[K12OSN] An LTSP History

Almquist Burke burke at thealmquists.net
Sun Mar 15 00:30:29 UTC 2009

Hash: SHA1

	I'm sensing some confusion here on the list about LTSP, K12LTSP, and  
K12Linux. All of you old timers here probably know this stuff already  
(and please correct me if I'm wrong about anything). But if you are  
trying to get your head wrapped around K12Linux, K12LTSP, LTSP, etc.  
then this is a good place to start.
	Once upon a time, you had LTSP, the Linux Terminal Server Project.  
LTSP was a special program (more like it's own mini distribution, I  
think they used Redhat's setup and pared it way down to the minimum  
that they needed) that you would install in it's own directory, and  
then configure the server so that thin clients would do something  
called "network booting". Meaning, that when they started up, the  
BIOS would try to get an OS, but not from a local hard drive, it  
would look out on the network and ask a server to provide it with one.
	A server with LTSP properly installed and configured, would provide  
an OS just big enough to provide login/desktop session to the server.  
At that point, the user was really just using his/her desktop  
"remotely" on the server. This was big, because it meant the thin  
clients could be relatively low powered hardware that didn't need to  
be "maintained" and replaced like a normal PC desktop. All the  
software ran was on the server, so you really only had to maintain  
the LTSP server(s) instead of many, many individual PCs. Sure, they  
weren't good for things like high end 3D gaming or intensive A/V  
work, but for most "computer lab" type situations, it was cheeper and  
easier to build and maintain than a lab full of individual PC  
	But installing LTSP and configuring DHCP, TFTP, NFS, etc. on each  
Linux distribution was a lot of work, and many less technical people  
were simply not going to spend the time and effort to get something  
like this running. So a couple LTSP users decided to setup a "pre- 
configured" version of LTSP based on Redhat, and later, Fedora (when  
Redhat stopped doing the shrink wrapped desktop software) called,  
K12LTSP.  K12LTSP was simply a customized Redhat/Fedora install CD  
that added LTSP and K12 applications install options to the  
installer. This would automatically install LTSP to run and serve  
clients connected to whatever it's primary ethernet connection. A  
secondary ethernet card would provide access to the rest of the LAN  
or internet, if you had one.
	This went on for a number of years, until the LTSP developers had an  
epiphany. A lot of the work they were doing wasn't working on the  
LTSP specific challenges (like making local devices like CD and USB  
stick work seamlessly, remote sound, etc), they were spending a lot  
of time keeping low level OS stuff current. The stuff that got the  
thin clients to network boot properly, detect hardware, etc. This was  
stuff that every linux distribution does (updating to the latest  
kernels and other low level software) and since LTSP was really it's  
own very minimal distribution, they had to duplicate all this work  
too. This was how things worked until version 5. They said, instead  
of building a distribution of LTSP that people build, install, and  
configure on each distribution, we'll create a spec and let each  
distribution build their own LTSP implementation, freeing us up to  
work on the little bit of software that all LTSP implementations will  
need in common, such as better login manager, something to handle  
local device connections like USBDrives and soundcards, etc. This is  
how LTSP 5 works.
	With this change, the LTSP community, which used to be dominated by  
K12LTSP and DebianEDU, is now balanced with a significant number SuSE  
and Ubuntu users. Since they all share fewer bits in common than they  
used to, this means that answering an LTSP question has become more  
difficult. That's why the version and distro information have become  
so much more important for answering questions.
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