[K12OSN] Re: Making donations work better

Holmes Wilson holmes at worcestercoop.org
Wed May 26 08:53:59 UTC 2004

Hi everyone,

I just had a funny experience: I joined the list specifically to ask if 
anyone would be interested in working on a Live-CD to facilitate 
turning donated boxes into thin clients, and then while looking through 
recent archives to get a feel for the discussion, I stumbled across 
Steven's post where he proposed the exact same idea.  My angle on this 
is that last year some friends and I started a small organization in 
our town (Worcester, MA) where we're using donated computers and free 
software to set up LTSP labs and give free computers to participants.  
I know that schools, not small neighborhood labs, are probably the 
primary target for K12LTSP development.  But there is a huge potential 
for these kinds of labs because they can be put together on such a 
small budget--especially when you throw donated computers into the mix. 
  And a tool like the one discussed would make setting up--and 
maintaining--these labs a lot simpler.

I definitely appreciate Terrell's point that, in a larger, more 
complicated setting, things can quickly get unwieldy for administrators 
when you give powerful tools to people who don't understand how they 
work.  At the same time, I think that a streamlined system for making 
thin clients would make the deployment of LTSP labs a lot easier.  A 
few points (some of these have been made already):

On donated computers:
*Donated computers are free.  That is a huge advantage to groups that 
have volunteers but small budgets.
*Linux is not always an easy sell.  Dramatic cost savings like these 
sweeten the deal.
*Donated computers would otherwise be a problem for landfills.
*Donated computers usually have PCI hardware, which means the NIC and 
video card is easily autodetected
*Each year this becomes more true.
*Donated computers do have one major disadvantage: they break.  But 
more donated machines are always plentiful.

On the importance of making it easy:
*Even for someone who knows what they are doing, it is a pain in the 
neck to turn donated boxes into thin clients ("where the heck is 
lts.conf again?")
*There are tons people who know enough about computers to install a 
network card or walk through an install script who are quickly 
overwhelmed by the kind of command line stuff you have to do to make a 
new thin client from a donated computer.
*Since donated computers break, it's important to be able to replace 
*The more people you have who can do this, the more flexible your 
division of labor.  Linux gurus can be called upon sparingly for 
trickier tasks.
*When you improve ease-of-use you expand the pool of people who are 
qualified to deploy and maintain new labs, which means more people 
benefit from this awesome software.

One of the most amazing things about LTSP labs is how low-maintenance 
they are.  We've had our lab up since last June, with young kids coming 
in to beat the heck out of it 4 days a week since then, on severely 
underpowered hardware, and there haven't been any problems.  That means 
that I can feel confident setting up a lab, training people on basic 
stuff (adduser, CUPS) and letting them run with it, with myself and 
more knowledgable people to contact in case there's a problem.  If they 
get a new box donated and want to add it as a client, it would be 
awesome if I could leave them with a simple way to do it that would 
work 80% of the time.

Again, to return to Terrell's concern, I see this Live CD thing more as 
something that an administrator would make available to users, rather 
than something people would just download themselves and monkey around 
with.  Particularly because, as he points out, it's tricky to download 
and burn an .iso file.

Anyway, I have a few friends that would be interested in working on 
something like this.  If anyone's interested in helping I could set up 
a Wiki for planning out the best way to do it.  Takers?

Finally, this is my first post to this list, so first I'd really like 
to thank all the developers for the awesome work that's gone into the 
K12LTSP package.

Holmes Wilson
Worcester Computer Co-op

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