- By Grant Gross -
The creators of a software package designed to allow schools to set up cheap and easy Linux-powered networks have announced their second major release.
The K12LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) team has released version 2.0 of the networking packages, which allows schools or other institutions to run multiple inexpensive "dumb" terminals or outdated computers off one Linux server. Individual users can create their own documents and accomplish everything they could using a stand-alone computer, except that all software is run and stored on a central Linux server.
The new version includes several new packages, including the KDE 2.2.2 and Gnome desktop environments, the Nautilus file manager, and the OpenOffice office suite, which can open and store Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. Paul Nelson, technology coordinator at Riverdale School District in Portland, Ore., and co-founder of K12LTSP, predicts that users will appreciate improvements in the desktop environments, including the Evolution email/calendar package and anti-aliased fonts.
But what users may enjoy the most, he says, are improvements in the Linux Terminal Server Project itself. Included in the K12 package is the 3.0 version of the school project's mother project, LTSP. Among other things, LTSP 3.0 "auto-configures video cards on the fly using XFree 4, and the sound auto detect module does the same thing," Nelson says. "This means that you can boot almost any kind of computer and have an instant workstation. This is a very easy to use terminal server."
Nelson also notes that rdesktop, an Open Source client for Windows NT Terminal Server and Windows 2000 Terminal Services, is included in K12LTSP 2.0. So if schools or other users want to run Windows applications alongside the Open Source software provided in K12LTSP, they can. "It gives organizations the chance to use a free operating system with all the benefits and reliability of Linux but offer the choice of Windows applications when they are needed," Nelson says.
Also new to the project are automated updates, courtesy of the Red Hat Network.
Nelson says he's excited about the acceptance of the project. From K12TSP.org's servers, there have been more than 5,000 downloads of the package in the last five months, he says. "What we're also seeing is universities and businesses taking notice of how easy and quick it is to use the software," he says. "I think that as time goes on we'll see more LTSP servers outside of schools and in the working world. It's encouraging to get mail from all over the world saying how well K12LTSP works and how it's being used. It's providing access to technology for people who would not have it otherwise."
Less "glamorous" than the classroom, but equally as useful, he says, is K12TSP for a home user. "K12LTSP makes the perfect cable modem, gateway, firewall, home network server," he says. "It's really perfect at this with just the default settings after a 20-minute installation. And the best part is if you buy a new computer to run the software, you really get two or three, as you can fire up all the old PCs you have lying around the house and use them as workstations."
Next up for the project on the software side is getting K12LTSP to work as a Mosix cluster. Nelson says the team wasn't ready to include Mosix compatibility in this version, but look for future versions that allow K12LTSP servers to work together.
Publicity is another goal. "The next hurdle we face is moving beyond the grass roots stage," Nelson says. "For this to happen we need to partner with some quality hardware vendors. I'm frustrated that schools have to get their terminal hardware from eBay
instead of IBM. As the numbers grow and more people see how well the
LTSP packages work I think that will be changing."