benefit of being able to reduce the size of the images automatically. Mockups of other ideas always appreciated. :)

Dave Richards said...

I should also note the basic considerations I had to account for with this UI:

1) Hide all file selection and management from the users
2) Reduce the image size before it ever comes to the server to 1024x768
3) Display file types clearly, because users think that renaming a PNG to JPG makes it a JPG. The UI is actually checking the magic numbers.
4) Categorize all of the Microsoft Office and PDFs into a common group for possible new feature of upload through SMTP host for virus checking.
5) Design must work over low speeds and EVDO for users in the field.
6) Disallow file management by default for all employees, additional capabilities come from a signed Director form. It's critical that employees not be able to drop and drag documents off our network.
7) The files are sitting physically on a computer that the GNOME server does not have direct access to perform a drop and drag. FTP daemon is running on the thin clients.

As I mentioned, this is unrelated to a more traditional GNOME connection to the USB sticks with full file management. We have a lot of part time employees that make banners to hang on the wall, that want to shoot a few pictures and insert them into documents.

Zanchey said...

We've modified our LTSP install to use FreeRDP instead of Rdesktop, as it supports 32-bit colour which makes our mouse pointers appear right - very happy with it so far.

Anonymous said...

freerdp is really great and the developers active. I have been using it for several months no problems.

Axachi said...

"Zanchey said...
We've modified our LTSP install to use FreeRDP instead of Rdesktop, as it supports 32-bit colour which makes our mouse pointers appear right - very happy with it so far."

Please can you post the script for FreeRDP her?

I want to convert my LTSP to FreeRDP aswell.