Wednesday, November 14, 2012

GNOME/Exceed, LibreOffice, Portal, Zimbra

Things have been very busy since the last blog.  Lots of concurrent projects happening and some long term design elements falling into place.


The software that allows iPad tablets to connect to GNOME was moved over to the production machine and is now in the hands of some beta testers.  The speed is great, and things are working really well.  From home, I can tap a few buttons and my work GNOME session appears on the tablet over my cable modem and is almost as fast as being in our City Hall building.   I sent off a few suggestions for making it easier to work on a multi-touch device with mouse based software and hope to see some of these ideas in future client releases.  I'm anticipating that we'll buy some licenses at the end of the trail.

Portal Tablet Support

Being that users will now be logging in with tablets, I wanted to change our in-house support portal to correctly log these authentications and make it easier for our staff to see where and how users are logged in and be able to send them remote control requests.  Very often users call and aren't really sure how they are logged in, and the software now helps us see exactly what's happening.

I always have more ideas than time, and have wanted to work in this area for a long time.  From the portal when you enter the user name, it hunts the network for their active logins.  With my changes made, it understand if they are logged in with a tablet and displays it in the right area and layers a shot of their screen over an iPad image.  Previously to perform functions on a session, you would click on the screen thumbnail and go to a detail screen.  I added small shortcut buttons below the screenshot to eliminate another few clicks.  [ I understand certain UI decisions and artwork could be better.  Time doesn't always allow for this level of design.]   It works, we use it all the time, and it's constantly evolving

I also spruced up the code to detect users that are logged in multiple workstations and this makes it easier to find the right session.  Users also can log into workstations and tablets at the same time too.   This all is clearly displayed.  In the shot below, I was logged into two workstations and both were located.


 3.6.3 came out and this is the best one yet.  The earlier releases had some install bugs that I worked around.  This one installed cleanly and we have no reports of users crashing and import filters are working better than in earlier versions.  If you have been holding on 3.5, now might be the time to look over 3.6.

Zimbra For Email

After a lengthy process the Governance Committee has asked us to move to the Zimbra email software.  This software runs 100% in a browser, and this means that Evolution/SLED and Groupwise/SLES will be retired.  We've had Groupwise since 1994, so it's a major step for us.  Especially in the 1990s, Groupwise was away ahead of its time, but it fell more and more behind and we couldn't get Evolution patches and features fast enough to keep up with demands.  This upgrade will happen sometime in early 2013.

Other projects: Teaching myself OpenLDAP and learning how best to get it integrated, looking over Firefox 17, keeping plugins current and continued work on the new Ubuntu thin client operating system.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Finally For Real, Lunch With A Side Of GNOME

Over a year ago I took a screenshot with an iPad running GNOME remotely.  This preview test with NX 4 connected but was far too slow to use for work.  It was a milestone, but not really anything that we could deploy. 

In the last week I have been testing OpenText Exceed On Demand which is a similar product that supports iPad.  After testing on a VM, I moved it to the production machine and had some firewall rules written to allow me to test it from the outside.  Inside the building, VNC offers a similar presentation; but the Achilles Heel has always been getting it to work over low bandwidth and the Internet.  I was eating lunch today when I got word the firewall rule was finished.  So I connected first over the WiFi of the restaurant and things worked greatly, nearly as fast as it does back at City Hall.  I then dropped off the WiFi and enabled AT&T 3G and connected again.  Once again it worked like a champ.  This software works like other compression software; once you get to a certain threshold it seems to just work with very little difference of speed.

We're discussing options and suitability right now.   The licensing and cost is higher on this product than other similar products, so possibly we'll use it only for iPads and continue to use NX for all other devices.  The next step is to get it out to users and see how it works.  From my perspective, I'm pleased with the performance. 

Proof of AT&T 3G: :)    The shot below shows that it really connected and works.

Other projects: Work continues on the Ubuntu workstation build, testing with users; starting to install OpenLDAP on a VM to try and work it into our network; trying to advance email and document management solutions.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Thin Clients & iPads

I have been making progress on the next thin client release.  Right now I'm tinkering with Xorg.conf and deciding on the best way to deploy.  The 5725 model is a combination of SiS and ATI, and the 5745 is Intel based.  All of them have slightly different ways of building files for multiple screens.  I also am looking at the concept of supporting three and four monitors, and trying to work that into the mix too.  Google Earth over remote display had some issues with some of these modes and I'm having to do some trial and error testing.   The drivers have changed slightly from the older Debian release, so it's a learning process. 

We also have had more and more people taking pictures on their phones and tablets, and I'm looking over the ways to mount these devices that do not go into normal USB mode for transfer.  We also have the issue where users plug these devices into USB ports to charge them; so I'm adding an option on the UI to allow them to use the ports for power only and make no mount attempt.

Touch screen monitors have dropped in price greatly in the last few months.  My perception this is happening because they are gearing up for Windows 8.  So we bought the new HP model (under $300) and it worked right out of the box by just fooling the OS into thinking it's a mouse.  There are some use case situations with touch screens and POS software around the City, and we should be able to support them easily.

We were contacted by OpenText based on our desire to have a solution for iPads presenting the GNOME desktop.  I installed their Exceed on Demand server product and indeed it allows you to connect from a tablet and GNOME came right up and worked (shot below).  It does bandwidth compression and a quick test over EVDO showed it to work as well as RDP/Citrix/NX protocols.  The server piece was tested on a sandbox VM of our GNOME server, and I'm in the process now of moving it to the production machine for further testing.  The production machine is running on real hardware and is much faster, so the results will be interesting.  It's very usable over both Wifi and EVDO and typing and movement is crisp and fast.  

Other projects:  Apparently ProjectLibre has replaced testing that in our environment.  Still have some LibreOffice patches to install, trying to get those scheduled.  Looking over OpenLDAP as a way to reduce some of our password entries around the network. 

Here is GNOME being displayed on an iPad (1024x768).