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Friday, January 17, 2014

New Year Check-In - H2T progress!

It's 2014 and the H2T project has moved past the POC phase: a Windows 7 VM hosted on a repurposed IT workstation running Server 2012. 

This shared remote desktop host is being used by 4 staff members. These staff members were previously using Windows XP, and not only made the transition to remote desktop without issue, but also did well with the move to Windows 7 (I did a lot of work to make the desktop navigation similar). Granted, 2 of the 4 staff had been using RD to work from home for the last year already, but this was still a significant change for them. A benefit to those who had been using it for awhile, their home RD experience was improved with direct connection to the RD host.

The POC was a 2 month initiate and monitor process. I encountered some issues (Firefox does not allow for concurrent use), but discovered new ways to refine the management of user profiles (use Portable FF, place in folder of Default profile and shortcut on desktop, multi-user FF!!!).

There were some refinements to the remote desktop client config needed prior to finalization of the Thinkiosk configuration for the converted machines used by the 4 staff. I found some discrepancies in RDP version, and variations between RDP on 7 and XP. Additionally, there were workarounds necessary in the setup of RDP for the Thinkiosk client configuration. These have not amounted to show stoppers, just more insight about the nuances that sometimes drive this effort. 

Getting to the point where calling up RD from the kiosk interface never remembers data from one use to another (use /public in RDP shortcut config of Thinkiosk) was the goal. I am now sufficiently comfortable with the Thinkiosk client installation and configuration that I am moving forward with the first H2T kiosk image.

For much of the project, my intention has been to avoid rebuilding machines. Having spent what I would call "too much tinker time" on the first 3 XP conversions to kiosk mode - removing old applications and data, updating and securing the OS - I have concluded that it will be faster to rebuild a machine with Windows Embedded (what I keep seeing Win 7 ThinPC called), pre-installed generic config for ccarcvpn (not auto-connected), and generic Thinkiosk config applied. I also installed the most current version of IE (11) - the browser called up when the kiosk interface loads - and installed OS updates to current. There is no other software on these machines; no Flash; no Java; no Adobe Reader. Nothing to monitor or undo later. Simple.

Yesterday I built a demo "kiosk" PC using a miniITX form factor motherboard (CPU included) and case, a 64GB SSD, optical drive, and 2GB of RAM. The optical drive is optional for most cases with a machine like this. External drives can be made available to departments that need them regularly. Because this was my first MiniITX build it took a little longer to put the parts together (GIANT HANDS) but box-to-boot time was still only about 30 minutes.

The bottom line for this machine without an optical drive is $207. I put WE and Thinkiosk on it. Smooth like butter. This will be the de facto kiosk client hardware configuration for new machines.

Next step is to image this new machine and apply that image to an old Dell machine (Dimension E3100s and E310s). It will be interesting to clock the rebuild process. I can't imagine it will take anywhere near as long as decommissioning software on XP machines by hand. The bugger will be with drivers, as the kiosk image is a pristine build with only the drivers for current hardware tucked into the OS data.

/goes off to do some braining/

Later The Same Day...

I just did a rebuild on an old Dell with the kiosk image and a current batch of drivers from I was entirely unprepared for the speed of this rebuild. The build image is about 6GB, easily 10GB smaller than the existing and bloated Windows 7 images. From the time I hit go in Acronis to start the rebuild, it was about 9 minutes til I was clicking through the kiosk interface and accessing the web and remote desktops as hoped. Didn't get nagged for drivers. No devices were left out. It just worked. It was what I imagine loading an OS with PXE to be.

Nine minutes. Twenty minutes less than the average time for the previous generation of builds.


Updated 01.29.2014 - The H2T project is now called Ubiquity.

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