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Journal: Home Computer Lab

Journal by FrankSchwab

I have a problem, and I am apparently not nerdy enough to resolve it on my own. How do I get communal PCs set up for multiple users in a home environment without going stark raving mad?

My wife and I have 7 year old twins. We have multiple computers in the house - two set up in the living room for communal use, one HTPC that I primarily use, one in the office primarily for my and my wife's use, and an old low-power Via sitting in the closet as a file server. Don't hate me, but they're all Windows boxes. Too many years in the development world left me with too many free licenses that make it too easy to go that route.

So, what's my problem? Well, the kids have a stack of game CD's that they enjoy; Daemon tools and DaemonScript let me keep an image on the NAS with a simple point and click interface for the kids for Barbie's (mis)Adventures and Midtown Madness and the other games that require the CD to be in the drive to play; but each one of those games requires being installed on every machine that they might be played on.
Thunderbird and Firefox allow their configuration/data files to be moved to the NAS box, but it's a painful process that has to be repeated for four different accounts on four different machines. Everyone's My Documents folders have to be manually moved to the NAS box; again four people times four machines. All the other applications that I normally install on a PC can take several hours of installation time on one machine; multiply by four machines for installation and by four people for configuration.

And, with four people browsing, there are occasions when malware rears its ugly head. My approach has always been to wipe the machine and either install a previously snapshotted disk image (that needs an arbitrary amount of installations/configuration/updating to bring it back to where the machine was), or simply start over from scratch.

This is just too much time sitting in front of the computer doing maintenance.

I've considered using VMWare to set up each user's account, allowing them to run the VM on whichever machine they're sitting in front of. Frankly, for most of the games, browsing, and email that goes on, that's probably a good solution. It's a bit of an additional complication, though, having to log into a Windows account on a machine, then start a VM and log in again, before being able to do anything, but maybe that's OK. I'm concerned about how well some of their DirectX games (Motocross Madness, Midtown Madness) are going to work in that environment; it's been a few years since I did much with VMWare.

Anyone have any great suggestions for a better solution? /frank

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