GNU/Linux thin-clients

Well, I suppose I’ve had a (not quite so) brief hiatus from blogging, and it’s time to come back into the fold.

I’ve been looking for a good GNU/Linux thin-client for my employer, a school district in the US. We have scores of aging desktops (primarily Intel PII 350 MHz and PIII 800 MHz systems) and looking more into the mobile arena for most computing needs. We currently utilize Citrix’s MetaFrame Presentation Server for most client applications, so we could substitute the current Windows XP OS for GNU/Linux.

I’m targeting a GNU/Linux thin-client solution for places like library research workstations, general resource computing labs, and some staff members who have desktops and do not require special (locally-installed, Windows XP specific) software.

Ideally, the look-and-feel could be similar to what the users already know. In our case, users login to the Citrix MetaFrame Presentation Server website and select icons, which downloads a file and is subsequently launched by the Citrix MetaFrame Presentation Server Client (say that five times fast). The file instructs the client to go look on a specific server for the published application that the user selected.

In the past, I’ve investigated ThinStation and PXES. Both software solutions seem to be functional and also very well polished. I could even make ThinStation look very much similar to Windows XP’s default luna theme, which, for better or worse, is what my target demographic is used to. The SAF (student/staff acceptance factor) must be high for something like this to work. This would be the first real taste of GNU/Linux that would be in place.

The primary goal of the thin-client methodology is to take older systems and keep them functional and working past their normal days of use. The issue we face is also keeping spare parts on hand to repair these older, well out-of-warranty, machines. We salvage working parts from units that are no longer completely functioning, and try to keep other machines working. But there comes a point where it no longer makes sense to buy parts when the salvage pile of parts is empty. At some point in time, you need to start looking for new hardware.

In doing so, I’ve been looking at some vendors that provide thin-client hardware and software solutions. As machines die, we can pop in new thin-client machines and everything would look and feel the same as the old desktops.

The vendor I’ve seen recently that looks promising is Neoware. They provide GNU/Linux solutions that would seem to fit the bill. I’m also intrigued at a newcomer to the field, Zonbu. They seem to aim to be more of a company trying to get users to subscribe to their monthly service of data storage, but the hardware they sell seems to be pretty good.

Have you had any experiences with any of these that you can comment on? Any hints or suggestions for other software distributions (for those aging desktops) or vendors who supply good GNU/Linux thin clients that will work with Citrix?


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