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[K12OSN] An LTSP History



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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 workstations. 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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