Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Finalizing The Beta Desktop

Lots of technology was pushed live in the last two months, a lot of my time was consumed by this process and then debugging and tuning issues. We had some very bad/odd issues with NFS4 on the Firefox server communicating with our NAS disk storage server. Under heavy loads it would lock up and suffer from slow performance. We disabled NFS4 and dropped everything back to NFS3 and it seems to be working better. I don't have the hours to debug this problem, and because NFS3 is fine for us...it's going to just have to wait. If any of you are working on this code, feel free to find me on the IRC and I'll give you more detailed information.

I'm back on the project of deploying the GNOME desktop on OpenSuse 11.3. Everything is coming together nicely. The Avant guys are packing up a new tarball for me so that I can get the most recent panel changes. This really is one of the final parts of this project. The only other major piece of technology is waiting for NX/Nomachine 4 to be released.

We are changing the design of our desktop servers. Previously we had two servers with identical functions, both capable of running a full load of users. This was done in case of failure, the second one would always be available. In order to save money, and reduce staff load we are going to make the backup server virtual. Once a week, the primary GNOME server will replicate itself to a virtual instance: boot, and automatically change its IP addresses. There were a few reasons why this made sense for us; 1) the hardware is rarely failing and we haven't yet had an instance where we needed to run the whole City on one computer. 2) Budget and staff cuts require that we do more with less 3) Having this desktop tested and certified as running virtually will give us better disaster recovery.

So I'm testing the virtual copy of our GNOME server and it's working well. Not as fast as real hardware, but certainly fast enough as a backup.

I'm closing in on the final design of the user interfaces and so far everything is working well. The screenshot below shows the MIME UI screens running. Users can now opt out and use a more traditional approach to file management (as mentioned in a previous blog). What's interesting is that very few people did so, this functionality is pretty popular and helpful.

(screenshot shows the helper UI that comes up for pictures, PDFs and documents)

And the shot below shows all of the functionality that I have bound to hotkeys: Windows+F5 brings up Beagle. Windows + F6 brings up Activity Journal (with fresh trunk UI fixes!). Windows + F9 brings up the weather applet which has undergone some upgrades and changes. The weather applet downloads all of these maps ONCE for the whole city and they are shared. This reduces bandwidth requirements greatly.

I saw some posts that I need to re-read carefully concerning the removal of the minimize and maximize buttons. We have to be very very careful with this decision. My gut reaction is that this would have major negative feedback from our end users. We are getting dangerously close to making decisions about what technique people should use, and very often people have barely figured out *one* way to do things---it might be poor in our eyes but it works for them.


olivier said...

Hye dave,
could you tell me what kind of thin client are you using ? And what are graphics performances ?
Are you using gdm as login manager ?

thanks for you answer

Dave Richards said...

olivier: We are using HP t5725 and t5745 thin clients. We recently disabled 3D effects to reduce the number of technologies that have to be supported; but it does work. Regular 2D performance is excellent and really runs as quickly as it does on the console.

Yes, using gdm for authentication and login. XDMCP was a little buggy, but several patches were added to the packages and it all works now.

olivier said...


have you disable animations effects off gdm ?
If yes, which method are you using (gtk-enable-animations off) or patches ?

We are using wyse linux and 2D perf are not very good. So i try to find
several solutions to resolve the lack of perf.

Dave Richards said...

I put:

gtk-enable-animations = 0

into the file


which is then picked up as the 'default' and stopped the animation from GDM. Otherwise as I recall it was a bit slow to get logged into the system.

olivier said...

thanks for your answer ...

Nate Custer said...


Did you ever track down the issue with NFSv4 and firefox? I manage a fat-client system and we store all the /home data on a NFS4 share. We have noticed the same issue. I found that switching the disk cache to a RAM disk fixed the problem for users. But that is more a crutch then a fix.