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School Expels PCs, Installs NCs 276

mirthy wrote in with this CNN story about a school in NYC that dumped individual PCs in favor of a Sun-run server/client network, and how they're oh-so-happy with their new system. And, Mirthy notes in passing, "CNN seems to be getting the 'tech beat' much better than other organizations (with articles on sendmail and now this)!" Yeah, they've been getting better lately. Kudos!
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School Expels PCs, Installs NCs

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  • Sun NC's aren't necessarily more difficult to maintain, but the fact that people are more familiar with M$ products that I just can envision this being cost effective.

    Every year, millions more people have to learn all kinds of obscure system administration tools on MS OSes when all they want to do is get their work done. There is an enormous productivity cost to making people their own sysadmins. It would be a humanitarian action to make people not need to get so familiar with the administration of MS OSes.

  • Very right. I use this kind of setup at work for developing E-CAD software for exactly those reasons. It works perfectly well, while costing a lot less in maintenance than a fat client setup.


  • My organization recently migrated from NCDs connected to Solaris servers to NTs w/Exceed. The theory was that with Exceed, the NT would behave just like the NCD, but would also have the ability to run everything from Redmond. Sadly, reliabilty was apparently NOT a top concern.

    Unlike Windows 95/98, NT pretty much requires the network to be up, at least during your login. You also have a network drive, so even accessing your own documents may be dependent on the network. So instead of relying on the Sun servers to be up, we are ALSO now dependent on an NT server being up.

    In addition, our desktop PCs are now a new point of failure. It was rare for an NCD to crash, but due to NT memory leaks, you can't leave an X session running for more than about a week on NT without suffering a crash (on an NCD, the session could survive as long as the server, which was typically over 6 months).
  • This story also was broadcast on CNN-I (TV) worldwide. It really warmed my heart to see this kind of story, what with all the Microsoft hoopla they report at other times.
  • Several posters have voiced concern over Sun's potential use of a restrictive contract, however I doubt at this early stage that Sun would be in the position to use one.

    As this is the first education use of the system it is only a pilot. It could turn out that the card keys are completely inappropriate for schoolchildren. The lack of campus expertise could mean that server failures take 3 days to fix, or that the server gets thrashed when timetables clash. The keyboards might break when a child thinks about a Cola and the monitors blow up at the first sign of a spit ball fight.

    There's only so much you can test/think of in the lab. The real world is the only true testing ground and while Sun's system may turn out to be fantastic, they won't have much of a position until it's tried and tested.

  • What kind of server is running to service all of these thin clients? What about the price tag for all of this stuff?
  • Before applauding CNN's (or others') free software coverage as impartial and deeper than usual, perhaps we should consider who is advertising there. I haven't been following CNN for some time now, but Oracle seems to have been a major advertiser... And Oracle has been flirting with Linux, agains Microsoft, for some time now. Remember the ads warning (threatening?) us that "without publicity there would be a lot less news"? I saw those on CNN first. Basically we were being reminded that we are on the hands of advertisers. Our attention is the real product, and their real customers are advertisers. Sadly, it may be only business as usual for CNN. Even if money makes them consider what we think is worthy to be considered. Read Chomsky and be careful.
  • Simple questions, simple answers:

    1) Try telnet, or ssh... or some similar remote terminal program. It is unix, and it can do that. Or ftp to the server... (of course there's security issues and all, but it could work when done properly)

    2) 24/7 isn't *really* necessary. my school (a university) has a Sun server. if it goes down after hours (about 7pm) it doesn't come back up until the next work day. (yup, monday morning for us weekend people) And this server is used for grad research (the main course for my shcool) so it is kinda critical. but they havent fired the IS crew yet.

    3) Sure, it's not that hard to run a lab. it'd be kinda like a library situation, just need some people to work as monitors... extra credit?
  • That's why OpenClassroom has a program for local

    Linux people to help provide such support. If LUGs around the globe would reach out to their local schools (universities aren't what we're talking about; they can generally support themselves), we'd have much improved chances of getting Linux into the schools. Probably initially as test projects, but that's where it starts.

    On SEUL-edu [seul.org] (corrected URL; sorry, Ian) we are discussing this and many other educational issues. If you're interested in this, come and join us. Also, take a look at Bill Ries-Knight's Linux Educational Needs Posting Page [slip.net].
  • what software is there on macintosh that doesn't exist or there isn't a very similar replacement for on windows or something else?

    Well, I'm not quite the expert in this either :) But, knowing a lot of ppl involved in music-related pursuits (such as recording/editing), the software for sound editing and such things are supposedly better/more plentiful on the Mac. I personally cannot attest to whether this is true or not; it could be the music types are just used to their Macs so haven't experimented as much with other platforms. Or they could be right. But such is their claim, FWIW.
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Monday September 27, 1999 @03:18AM (#1658041) Homepage
    A couple of jobs ago (don't ya love this industry?) I worked as senior network/unix dude for a medium sized university. I would've KILLED for something like this. In fact, I setup something not so very different, but at a much higher cost.

    What I did was I bought X-terminals from HDS and backended them all on a Sun UE5000. The upshot was that I got /incredible/ performance, and incredible reliability. I had no downtime, ever (except once caused by a cracker -- but I squished him). This setup supported about 100 simultaneous users comfortably. For the educational market, it was wonderful.

    The problem in the .edu setting tends to be that very few of the mainline "solutions providers" understand the market. There is one critical fact in this market that stands out: Students cannot be trusted. Students are not impacted when the machines go down, they are young and often irresponsible, and the best and brightest often cause the most trouble because they try things that shouldn't be tried (legitimately trying to learn). In a UNIX/Terminal environment, I can lock them down enough that they can't impact reliability for everyone else, but leave them open enough that the students can still see how the system works.

    The other problem is that almost all machines are shared by almost all the users. Repeat after me: POP based email is a disaster because it downloads (by default) all the student's email to a public pc. Another persistent problem (especially on windoze) is that students load software on the PC's, change the settings, fill the browser caches with pornography, etc. etc. All this might not matter on their personal PC, but on a public PC in a computer lab is horrible.

    Bluntly, if this system had been available 3 or 4 years ago, I would have probably bought a gross.

    Oh yeah, don't forget the administrative costs!!! I've heard a couple of people grumbling about the cost of Sun servers. The fact is that Sun servers are a lot cheaper than the horde of administrators you have to hire to manage a couple of hundred PC's that are constantly being trashed by 3l33t h4x0rs. Bluntly, a competent PC TECH (forget networking admin, just a pc tech) is going to cost you $30K/yr time you pay benefits. It doesn't take long to buy a UE4500 at that price.

  • by sinator ( 7980 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @07:07PM (#1658042)
    It's interesting to see (from the perspective of a dual computer science/economics major) how increased competition has caused Sun to get off its high horse. Back in the heydey of commercial Unix, the early 90's, it was considered rather declasse to pursue school districts as a viable market for computer sales. Most schools were lucky to get DOS, and people snickered at Apple and NeXT for even considering the idea.

    Now all the major vendors are going after schools. Microsoft is doing it in their typical monopolistic style, and Sun is doing it in its own holier-than-thou-technology style, but the fact is the competition caused by Linux (I'll get to that in the next paragraph!) has made the major vendors scramble to make computing a 'push market' again.

    A lot of Slashdotters and Linux zealots treat Linux as if it were a competitor to major vendors. Those same people get confused when they say, "I don't get it: IBM is making so much off of AIX, why is it interested in Linux? Sun is making so much money off of Solaris? Why is it interested in Linux? Etc." And the ESRite zealots come out and say "Because they are hardware vendors, and Free Software is our salvation because it lowers operating costs for them and makes the consumer happy."

    Well, if I may posit so boldly, maybe Linux isn't a competitor as it is an advance in technology. And from a big-iron vendor like Sun, it's foolish to ignore an increase in Technology. All of a sudden, Linux is the way to secure the low-end server market, with increasing chances of the low-end desktop market. Of course, proprietary products like Tru64/AIX/Solaris/VMS/MVS/UNICOS handle the high-end server market. This leaves the vendors free to handle the NC market.

    A lot of people pooh-poohed the NC idea, saying "It will go nowhere, PC users like powerful computers," or "NC will go nowhere except in niche markets." What a few people don't know is that there is no such thing as a Bad idea in business -- there are only better ideas. And since Linux is GPL, and available to everyone, the low-end server/desktop market has been leveled for the time being. Now that the challenge of the 90's has been rendered non-time-critical (in the face of a crumbling-reputation Microsoft and free-software R&D miracles), everyone is free to pursue NC pipe dreams.

    I've always thought NCs are wonderful for schools because the main problems of NC usage (namely bandwidth) are not issues -- Schools are for the most part closed entities and outside traffic is usually kept to a minimum. In K-12 anyway.

    Personally I think that networked computing is going to help improve computing technology. With less to worry about with respect to i/o overhead, people can make tighter code. It's no coincidence that Windows CE is the most reliable of all the Windows programs. It's essentially the (theoretically very effective) NT/VMS core without any of the win32 cruft. Granted, the Sun Ray is little more than a dumb terminal, but as quick operation of tasks (over a network or otherwise) becomes more important, we need to get rid of cruft like Win32 and other higher level APIs. NC's provide us with a good excuse to :)

  • I hope higher education is also paying attention...

    Here at cornell you can walk into one of the many bazillions of libraries and see row upon row upon row of brand new sparkling white 400mhz PII 17-inch screen, 10Gig, 128 RAM, Gateways or Dells (because of silly educational "partnerships"), which just run a crummy telnet client to the library catalogue!!! ARGH!!! That's easily hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware and software alone, not to mention the cost of supporting all these boxes! All this could be done with thin/dumb terminals and just one server. How hard is this to concieve? I really cannot believe the amount of money they spend on stupid frivolous things in these universities.
  • I disagree. The plural of words like box, vax, and axe is boxes, vaxes, and axes. ox->oxen is what you might call an exception to the rule. The English language is full of them.

    Also, the jargon file isn't necessarily right about everything, of course. Believing that would be like the people who state Linus' opinions as fact, simply because he is Linus.

  • nowadays, a mac lab can be administered in the same fashion as a lab of NC's. Since iMacs and b/w G3's can both be netbooted, a mac lab can be outfitted with iMacs (you can buy older ones real cheap), and a decent os X server box. Then configure a single boot disk for all the imacs, and all those software problems go away. I have yet to play with the "netboot" capablities of the new macs yet, but in a computer lab environment, it's got to be a godsend.
  • The smart card is not a java card. Rather, it's exactly like the cards used for pay phones in europe. (It's possible the electronics are located in a slightly different place, but I don't think so. It looks like you could probably use a spent phone card as an id.) They just hold a session number, and nothing else. When you insert the card, if it isn't attached to a session, you're prompted to log in. At that point, the card gets a session id written to it. If you pull the card out and stick it in another machine, the session goes with you. (You may or may not have to reauthenticate, depending on the settings.) When you log out, the session goes away, and the card becomes meaningless.


  • I wish I had NT experience before I hit the job market. Unix only turns kids into hopeless geeks.

    I think you got this backwards. Hopeless geeks turn to OS's that are technically superior. Therefore they turn to Unix.

    NT makes them productive, employed members of society.

    Computer experience of any type will make you employed these days. Good people can be productive on any platform.

    I strongly believe it doesn't matter what OS is being used by kids up through the high school age. These students are at least 5-10 years from the job market, and of course the entire computing landscape will be completely different. What does matter is teaching the fundamentals. Rather than learning how to do accomplish tasks a certain way with a certain GUI, they should learn logical constructs. Lego Mindstorms, for example, is probably one of the more effective teaching tools there are for younger folks.

  • I, myself, have a great admiration for Sun Microsystems and their products, and I think the solution to school funding lies in smart decisions like this Sun server setup. I wouldn't call it salvation at this time though.
  • The reality is that whatever OS you learn with in school, you are going to be confronted with different interfaces and function sets during your working life, possibly while you are still in school. The important thing is not to learn one OS or set of applications with the idea that they will be industry standards forever, but to learn the fundamentals of how things work and basic conventions for operating machines.

    Even better, maybe schools could teach students methods for figuring things out by themselves so that they can troubleshoot their own machines, and the fundamentals of critical thinking so that they can tell when a tech company is trying to sell them something that doesn't fit their needs.

  • ...so they could make a geek-level living by knocking off their cash-register friends.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is Sun Microsystem trying to bank on the idea that these kids will become very used to using Solaris and want to run Solaris when they grow older? This is how Microsoft did it. Kids used Windows and school thus they wanted to run the same Operating System at home. It also applies to the work world. People don't want to learn how to use multiple operating systems. They want one operating system and they want it everywhere so they know what they are doing at all terminals. Will Sun's attempt to convert our children to unix users work in making Unix/Linux a more dominant platform? Will children get fed up with Windows at home and install linux, nearly a clone of solaris? I'm curious if this is good marketing or just coincidence.
  • Revolutionize? Give me a break. Its just another computer.

    Perhaps they mean that with the money they're saving they can afford toilet-paper for the kids now.
  • I'd have had 3 more years experience when I hit the job market! =)

    But really... Cool. What better place to use thin clients, where you don't want the kids installing/messing with configurations and/or playing too much Quake 2 in Study Hall.

    Sun's showing these 'Sun Rays' off at work this week... mebbe I should go look now. (Well... and they're bringing free pizza too)

  • "If this were a Linux or FreeBSD story, everyone would be jumping all over it saying that it was the greatest thing they'd ever heard of. But because it's Sun pushing a technology paradigm that's been around for ages, and apparently doing so effectively in ways that really count, many people seem down on it."

    I'd rather see Sun do this than Microsoft, but the point is that centralized computing was one of the things that Sun helped tear down, and now they are coming to think that they need to move back to that model in order to protect the perception that they are a server company.

    It seems to me that Sun is afraid that they will wake up one day to find that someone's gone and written them out of the loop with a clustering technology that makes fast, effective use of all those MIPS going unused on folks' desks. When that happens they fear that they will lose the server to the desktop.

    They're probably right, but the way to solve that problem would be to be the first ones to get there, not to try pushing the old dumb-terminal idea. This is especially silly in a day when $500 can get you a fair machine, and another $100 will get you the crappy monitor that would be more than enough for your average high-school student. Sun needs to come up with the "Virtual Server" which looks to all the world like a Solaris server on your network, but is actually a time-slice of every client you've got.

    Hmmm... Let's see -- it would take a distributed version of RAID so that losing any one desktop would not result in unaccessable files. Then you want process migration and load-sharing software. Now you need to build up a core of "central" services (e.g. daemons) which have some built-in redundancy (go ahead, waste those cycles, we'll put more junk PCs on the Guidance counselors' desks).

    Heh, I'd love to log into one of those babies....
  • Those servers had better be armor-plated securitywise, because if client-server systems become the standard in schools, script kiddies are going to get a whole load more of targets.

  • UNIX is all about user-level commands, privs, etc... Just because they won't have Super-User
    out of the box, doesn't mean there isn't plenty to learn (and will probably get root shortly, anyways!) There's a lot to be learned from the user-only side of UNIX.

  • by domc ( 11897 )
    This was true 3-5 years ago, but times have changed. Most sound/graphics software comes out for win32 first, second or never on mac.

  • by mattc ( 12417 )
    Yes, Novell servers crash on a regular basis. Other OS's are more reliable.
  • by A moron ( 37050 )
    Well CNN tried but this story is pretty weak on details. They are nice enough to have links to pictures of where New York and San Francisco are.

    I haven't been up on how this Sun system works (Not NC in general but this Ray thing in particular (who is Ray?)).

    It's cool but, what about running all that educational software like Millie's Math House?

    I worked for a k-12 district and would have loved to go to linux but all the educational software out there is Mac/Win.

    So can these kids just use them to Word Process, surf the web, and maybe right some Perl scripts?
  • Well, these kids were in grade school but for high school, I would rather see the school give the kids a bunch of hardware and software and let them setup the computers and network themselves. The way most schools use computer is as glorified type writers. What a waste of good equipment.
  • I stand corrected. Thanks. :-)
  • You know, I have to wonder just what kind of contract Sun has this school nailed to.

    You never get something like that cheap, especially Sun's overpriced excuse for hardware, without *big* conditions. I bet the whole school district is being forced to switch to Sun equipment.

    And that's just wrong. That's Microsoft-style 'discounts.' My former school district ran a very diverse, but EFFECTIVE environment. The records server was an HP9000. The workstations were underpowered 95 machines that crashed daily. (P60's) They were Gateway 2000 leftovers from the Win3.x days, still somewhat in warranty. The server's a Dell Poweredge 1000 running NetWare 4.1x. NT's serving some very limited ends. And if they ever want to change something, they can change whatever they want, however they want. They have total freedom to work with their environment.
    At one point, Microsoft offered them educational discounts, on the terms that they upgraded all their workstations, and went to NT for everything, at about half retail cost. They blew Microsoft off.

    I don't know about you, but I don't buy any of Sun's warm fuzzy crap, and it will be a cold day in hell before I let *any* vendor; even IBM, my favourite, lock me into their selection.

    -RISCy Business | Rabid unix guy, networking guru
  • by Anonymous Coward
    For most of the people in the US there are more challenges presented by the weather than worrying about a server crashing. For schools, if the NCs aren't working, hopefully the teachers are resourceful and flexible enough to have some other means of entertaining...er, teaching, their students. Ever have an assignment due NOW, and you can't get to work because your mode of transportation is unservicable, or you're freakin' sick? Put in the isolated context of the server dying, yes, it's bad in an NC environment while it's out. In the context of life in general, it's no different than an unexpected power outage (no school will have generators to keep the school running!), a curveball thrown at the area by Mother Nature, etc. Sure, it sucks, but hopefully the administrator would have the presense of mind to say, "well, go home for the day," and look at it as no different than a Snow Day, or the Day the AC broke and the Heat Index was 120, etc. The students aren't gonna mind one way or the other. A day out of school is a day out of school..
  • How much do you actually think they're going to let the kids do?, on a unix platform and a system dependent on the server for everything those NC's are going to be locked-up tighter than you could ever hope for with a win9x system. They do what they're supposed to do, but the kids won't learn squat about *inx.

    "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity." Hanlon's Razor
  • None of my computers in school ever were solid. Shoot, comparing them to swiss cheese was being too nice. The difference is that they usually weren't networked. It wasn't until freshman year in high school I saw networked computers or a modem (ooh, 1200 baud, oooh appletalk on 56k wire...)

    Even on these, people would hack all the games (some fellow figured out how to instantly get warp 20 once he went into 'reverse' in MacTrek, and how to get cloaking on Terran craft..), people would destroy the network, people would put viruses on the server.

    I think client-server is better than having individual stations as far as security - but they better hire a sysadmin with a decent head (at my high school after I left, they hired someone into the position just because he was a friend of the principal's.. and he really really bit from what I understand, nothing works anymore at all. The computers are unusable)
  • Kids are curious. They're going to start playing around with their system, try and do things - and they'll find the command prompt. Them some kid with Linux at home will show them what they can do with it. Then watch out. :-)

  • Just remove the setuid bit from as much as you can, clean out inetd and there shouldn't be too much to worry about.
  • >Unix only turns kids into hopeless geeks.
    >NT makes them productive, employed members of >society

    You're kidding right? Maybe productive at clicking those mouse buttons. I have a hard enough time using Window98 at my workstation, much less using it as my server. You may be productive quicker (as a point and click admin), but in the long run, you'll find that for more intense server applications, the only real solution is a unix based server.

    I think that it's a really cool idea. I like the idea, although I'd probably be trying to find a hole in the gui so i could use the command line.. ahh well.
  • Sounds a lot like what VNC does, this Sun Ray business. Seeing as VNC is open source, and linux has this frame-buffer thingy in development, couldn't a fusion of the two put linux into play as providing a similar environment on legacy hardware? Non trivial, I'm sure but eminently doable.
    Any thoughts, folks?
  • One of the *major* benefits I see for the SunRays is convenience. Don't have to log in and out, just pop in the card -- the environment follows you. My facility has 60+ PC, many of which are in a shared manufacturing environment. Having people log in, check e-mail, log out, etc. is a REAL PAIN. Not to mention configuring configuring e-mail client profiles for each floating PC and employee (say, 30 people x 40 shared machines). Also for others who work on presentations and other group items on their PC, then have to go to a conference room to log in, etc. Then remember to save everything, log out, etc. Popping in that card on a terminal and having instant reconnect looks like a dream come true. It also saves me from having to battery-backup each PC and I can spend some money on securing/protecting the server.
  • I'd assume it was instead of username/password, but is that really a good solution for an environment where the card could easily be stolen/lost by another kid? Children can be pretty nasty and I'd hate to use something so easily stolen for authentication.

    No, you are wrong. Using cards for authentication is much safer then using username/passwd. Why? What happens when I find your passwd? Do you know I know your passwd? No, you don't, so you can't do anything about it. What happens when you lose your card, or I steal it? Aha! It's gone, you don't have it, it's not there. So you go to the office, have you old card voided out and are issued another card.

    Having a physical object is much more secure, then relying on something that's not "real".

  • This has to be a freakin' troll (yeah, I know I'm feeding it).

    I've got Novell 3.12 at sites that have uptimes measured in years. Novell generally doesn't dgo down unless you are running it on nonstandard/generic hardware. It is those who half-ass their hardware who have unstable systems (in any environment).

  • Please tell me you don't run X on a firewall.
    Not even on the interior router.... please?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    the other day...and over-all I liked what I saw. The 'hot-desking' is nice (being able to halt and resume sessions just by inserting/removing the card). They also say that the Sun server can 'outsource' to a citrix mainframe or the like for NT apps etc. and pipe the frames through. It's more server intensive than the Apple Netboot model, but that's what makes the hot-desking possible.

    Now...some drawbacks...

    1. It hogs bandwidth...they emphasized that these sunrays and server be placed on a separate dedicated switch (100 Mb/sec..maybe 10)
    2. A server crash will hose many (although back-ups always help ;-)
    3. Due to the separate switch issue, your network is pretty limited. (They said they are aware of this and are working on it).
    4. They were even conservative about how many clients a server could handle....but at least they were upfront about it.

    That said...I still liked it and we may get two thrown in to our next order just to try them out. And one might go on my desk =]

  • I suggest you apply your I/Q towards basic spelling and grammar before tackling Unix or its derivatives.

  • by GrEp ( 89884 )
    My old high school has run on client/server for years. It didn't take them more than a couple of crashes for the school district to realize what the word BACKUP meant, but they finally caught on.

    With client/server you don't need to upgrade the hardware as often either. Yeah your server is going to get out of date, but the clients can get a lot more mileage than a normal PC. In fact I think our school is still getting by with 286/386 clients. Unless you want your students playing Q3Test this works just fine for basic office applications, surfing the web, and our one course in Pascal.

    Client/server is the way to go for larger schools. Cheap, easy to admin, and more fun to...err harder to break in to.
  • 'Single Point of Failure' doesn't mean that there is only one place it can fail. It means that if this One place fails then everything stops working. You can have more that one 'Single Point of Failure' in that you can have multiple critical components which can render the system unusable by failing.

  • Well, these kids were in grade school but for high school,

    Doesn't matter. The kids who play with computers (not those who steal mouseballs) are those who learn to use them effectively later. First they learn to destroy with programs. Then they learn to make their own destructive programs. Then they realize how stupid all that was -- but hey - they *learned* from it. They learned increadibly much from it.

  • The cost of maintaining a bunch of machines that don't really need maintenance is going to be lower. If the person responsible for maintaining them can spend their time concentrating on other stuff instead of re-installing windows all the time, then they are saving money. If Sun is pushing this technology heavily, they are probably throwing in some sort of training for the staff responsible for maintaining it. (if they aren't throwing in such training, then maybe it's not as cost effective as it seems)

    I know for a fact that networks of M$ Windoze networks aren't easy to maintain. I worked for the CS department of the top CS school in the US, and almost every day we'd get at least one call for a machine that needed to be re-installed. And the people who used the machines were grad students and professors in the CS dept. Windoze just hoses itself sometimes, no matter how competant the users are. When you throw a little malice into the mix, a high school would be a pain in the A$$ to maintain if it were running a M$ OS.

    -hangman (sloth is a virtue of a good programmer)
  • Well, sorry, im just a high school student

    and since school dosent teach nothing, why bother to learn
  • by HR ( 38332 )
    ...which brings us back around to Katz's article!
  • These were the original "all-in-one" G3's, which predated the iMacs by about 6 months, and the b&w's by maybe a year. I think Apple finally discontinued them over the winter, which is good, because the machines were downright ugly.

    Even an old iMac costs twice as much ($799?) as one of these Sun boxes (can we call them boxes?). OS X server is pretty expensive, too.

    I don't know what pricing on the Sun server hardware looks like, so I'm not going to try to jump to any conclusions here, though.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sun says you can run 5-10 thin clients on a Ultra5S server, or 50-60 thin clients on a E450. Each client costs around 50MB-100MB so go figure. We have 20 of these things hanging off from a FE switch to a QFE'ed E450 with 4x400 CPUs. Performance is ok as long as you run word processors (star office), but if you run netbeans on them the E450 just crawls to a halt.
  • NO!, the correct plural (even for "techies", sorry to burst your bubble - no dictionary I've ever seen draws a distinction by occupation) for "box" is quite clearly "boxes".

    "Boxen" is never correct, although it is not incorrect (and pretty much irrelevant now) to refer to a plurality of DEC VAX computers as "Vaxen". Still, even in heavy-duty DEC shops, (and I've worked in several, one was 100% DEC when I arrived), "Vaxes" is the favored usage over "Vaxen", just because "Vaxen" sounds so stupid.

    Direct flames to /doc/OxfordEnglishDictionary at your nearest library. (Natural languages have docs for a reason, too, you know...)
  • Rather, it's exactly like the cards used for pay phones in europe

    off topic, but WTF do you use to operate payphones in America???

    I thought Smartcards were common, we have had them as a payment system (a chip on my bankcard that can load up a limited amount of electronic money) for almost a year now.

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • As I'm sure everyone knows, you can do the same with Linux. (OpenClassroom [openclassroom.org] serves to make this easier with a education-minded Linux distribution)

    Right now there's something like this being done at the Corbett [corbettschool.org] school in Tucson Arizona. The link won't show you much other than some drawing by the students, but there's a short description in an email [seul.org]. It's a work in progress, done mostly by volunteers.

    Really, it all comes down to making a bunch of cheap X terminals and some application servers. The X terminals can be much cheaper than $400 (refurbished 486's work well enough). Though they are hard to maintain, it's even possible with donated equipment (which, while plentiful for schools, tends to be otherwise useless). There has been a lot of discussion about this on the SEUL-edu [seul.edu] mailing list (interested people are invited to join).

    Maintenance issues as a whole are very important in schools, with public labs, occasionally malicious users, and a lack of knowlegable admins. The lack of security on Windows and Macs make them totally inappropriate for classroom use, but somehow most schools don't seem to appreciate this. As a result, school computers tend to be finicky and inflexible, and take up as much time doing dumb technical stuff as they do helping children learn.

    The alternative is the laptop schools, which is to me a Very Bad Idea. But at least the computers trully are personal -- and if the kid messes up their computer, they've messed up their computer. But there's so many minuses to laptops...

    Of course the Riverdale [k12.or.us] school has been using Linux for a long time on the server side, but recently there's been a lot more activity on the client side as well. I think Linux can do most of what most schools want to do right now, which doesn't make it perfect at all, but perfection is not a serious option to many schools -- or even half-way decent (I'm sorry to say).

    Learnux [linux.ca] is a Canadian volunteer effort to recycle old computers into useful Linux computers.

  • This was exactly what I thought when I heard of the Sun Ray. I think they made up their own protocol, undocumented, though.
    Two ways to do this on Linux:
    1)Create Protocol. Use Xvfb virtual framebuffer
    server and use protocol to communicate
    2)Use xvnc X server, use linux svgalib vnc client, or write a new vnc client for the linux framebuffer. Someone had linux svgalib client on a floppy. Pop into a PC, boot PC, and you have a walking thin-client. Could even store a private key if needed. Replace floppy by card. Done. Tunnel vnc over ssh for encryption and compression and use cards to provide private key and encrypted password sent over network. (Second layer of protection)

    Second layer could be, desktop linux PC's with CODA used to hoard releavant parts of linux servers. Could be laptops. VNC clients could still
    connect to these machines. Such a laptop would solve the problem of server downtime and use from anywhere in the world where there is no bandwidth.
    Companies may not want it(secrets). However, it
    could be used for workgroup synchronization and multiple options in case of failure.

    Anyone want to do this? Email me..
    (rahul@reno.cis.upenn.edu) Suns offering is really
    quite simple and we could have a product free in
    software and $400 in hardware INCLUDING monitor,
    utilizing new PC's, or people could use their old
    PC's as NC's. I call it Sting Ray!

  • At my old highschool the PCs (sx33 with Win31 I think, I'm an old old man) were always so screwed up so finally we had enough and installed some locking software ourselves, taking over control over the computer room.

    Needless to say the admins were not happy, but they must have gotten the hint because after we handed over the keys they got better.

    wow - Doom and Mortal Kombat flashbacks galore...

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • I probably should have said that the Jargon style of plural for those words is derived from that of oxen.

    This is why it's a jargon reference. It's not supposed to be grammatically correct.

    I agree that the jargon file is not always correct, however it is a useful reference for hacker jargon.

    dave "furrfu!"
  • Most people use coins, 35 cents in most places. Lots of people use credit cards. Stores sell "pre-paid" cards which have like $10 or $20 worth of calls on them. And then there's the collect call services like 1-800-COLLECT.
  • In the US we use an extraordinary invention calle da 'Coin' to operate our payphones. Each 'Coin' represents some fraction of a 'Dollar'. When these 'Coins' are placed in the 'Slot' on the payphone they register as having paid a certain amount of 'Money'. The amount of 'Money' you pay directly relates to how much 'Time' you can 'Talk'. Hopefully that will help clear things up for you 'English People'. >:)

  • First you assume that something must have happened, and then you criticize Sun for your assumption.

    FWIW, even if Sun gave them a good discount, that's just fine with me. It's a competitive market, and Microsoft has been "donating" (and probably tax deducting) hardware and software to schools in huge amounts. Until that practice is declared anticompetitive and prohibited by the FTC, Sun has to play along. If they don't already do it, I think they should start special pricing and donations to schools ASAP.

  • If there's more than one of something, it's no longer a single object. This applies also for points of failure.

    "single point of failure" is the general term for this concept. It's not a perfect term, but it seems to be the most sane arrangement of the three important words. "Point of single failure" doesn't at all convey the right concept. That is, a single component or "point" in a system that can fail and cause the entire system to fail.

    For instance, on a fileserver with a single SCSI card, a single SCSI drive and a single hard drive, you have 3 single points of failure. If any single one of those points fails, the entire server will fail, effectively. (that is, it will fail in its purpose of serving files to the network.) Another single point of failure would be a CPU -- and with Intel architecture, at least, two CPUs would give you two single points of failure.

    When you're analyzing a system to determine (and improve) reliability, you determine all the single points of failure and attempt to eliminate them as single points of failure.

    In the above example, if you had reliability concerns, I'd suggest replacing the single SCSI drive with a RAID array of some kind, either RAID 1 or RAID 5 -- that way one hard drive could fail and everything would still be fine. Then you'd no longer have a single point of failure in the hard drive because both drives would need to fail to cause failure from that. (and hard drives, in my experience, at least, are more prone to failure than SCSI cards or network cards.)

    If you're really anal about reliability for a file server you'd have dual ethernet cards on two separate network segments, two SCSI RAID cards with RAID 5 arrays attached and a software RAID 1 array made from those (to survive either SCSI card dying), dual CPUs and an architecture and OS that could handle a CPU dying and then you'd clone the box and have a hot-swap backup machine with some kind of mirroring between them... (in other words, you'd be moving towards a cluster)
  • Geez, I think I'd be looking at other issues to see why your NetWare servers were crashing once a week. (NT, ok, maybe once a week I could understand)

    I don't work there anymore, but it was a few years ago and the copy of NetWare was already out of date, the hardware was old for the time (I think it was a 386dx33 -- Pentium 90s were just coming onto the market when I quit), I only worked there one day a week and it was a small enough office that if the server happened to need to be rebooted once a week and be down for 5 minutes, it wasn't that big a deal... Besides, it usually happened during the backup after everybody left, anyways...

    I'll take your word for it that NetWare is very stable -- I'm certain the NetWare instances I dealt with were all kinda screwed up, outdated and poorly administered. (I was never really the main guy in charge of any NetWare boxen -- just somebody available to help out sometimes. Linux boxen, a Solaris box and that one NT box, yes. (BTW, the NT box that crashed several times a day later got Linux installed on it, and after a few kernel upgrades and/or patches to get the right SMP stuff for the time it ran its 1.3.x Linux kernel for several months without crashing))
  • These Sunrays are not NCs that execute code locally, whether that be Java or anything else. They are not even as smart as XTerms. They are graphical dumb terminals.
  • by bcaulf ( 30350 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @10:38PM (#1658134)
    Sun is afraid that they will wake up one day to find that someone's gone and written them out of the loop with a clustering technology that makes fast, effective use of all those MIPS going unused on folks' desks.

    MIPS are about the least scarce thing I can think of for a network administrator at a facility like the one described in the article. (Disk space is a close second.) Every new PC has enough MIPS to choke a horse, way more than is required by the applications people want to run. And yet the average school or university computer lab is a mess due to unauthorized changes made to the systems by users, and differences between different generations of systems.

    A more centralized computing environment is about delivering consistent, uniform, controlled, reliable user services. Very few people need more MIPS, but everyone except a bithead needs a consistent experience from all systems, with upgrades also happening system-wide. A centralized server delivers on these requirements. Users won't miss the MIPS.

  • by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalkerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday September 26, 1999 @04:41PM (#1658135) Journal
    Anyone else here remember the days when many schools were on novell networks during the push for centralized software. Not a fun sight, its really sad to see all this happening again. I'll admit centralized management is nice, but its no so nice when the entire school can get no work done just because the server crashed. And yes, servers still do crash. All too frequently servers crash and people cannot access the internet and or email. But atleast they could type up a document in a wordprocessor, or finish up thier programming assignment. Fun game to play, if your ever in an office park and you see what looks to you like way too many secretaries outside eating/smoking or whatever. Walk up to one and say "So? the network is down hu?"

  • Sounds interesting, but aren't those "coin" things quite heavy to carry around? And if their value is aboslute, don't people try to bust up the payphones to get the "coins" out so they can make phonecalls (or are the "coins" also used in other places?)

    Can you buy "coins" at kiosks?

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • We have used thin clients a bit were I work. From my experience, there are some huge beniefits to using this at a school, and one major downfall. The downfall? I know at my high school, there was no real IT person... just a teacher who knew a good bit about computers.. but anything to do with client/server? no way. But with users who can easily mess things up in a fat client area thin clients are great. No need to go in and fix everything after the little punk kids change all teh settings or what not. I remember a few years ago..... hehe
  • Remember the days??

    Our school STILL runs on Novell Networks (and they also seem to have a contract with IBM, as all our new computers are IBMs, along with our crappy internet connectivity software)
    "I already have all the latest software."
  • I agree that a high school would be a pain to maintain, but you were at the top CS school in the country and had to reinstall almost daily? I'm sorry but Ifind this hard to believe. I support several different NT/Unix integrated networks and have yet to have to do a complete win95 reinstall in the last 3 years save one, which was because someone kept installing bad winX clients on their PC. This probably goes back to the "a system is only as good as its admin" argument but any network having that many problems in it has greater flaws than a bad OS.
  • This is great! Hopefully others will take the hint .. this is the first step in promoting UN*X systems after Microsoft so viciously attempted to knock them down .. No matter the deal they got with Sun, this will certainly help out other UN*X-like operating systems, such as Linux.
  • I dont know if anyone at CNN is trolling /. for story lines, but I'm dead certain someone there notices when they've been /.'ed. Nothing like 500K extra /. hits on a few tech stories to increase the popularity of future tech stories.

    Roblimo, does /. try to consult with anyone at a linked site prior to publishing a link in a story? Some sites are better able, and better prepared, for the /. effect than others. Seems to me /. might be able to help less able sites by hosting mirrors, etc. of some linked pages.

  • A couple of years back a buddy of mine had a disk crash so while he waited for the new disk to arrive he booted on a floppy and mounted his file systems over the net.
    So if you could boot from flash (or put ducht tape over the disk drive or something :-) couldn't you do someting similar with an old PC without too much hassle?
  • place to get work done

    When will you people learn work and learning are not the same thing. I want kids to be able to learn enough that if they chooses to they can step on the asshole will be replacing Gates on the next millenium. Education is more than training kids on Office products no one ever uses after getting out of school.

    If only Steve Wozniak had anything to say about it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...is a box client for the iPlanet web-desktop software. (i suspect the hardware is the same as for the java station. so it would have been a cheap item for sun to create, just new firmware, or else just run the original java iPlanet code) raw iPlanet has had good write ups. iPlanet renders the display into an X server, and squirts the changed pixels up the wire to the client. the X server runs on a large box. so *any* X client is available on the iPlanet platform. as that includes citrix, PC users can be happy (at 256 colors). thus the PC is rendered into middleware. given that the sunray box and the iplanet code are the same platform, you can still access your desktop using the original web client. it is a good play for sun because it is really low investment for them, and for many organisations would be a real winner.
  • Students in San Francisco and Georgia are also testing the system, which consists of separate monitors, keyboards and boxes -- no hard drives -- all monitored from a single teacher's station.

    What is this world coming to, when non-techies use techie terminology correctly? :)


  • by scumdamn ( 82357 )
    Schools should all have Macs. For creativity, the Mac can't be beat. Also, they should all have Windows computers because that's what they'll most likely see in a business setting. Of course, they should also have Unix (or Unix-like) systems so they could learn the high-end of software and basic developement, etc. So in a perfect school, there would be a heterogenous environment with computers focused toward the specific tasks they're best at. Too bad they'll never get that if they're tied to a specific hardware and/or software vendor. Sounds like the schoold are shooting themselves in the foot in order to save money.
    Well, that and the fact that an ideal environment would be pretty expensive.
  • Just for clarification I meant with a nom centralized application environment when the network is down you might loose internet but you would still have local applications like compilers and wordprocessors.
  • Actually, the correct techie pluralization of box is ``boxen'' not ``boxes''. So you can rest assured that these people are utterly clueless, and don't have to worry about what this world is coming to.
  • If it's saving money over stand alone PC's thats good. But look at the first paragraph...

    "Taking part in a pilot program that could revolutionize education, Intermediate School 381 in Brooklyn has replaced personal computers with a single network server, which could change the way students read, write and research."

    Revolutionize? Give me a break. Its just another computer. It is nice to see CNN give something other than wintel coverage, but as usual they ignore other underlying problems.

    Another poster wondered what kind of contract Sun has this district nailed too. I wonder too. With shrinking education budgets, the people running the schools are starting to have to choose between two evils. On one hand, you make do with what you have, or, you can "sell the school" out to corporations, who will supply you with equipment, but will force you to expose advertising to the students. Getting kids to recognize your brand at a young age is a great marketing device. It's also incredibly immoral.

    There is a good article about this phenomena in this weeks issue of "The Nation".

    http://www.thenation.com/issue/990927/0927mannin g.shtml
  • by Kaz Kylheku ( 1484 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @05:03PM (#1658201) Homepage
    If the kid loses his card, he ceases to exist. Other kids will walk by him or her, acting as if he or she were not there. The glances of others will seem to shift and focus on objects beyond the individual, never making any contact, as though the individual were invisible.
  • I believe the term you're looking for is "single point of failure".

    In the novell environment you describe, the Novell server was still a single point of failure, but if it failed, there was a certain amount of redundancy elsewhere.

    Another single point of failure would tend to be your incoming power -- the electricity goes out and all the machine go down. (except for the ones on a UPS that take a little while longer.) With a generator you could eliminate that single point of failure. You'd still have a number of single points of failure in the electrical wiring, but a chunk of copper only fails under extreme loads.

    With the Sun and NC environment you have another single point of failure, the Sun server. Inside that Sun server you're likely to have some single points of failure, such as the OS itself, a few other bits of software, the hard disk, the hard disk controller, the network card, etc. (outside you'd have a hub or switch, too)

    In my time I've had to deal with NetWare, Windows NT, Linux and Solaris (on an UltraSPARC) in some kind of administrative capacity. (mostly as the sysadmin) Under "interesting" load the NetWare box would crash maybe once a week and come back up fairly quickly (journaling file system). The NT box I had to deal with was a dual-PPro 200 and crashed several times a day. Since the NT box sometimes froze instead of rebooting, we eventually constructed a device that hooked up to the reset jumper of the NT box and the parallel port of the Linux box next to it and made it possible to hit the reset switch on the NT box via software run under Linux. The worst of the Linux boxes probably crashed once a month and came back up reasonably quickly (not as fast as the NetWare box, though). The only time the Solaris box crashed was due to crappy firmware in the Western Digital SCSI hard drives in an external RAID chassis that we got for it.

    In other words, yes, you're right; if the server for those NCs goes down, they're all completely down. However, Solaris on SPARC architecture is, generally, really stable. It's pretty unlikely to crash more than once a school year. Heck, in the area I went to grade school the power went out more often than that.
  • I bet the whole school district is being forced to switch to Sun equipment.

    Actually, I would be rather surprised if that were the case. Apple, for many years, gave computers to schools essentially free so that students would get used to using MacOS. The idea was that when the students were buying their own computers, they would pick macs. I don't know how effective this was, but it worked for me: i'm writing this from a Mac (ok, i have LinuxPPC installed for all you zealots out there) which I would not have chosen if I had not been exposed to Macs in school 7 years ago.

    Now, I harbor no illusions that Sun is trying to sell its workstations to schoolchildren...yet. However, with the advent of really, really fast home Internet connections (cable modems, xDSL, etc), an NC at home isn't so farfetched. Maybe Sun is looking at the possibility of selling NC's for home use? Seems reasonable to me.

    Just my $0.02

  • eMates were palmtop style computers apple marketed to schools. they were based on the newton, had a keyboard and stylus.

    they were intended to be docked to a localtalk network every now and then to exchange data with the 'teacher.'

    they came out a long time before imacs, but they are green and curvy.

    my school bought two of them, at $800 a piece. they are pretty much useless. they are only good for typing occasional notes.

    i have one of the two sitting in a box on a shelf. they are handy for the occasional note taking session - a good idea, but a poor implementation.
  • by amit_kr ( 22877 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @05:19PM (#1658216)
    This thing is coming more and more in the news... I was lucky enough to see the demo some time back.

    It's really sweet: absolutely quiet... you could put 100s together and still have pindrop silence (there is no fan to cool off the cpu essentially).

    Two modes of login are supported: the first looks like the normal solaris login, and probably works like logging in from an XTerm (or fakes this; see later)

    The other is much more interesting. It uses a JavaCard. Essentially, you insert a JavaCard in an usused terminal slot, and you get back your workspace... when you're done, just remove the card, and your workspace flashes out, and the login screen reappears.

    It's very neat, in the demo, they started an MP3 player, and when the song was midway, removed the card. Almost instantaneously, the login screen was up. She went up to another station, inserted the card, and the MP3 started playing from where it had been stopped!!

    There were some graphical demos too... but that imho depends on the network bandwidth and how fast the server is, since all the processing is being done there.

    I guess they are checkpointing various kinds of state for each user on the server... *very* server intensive, but a single point of administration (and failure!) is the plus (minus!) point, i guess...

  • The price of the Sun Ray is normally $500/each, and 20% is a pretty normal educational discount, so $400 isn't even slightly surprising. Of course, they still need a Sun server (at least until someone reverse engineers them and makes a Linux or FreeBSD solution) and they need monitors (but they probably have those already from their PCs).


  • I took C++ in high school last year. We each had PII 300mhz computers. Seeing as we only used 99% of those mhz when we compiled every now and then, I'd thik a thin client solution would work well and be cost effective.

    I'm sure one of those PII's could have handled all the compiling for everyone, seeing as compiles take 5 seconds and the compile jobs would be evenly distributed over time.

    The rest is just text editing.
  • At my college the Lab of machines (Win 95)rebuild themselves using PC-Rdist [pcrdist.com] after a user logs out. On the newest machines (Dell 450mhz) This process is under a minute. On some of the lower end machines it is considerably longer, but still useful. This seems much more workable to me than restoring from a ghost image which it sounds as though you are doing.

  • These don't look like JavaStations but rather the new Sun Ray [sun.com]s. These are a lot different -- the clients are extremely thin. They basically don't run anything. They're just network frame-buffers. Everything is done server-side.


  • NEW YORK (CNN) -- Taking part in a pilot program that could revolutionize education, Intermediate School 381 in Brooklyn has replaced personal computers with a single network server, which could change the way students read, write and research.

    Okay, call me a cynic, but I'm a cynic not long out of high school. If we had NC stations instead of PCs in my school, I don't think my education would be revolutionary! Now maybe it was 0LD 5K3WL, but most of my education came from teachers with blackboards and books. Sure having 5 years of 50 fulltext magazines on CD-ROM was helpful, but I don't think my education would be any lesser if I was forced to *gasp*... use paper.

    Seriously, I think this is a great idea. Having PCs as workstations in a classroom environment is a little bottom-heavy, so the reduced cost and maintenance of NC stations makes a lot of sense. But these CNN journalists have to go. Doesn't anyone know what a ``revolution'' is, anymore?

  • Yes very funny. But for clarification: the sun ray smart cards are not tied to user identity or authentication. Rather, they hold a users' session id.


  • by Teknix ( 4806 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @06:02PM (#1658240) Homepage
    If this were a Linux or FreeBSD story, everyone would be jumping all over it saying that it was the greatest thing they'd ever heard of. But because it's Sun pushing a technology paradigm that's been around for ages, and apparently doing so effectively in ways that really count, many people seem down on it.

    What's up with that? We all have our biases, and we all like to make our voices be heard when injustices are being done in the industry, but this doesn't strike me as being something anyone should be putting Sun down for. Is the hardware and software working for this school in NYC? Sounds like it. Who are any of us to rant and rave about any company that is trying to put
    quality hardware & software to work in our schools. Consider this at least, it's not Microsoft.
  • It's like Citrix, but the protocol is a lot more lightweight. And the clients are likewise extremely lightweight.


  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @06:07PM (#1658244)
    I think Sun may have found a good niche for thin clients outside business, and more power to them.

    The schools get hardware that is cheaper and better than an NT network. In addition it's simpler to administer and it grants them more control over students, they'll love that part.

    So as long as we don't forget the people who all this is supposedly in benefit of, the students, it sounds great. I have some points in that regard.

    This should not be taken as an opportunity to impose product marketing on on a captive audience, whether we're talking about soft drinks or operating systems. OS and program sign-on splashes, ok, but lets not get ridiculous.

    I also wouldn't like to see this used as an attack on diversity by Sun. That is, this tends to bind everyone to the editor, languages, and tools that Sun decides to provide with the server. No problem with that, as long as it is possible to add more diverse third party programs at the school's discretion, without talk of voiding licenses or warranties.

    This is likely to leave students with practically zero privacy. Other students may crack the server, and the administration reads what they please of course. This is not a problem if the students and their parents are explicitly warned that all school computer data is public ahead of time. Terrible precedent, but otherwise you have to implement real security, and teach adminstrators to respect student privacy, and I can't see it happening this lifetime. Good practice for work it seems anyway.

    If done right, this could be very good for students, schools, and Sun. Hope it is.
  • Yes, netware is very stable when your simply sharing database/document files, and using it as a printer server but when start to get application constent application request things start to bog down. I'll admit that centralized applications are in theory a good idea, but in real life, they simply don't work over the long haul. It has been proved time and time again that applications should be run from the clients side, or your simply asking for a waste of productivity. Even with 99% uptime if your a buisness and suddenly all your employees can no longer get their work done, how much money do you lose every second? Yes, individual desktops do crash also, but buisnesses are set up around the fact that you can't expect every employee to be constently working. Lossing 1 employee for several hours, is the same thing as if they called in sick that day, simply its to be expected. But loosing the entire workforce for even a few minutes can mean disaster. Yes, I know this is a school environment, but I do remember the times when I had a assignment due NOW and the network was down.. not a pretty sight.
  • by mattdm ( 1931 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @06:12PM (#1658258) Homepage
    It looks from the picture and the price that these are Sun's new Sun Ray devices. They're very cool -- much lighter than X Terms. More info from Sun [sun.com], including tech info [sun.com] and white papers [sun.com].


  • by Wah ( 30840 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @06:17PM (#1658264) Homepage Journal
    That's where all these business plans seem to be heading. MS (already there), Sun (NCs), AOL, WebTV, Linux (slowly but steadily). I wonder how many of these will be aimed/are aimed at lower income families, the 50% of this country(US) that doesn't already have a PC? Maybe we'll see some real competition...
  • by InfiniterX ( 12749 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @05:53PM (#1658266) Homepage
    I hope nobody goes bad-mouthing these thin-clients before thinking about how much time and energy it saves people in the schools.

    When I was in high school I helped manage the computer lab, and I'd have to say that some sort of network computing system would be a godsend compared to what I had to deal with.

    I went to a small private school which didn't really have a lot of money to throw around for technology. Half the room was Mac G3's, and the other half was Mac 6100/60 PPCs, since they couldn't afford to upgrade all of the old 6100's to G3s all at once. Having two totally different systems means we have to have older versions of software on half the lab since the older machines couldn't handle it.

    Then of course there is the problem of "terrorism." We had very minimal problems with this in previous years, but last year (my last year there) the problem exploded. At the very least, people would come in, download games off the web, and just clog the hard drives up with garbage. One person even went so far as to make two or three nested folders inside the Extensions folder of one of our Macs to hide half a gigabyte worth of games. And on the other end of the spectrum, there's the people who drag the System file out of the System Folder, reboot the machine, and walk away, leaving us to come back and boot the machine off a CD to fix it.

    After about a month and a half of this we frantically purchased Foolproof and locked down all the systems, but that only caused more problems, since a lot of programs actually didn't cooperate with Foolproof.

    The sad thing is that the only things they use those computers for are classes in intro. Java, C++, web page editing, and word processing, all of which are nicely covered by Linux. I never missed an opportunity to say that if we set up an NIS/NFS server and used Linux that would be the end of all the problems, but it never really took hold.

    The Sun Rays probably would have been great. People could have done development work and ran StarOffice or something like that, and admin'ing the whole system would have been a whole lot easier. Plus, compared to Mac hardware, which is prevalent in K-12, they're dirt cheap. For the price of one iMac, they can buy three thin clients. Seems to work out better for everyone.
  • by mattdm ( 1931 ) on Sunday September 26, 1999 @05:56PM (#1658274) Homepage
    The card holds a number which gets connected to your session when you log in. When you pull it out, the session gets disconnected from that Sun Ray. It continues on the server (until an admin-specified timeout) and you can go to another box, pop it in, and instantly have your session. (Instantly, even with multimedia stuff. It's very cool.) It can be set up to always prompt for the password, or to never do that (bad idea of course!), or to allow a certain number of minutes in which you don't need a password.


Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"