Friday, September 28, 2012

Thinning A Thin Client

I've moved to my next major project:  Merging the HP updates into our thin client infrastructure.  We have been running the Debian Lenny based OS now for a few years and in the last few months they released one based on Ubuntu 10.04LTS.  Our Xorg drivers are getting crusty and there are certain video goals that I hope are solved:

- There are some bad video issues related to using Google Earth on ATI and dual screens, especially the newer version
- I'd like to tinker with supporting side by side landscape and portrait monitors, along with hopefully being able to support three and four monitor configurations

The default build from HP in my view runs in a way that gives thin clients a bad name.  Too much software is running locally, so you end up with an underpowered fat client.  Firefox running locally on this hardware is not exceptional and when you have flash and java at the desktop that means you have to do lots of updates.  Host based Firefox is much faster, and when run on the newer 5745 runs faster than many PCs.  Flash video is very fast and frame rates are high and audio works great. You never have cold starts of software, and things like LibreOffice open in 2-3 seconds.

Through the years I have put all of our custom scripts and code into /opt/local; they're all bash, python and glade so they easily run on operating system changes.  The steps to upgrade operating system are not terrible.  I install it as shipped from HP on the 5745, and then set up an icon to run xterm and begin hacking.  On Ubuntu the whole /etc/rc2.d startup infrastructure has been moved to the newer /etc/init directory.  So after a bit of Googling on how that works, I was able to remove the HP specific changes which brings up their custom desktop to run local software.  They don't have full Ubuntu installed, and one piece that was missing was the NFS mounting packages.  So I had to transfer that via USB stick and was able to mount one of our drives.  That is now allowing me to transfer tarballs and packages.  It's booting to the character login in about 10 seconds and I have been able to use some of the scripts to log into our servers and things look good.  Now I need to install all of the packages required for our scripts; glade, python and so on.  I was able to get pulseaudio install and sound is working well.

Once this is working on the 5745 workstation, I'll clone it and install it on the 5725 and install the necessary modules and libraries for that hardware.  Then we'll go through a  beta testing period to make sure all of the drivers are working as expected.

In the shot below I have connected to the server (by hand, no UI yet) and gave Flash and pulseaudio a good shakdown.  Everything looks great so far.

Internally we are labeling this release version "3.0", and I have written on the whiteboard my initial wish list of design goals based on user demand and basic technology advancements:

+ Support for 3 or 4 monitors
+ Support for HP 5745 PCI expansion bay
+ Skype 4 (running locally so that it can use local hardware)
+ Feature to allow email of documents off USB sticks without them first going to the server
+ FreeRDP to see how it compares in speed to RDesktop; we'll deploy the best one.
+ Better user interfaces after boot, more modern designs
+ GNOME-Shell testing
+ NX 4.0 client install and testing. Awaiting kiosk mode for this software to hide certain pieces from the end users
+ Consideration of users that take photos with phones -- do we mount them automatically like a USB device?  Lots of users use the USB port for charging only; pondering
+ Touch screen support for some POS software packages around the City.
Happy Friday

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rewarding SuseCon, OpenSuseCon & Hackfest

I got back from Orlando last night after 4 days and it was a rewarding experience.  SuseCon had some great sessions that I enjoyed and I was was able to meet some people that I have chatted with through the years. Friday morning the wonderful GNOME hackers took a road trip back to Largo and visited our facilities.  They were able to see Linux and GNOME running on the desktop and look over the shoulders of users to see how "regular users" work and interact with software.  Saturday I was able to give a short 45 minute presentation on our technology and appreciate the number of people that attended.

The future of Linux and GNOME is bright and I was happy to help from a System Administrators perspective.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Many Projects Continue

It's been a busy few weeks, and I wanted to blog about our projects before another week slips. 


I'll be heading over to Orlando next week Tuesday for SuseCon.  If you are attending and we have corresponded, make sure that you say hi.  Some of the GNOME user experience people will be coming back to Largo on Friday to get a site visit of our environment and get to see hundreds of users on GNOME.  I've built a slide show of customizations that I made to GNOME in order to reduce support calls.  Hopefully some of these ideas can be professional integrated into a future version.  I also will be giving a presentation on Saturday during OpenSuseCon about enterprise use of OpenSuse and how we used a mixture of community builds, corporate builds and MS Windows.

Acrobat MIME UI Customization

I've gotten some comments questioning customizations made to the desktop, and the comments are very valid when looking long term.  It's easy to implement these changes with Glade/Python and monitor support calls and see what works.  As just mentioned, I am hoping some of these concepts can be used in future GNOME.  We had an interesting support call from a user that wanted to fax a PDF as part of normal business flow.  The technique they were using was to import into LibreOffice and then fax from within that software.  PDF imports into Draw for editing, and it's not the right software for this purpose.  All they wanted to do was just send it through the fax.  On the command line, this is a trivial:  pdftops the file and send it to Hylafax.  So I just added it as a single click to the MIME UI that appears when you double-click on a PDF.  Select the option, type in the phone number and out it goes.  I used this opportunity to touch the art and widgets.  New feature is circled in green.

iPads And GNOME

I have mentioned previously that a top priority is being able to get our iPad users logged into the GNOME desktop.  With NX not yet ready for this, I am once again looking at VNC.  This will provide this feature inside our buildings on our internal WiFi and is a good first step.  I hadn't looked at the Remoter app in about a year and it's advanced a good deal.  I was able to connect to a VM clone of the GNOME server with no problems and all of the code that I had in there last year for beta testing was still working.  The customizations I made last year with VNC were related to setting the right DISPLAY variable to be used within our infrastructure and also ensuring that GNOME and avant-window-navigator understand that PULSE is not available.  The one new issue was testing the iPad 3 retina display.  So I configured the session to run at 2048x1536.  It worked, but as I suspected it was far too small to use.  So I tested a few resolutions and found that around 1280x
962 seems to be a sweet spot.  Big enough to see, with more canvas than the default 1024x768 of the older iPads.  I created both portrait and landscape profiles and they worked very well.  Here are some shots of the testing in 1280x962.  Speed over the WiFi is excellent and very usable.  An application such as Xournal can be opened and you can write over a PDF file crisply.

Zimbra Email Update

The Office Administrators who tested Zimbra liked it and it's now moving back to the Governance Committee for their thoughts and guidance.  Possibly this is the end of Groupwise and Evolution here at Largo.

Looking forward to next week!