April 10, 2006

Linux Terminal Server Project releases 4.2

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

Boston, Mass. -- The Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), which makes it easy to connect thin client terminals to a Linux server, announced the 4.2 release of the software at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo. The new release adds improved local device support, reduces memory requirements, and offers scanner and multi-head support and a 2.6 kernel.

With improved local device support, users can plug in USB flash drives or other devices which are read across the network and can be used normally -- just as if their thin client was a regular desktop computer. Project leader Jim McQuillan says that the goal of the project is to see to it that "people aren't penalized for using a thin client" and that they can have the same type of experience as a normal desktop machine.

The LTSP folks had a few test machines set up at LinuxWorld to demonstrate LTSP 4.2's local device support. If the test environment is any indication, it works very well. USB flash drives, CD-ROMs, and other devices showed up on the thin client desktop almost as quickly as they were plugged in -- and operations like opening files and copying from local devices to the server were comparable in speed to using the devices on a normal Linux desktop.

Local device support is turned off by default, however, so admins can decided whether they want to allow users to attach devices to their systems. McQuillan said it's a single option in the LTSP configuration to enable local devices.

Reduced memory requirements mean that a thin client can now boot with as little as 12MB of RAM, where previous releases required at least 20MB of RAM to boot. However, McQuillan says that a system with at least 32MB of RAM is "more usable" than a system with the minimum of 12MB. This release also boots a bit faster; McQuillan says that they found 4.2 boots in about 22 seconds on a typical machine, while 4.1 took about 40 seconds.

This release also uses swap over network block device (NBD) rather than swap over NFS, which allows the LTSP team to use the 2.6.x series kernels, since NFS swap is not available in the 2.6.x series.

Some changes have taken place in X Window System support as well. McQuillan says the LTSP team has dropped support for XFree86, and has moved to X.org 6.9 for this release. They've added support for multi-head configurations, meaning that users can have thin clients with multiple monitor support.

Plans for the future

McQuillan says that the project is still drawing up plans for the next release, but he says that audio support and security are the two clear priorities. Right now, LTSP traffic over the local network is not encrypted for services like NFS, and McQuillan says he wants to provide the option of encryption for all services in the next release.

Audio is another challenge. McQuillan says that local audio for LTSP is "in the same condition as local storage used to be" before the 4.2 release.

Right now, LTSP is available as part of the Ubuntu distribution, and McQuillan says that the project is working with the Fedora project to include LTSP as well. He says that it's easy to use LTSP with any given distribution, even if it's not shipped by default, but that he'd like to work with all the distributions to add thin client support out of the box.

The project doesn't have a set release cycle, but McQuillan says that the project will probably release 4.3 within six to eight months. Interested users can download LTSP source code from the LTSP site.

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