Linux terminals

Discussions around the setup, operation, replacement, and disposal of clerk computers, not to include using MLS
tjallred
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Linux terminals

Postby tjallred » Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:42 pm

I was just reading about the Linux Terminal Server Project and I can't help but think it would be a pretty interesting way of implementing a local FHC for a really low cost. Here's the link
http://www.ltsp.org/

But here's how it would work. You buy one large server. ($2000-$3000). A network switch. Then you take all your old dinosaur hardware and install network cards into each one. Install Linux on them. You'd probably want Firefox and OpenOffice. With FF, you can have full access to newFS and you wouldn't even need to install PAF. If you did need it, you could install something like GRAMPS perhaps. But I doubt it would be used if you can access newFS.

My parents just got back from a mission in the Carribean where they had to setup a dozen or more FHCs with expensive Dell computers that would sometimes be vandalized months later. Our own local FHC suffers from aging computers struggling to run WinXP.

Has anyone ever considered this? Any stories? I know a few schools have done this with some success but I wonder if any FHCs are running Linux terminals.

Trevor

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:18 pm

The problem is a FHC is more then just a web browser. He's a list of what's installed at the FHC I manage:


PAF 2
PAF 3
PAF 4
PAF 5
PAF Companion

Family History Library Catalog (CD)

Family History Resource File Viewer (CD)
- 1880 United States Census
- 1881 British Census
- 1881 Canadian Census
- Mormon Immigration Index
- Vital records Index - British Isles - Second Edition
- Vital records Index - Middle America - Mexico
- Vital records Index - North America
- Vital records Index - Scandinavia - Denmark
- Vital records Index - Scandinavia - Finland
- Vital records Index - Scandinavia - Norway
- Vital records Index - Scandinavia - Sweden
- Vital records Index - Western Europe - Alpine Region
- Vital records Index - Western Europe - Benelux Region
- Vital records Index - Western Europe - French Region
- Vital records Index - Western Europe - German Region
- Vital records Index - Western Europe - Italian Region
- Vital records Index - Western Europe - Spanish Region

FamilySearch (DOS/CD), Including Scottish Church Records

Freedman's Bank Records (CD)

Source Guide (CD)

Pedigree Resource File (CD/DVD Disks 1- 132)


3rd Party Software:
----------------------------
Ancestral Quest 12.1
Family Atlas
FamilyInsight
FamilySearcher
GenSmarts
GENViewer Lite (Freeware)
GVFHC
GetMyAncestors
Legacy Deluxe 7.0
Legacy Charting
Legacy Training videos
PAFInsight
PAFWiz 2
Personal Historian
PlaceFinder
PRFmagnet (Freeware)
RootsMagic
RootsMagic Chart
U.S. Cities Galore

---------------------------------------
All of this is Windows software and all of it is either Freeware or Free to authorized FHCs. And that's not a complete list either. A couple of things got added to LANDesk and I haven't updated my list.

I'm not sure what you mean by hardware getting "vandalized". If it's being physically damaged, what's going to protect the server? If the server goes down, then the whole center is down. If the workstations are just getting messed up, then perhaps they should talk to the Family History Department to see if the Church is making Deep Freeze available in their area.
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tjallred
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Postby tjallred » Sun Dec 14, 2008 9:44 pm

Great reply Russell. You obviously have the upper hand here since you currently work in a FHC and I do not. You also seem to work in a considerably advanced FHC that's doing quite well. Most FHCs I've seen don't seem to operate that well.

About the vandalization, I agree. What would stop someone from taking the server? Maybe a secure cable or lock or cabinet or something…it may be easier to secure a single server in a closet than a dozen in an open room, I’m not sure. However, my point is more related to the idea that you could create several fast, capable machines using very old hardware. FHCs have notoriously old hardware and IF it were possible to run Linux, it could really open things up considerably.

Let me just push this issue a bit more before giving up and surrendering. ;)

Every time I walk into a FHC and look around, people are using the newFS program. (congratulations to the nFS team). Hypothesis #1: most (75-90%) of time is spent on a browser now.

I no longer see people spending as much time using the additional programs you listed. Hypothesis #2: usage of Windows-only applications is dropping drastically.

Finally, with no anecdotal evidence, beyond the Church's general support of Java, I wonder how long will be before essential programs are converted to either web based or Java based, therefore supporting Linux.

If a few Windows workstations are essential, it would be possible to have maybe 1 or 2 with the full Windows support and the remaining “dumb terminals” available with those patrons only needing browser support at the time.

If I said, you can have 4 new Dell Windows XP/Vista workstations or 1 Windows workstation and 10 dumb terminals, which would you pick?

This whole idea may be five years too early, but I think it’s worth considering now. Do we REALLY need all those programs on every computer? Or is it better to give more users basic functionality instead?

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mkmurray
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Postby mkmurray » Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:24 pm

tallred wrote:About the vandalization, I agree. What would stop someone from taking the server? Maybe a secure cable or lock or cabinet or something…it may be easier to secure a single server in a closet than a dozen in an open room, I’m not sure. However, my point is more related to the idea that you could create several fast, capable machines using very old hardware. FHCs have notoriously old hardware and IF it were possible to run Linux, it could really open things up considerably.

I suppose the server could be in a completely different room or closet even, locked away.
tallred wrote:This whole idea may be five years too early, but I think it’s worth considering now. Do we REALLY need all those programs on every computer? Or is it better to give more users basic functionality instead?

It's ironic to think we could go back to dumb terminals. It seemed so restricting to the user. And yet, everything is going to the web and desktop apps are quickly dying from unnecessity. I actually think Microsoft is aware of this trend and is preparing for it. I wouldn't be surprised if they are coming out with an offering in the next 5 years, as you suggest. It may just be for businesses at first though. That could be the advantage of an open-source solution, the fact that it may be available more quickly and not have the costs associated with proprietary investment.

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Mon Dec 15, 2008 2:38 am

tallred wrote:However, my point is more related to the idea that you could create several fast, capable machines using very old hardware. FHCs have notoriously old hardware and IF it were possible to run Linux, it could really open things up considerably.


How old are we talking about? The machines I last discarded where P3 350-400MHz with 384MB of RAM running Windows 2000. Not real fast but usable. Yes, Linux would run on that, but what is the advantage of Linux over Win2000? Last I checked I'd have a rough time using Linux to salvage the prior generation of 486 DOS machines.

tallred wrote:Every time I walk into a FHC and look around, people are using the newFS program. (congratulations to the nFS team). Hypothesis #1: most (75-90%) of time is spent on a browser now.


Probably due to either nFS training or a large number of people who don't have a computer or broadband at home. I doubt if that experience is universal for FHCs.


tallred wrote:I no longer see people spending as much time using the additional programs you listed. Hypothesis #2: usage of Windows-only applications is dropping drastically.


Because of problems with nFS, there's still quite a bit of interest in personal databases. Some time back the church sent a press release saying that people could try various programs in the FHC. The programs listed are partners and all of them are Windows based.


tallred wrote:If I said, you can have 4 new Dell Windows XP/Vista workstations or 1 Windows workstation and 10 dumb terminals, which would you pick?


1) When you install LANDesk on a FHC machine, it reports it's inventory back to SLC. If it's really old and they have donated or cascaded machines available, they'll send them to you - with the understanding that you will send the old machines back for disposal.

2) I haven't heard anything further, but there was some work being done to enable multiple "stations" on one computer. All stations would have the functionality of a full computer, but there would be only one CPU for about 4 users. This makes for an even thinner hardware setup then what you're proposing.

tallred wrote:Do we REALLY need all those programs on every computer? Or is it better to give more users basic functionality instead?


It simplifies user management. Otherwise you have to steer users to certain machines depending on what they want to do or get patrons to move machines.


Let me make a few more points:

- Windows is officially supported by the Family History Department. Linux is not
- Licensed copies of Windows can be obtained from the FHD at no cost to the local FHC.
- Older Widows computer running LANDesk tend to get replaced automatically with no prompting.
- FHD also offered Deep Freeze at no cost to the local FHC. This eliminates many problems. Just reboot and it's all back to where it was. With DF installed, Windows is tougher then Linux.

Conclusion: by in large there is no compelling reason for a local FHC to move to Linux. There is one exception: If they desire to set up a server with more then 10 clients, they are faced with either buying a copy of Windows Server or looking at something else.

Until Church headquarters shows some interest in Linux, I don't think there's anything to be gained right now. However, unless they come under a serious budget crunch or Linux gets some good enterprise level management tools, I don't expect to see that happening.
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Enigma1-p40
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Postby Enigma1-p40 » Sun Jan 11, 2009 11:25 am

I'll give you my stand, seeing as how I work for the Global Service Center's Second level support. We already get enough calls about Windows machines that everyone knows how to use.... many many calls... on settings issues, or how to do this or that. By switching to linux i can see us needing a whole other sector of help support analysts for all of the calls we would be recieving.
You must understand as well, that most people that work in the FHC's are older and already are not tech savy (for those of you who ARE older and ARE tech savy, i congratulate you!)
Bottom line is that the church contracts out with Dell and we get some spectacular deals in the first place. Secondly we CAN change settings on these machines to make them run better (optimization by deselecting animation settings etc etc), and as tech savy as you and I might be with linux the general public would DIE if they had to learn even what @root is. haha, you know what I mean?

I like how you are thinking outside the box though. its because of people like you that the church can keep growing and becoming more efficient.


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