Monday Aug 10, 2009

Gran Canaria Desktop Summit Presentation: Considerations for Thin Clients in Desktop Software Design

A few months back I heard about the upcoming 2009 Gran Canaria Desktop Summit, which evolved from GUADEC and KDE community conferences, bringing them together for the first time. Because Thin Clients are outside the experience of most of the Desktop Software Development community, and yet such software is obviously of such great importance to Thin Clients, I felt it would be good to take a "Thin Client" message to the conference. The goal would be to raise awareness of Thin Clients, to convey that they're an interesting and important platform for desktop software, but that they require certain unique design considerations to be factored in. I'm not really a direct participant in the Desktop Software development community so I reached out to a friend and co-worker who is on the Gnome Foundation board, Brian Cameron, with the idea of making a joint presentation at the conference. Brian was enthusiastic, so we worked together on a preso and on July 6, 2009, we presented a talk entitled "Considerations for Thin Clients in Desktop Software Design".

This was a very unusual presentation for me. I'm used to evangelizing the products I work on. In this community, however, our message needed to be broader, in order to convey the entire market of interest. If we created the misimpression that we were only there to ask people to do things for Sun, we'd be wasting everyone's time, lose the audience, and create bad feelings in the community. It was important to stress that we were there to talk about Thin Clients in general, not just Sun Ray, and so in many ways we needed to 'sell the competition' even more strongly than our own product to create a balance. It was very peculiar to be digging up success stories from our competition :). But we want all Thin Clients to be successful in order to create a market we can compete in, since competition makes a market viable. We still believe strongly that Sun Ray is the \*best\* Thin Client in the market, and we hinted at that, but that's really a message for a different audience - potential customers rather than developers. The message for these guys was that you can do some very cool things with Thin Clients, they provide a lot of value to tons of people today, and that we should pay attention to them when designing Desktop Software.

The talk was reasonably well received I think. We had stiff competition from a talk in a parallel track which was of very broad interest to the community, so attendance was lighter than I anticipated (about 50-60 people), but most of the key leaders of the community that we wanted to reach attended.

There was a very interesting twist for us at the conference, and I'm still on the fence about whether it was net positive or negative for us. I had shipped a server and several Sun Rays to the conference, with the intention of setting up a "hacking room" where we could work together with interested developers on Thin-Client related issues. When the conference organizers saw the equipment I guess their eyes lit up, because when we arrived we were informed that the equipment had been diverted and they wanted to use it for on-site conference registration (and 'no, we don't have a back-up plan' :) ). Since we'd only run Sun Ray software over OpenSolaris with perhaps a dozen or two people, on development machines in a friendly Sun-internal environment, the idea of supporting hundreds of 'customers' for a critical function like conference registration was, shall I say, a little daunting (my fingernails may never grow back). But since our goal was to expose the community to Thin Clients it seemed like an opportunity I couldn't say 'no' to. Brian and I scrambled to get everything set up (and big thanks go out to Augustin and Miki and their legions of helpers) and I'm glad to say that over the next few days things went very smoothly, even though the 6 Sun Rays were in almost constant use. Mid-week the conference changed locations, and since registration had completed we managed to set up our "hacking room" and accomplished most of the work I'd hoped to get done. The big downside for me of this whole twist (other than stress) was that I had to support the Sun Rays (just in case anything went wrong, which didn't happen after all) and couldn't attend as many of the talks or network with as many people on-site as I'd hoped, and we didn't in the end have enough time left to accomplish all I'd hoped. The upside was exposure for the community and good will from the conference organizers, who were more willing to help us out with infrastructure issues when they arose. It was great to work and hang out with the Sun Ireland and Beijing teams, to refresh some old contacts and make new ones, and it was great to meet so many good people from the community.

The presentation we gave is here .

Tuesday Nov 06, 2007

AMGH is now supported with SRSS 4.0 Kiosk mode!

I just thought I'd send out a shout that with SRSS 4.0 (SRS 4 09/07) we have a new model for Kiosk, with AMGH fully integrated. So, there's no need any more for my utpamclient which was necessary with CAM/Kiosk mode in previous releases.

Happy AMGH'ing!

Friday Mar 09, 2007

Another AMGH update regarding usernames which can't be overridden

Due to popular demand, I just added this section to the "AMGH HOW-TO Guide":

An unsupported way to make the "username" non-overridable


Today, the username returned by the API can be overridden by the Display Manager (e.g. dtlogin's "Start Over" button).  Some customers would like this setting to be a sort of "security" feature that cannot be overridden by the user, rather than a "convenience" feature as it exists today.  In future, we may add such a feature to the product.  There is an unsupported way to deal with this today, however for non-NSCM logins.  You can edit /etc/pam.conf and remove the clearuser option from the pam_sunray_amgh.so module.  This is not officially supported because it has not been tested by our Quality Assurance team but it has been known to work for some customers. There is no similar recourse for NSCM logins today - the "Start Over" button will clear the preset login name returned by AMGH.

Sun IT's AMGH script available

I've gotten permission from our (very supportive) VP Bill Vass to post the source to the AMGH script used by Sun IT internally. I've posted that script to my "blog references" links. Hopefully with the model/object description in the "AMGH HOW-TO Guide" it should be comprehensible. Thanks, Bill!

Update to the "AMGH HOW-TO" guide

I have added a section to the guide which describes why you probably don't want to create an AMGH script using the SRDS registration database, and some tips if you should decide to do this anyway :). It appears to be a common request.
In the spirit of a proper blog (which this really isn't), here's the new text in case somebody would like to comment:


Why not write an AMGH script utilizing information in the SRDS token registration database?


Initially this may seem attractive but keep in mind that AMGH is intended to work across FOGs, so you really ought to use a single, consistent database which can be shared across FOGs and is not subject to FOG-local typos or errors. Such errors can create inconsistent and hard to diagnose behavior.

If you do go this route, do not be tempted to use the "-c" option to utuser. Although it will restrict the output only to relevant tokens it will have an undesirable performance impact since it involves the Authentication Manager (utauthd) at what can be a critical time (e.g. as a server is first coming up many Sun Rays may be connecting to utauthd simultaneously and creating sessions, all going into the greeter at once so invoking AMGH). "utuser -l" generates more output but does not involve utauthd so will actually scale better in such scenarios.

Friday Jan 12, 2007

Ethical Dilemma

Well, it seems that my buddy Craig has placed me in a bit of an ethical dilemma. One the one hand, in my very first blog entry I promised (in a somewhat curmudgeonly fashion) These initial entries will be my only personal blog entries. But now I've been tagged for the "5 things" meme. What to do - disappoint my buddy or keep my original promise? :) In the interest of camaraderie I'll bite. I've tried to pick things even Craig may not know about me:


Five things you did not know about me


  1. My first full-time computer job was at NASA/Ames Research at Moffett Field, CA, in 1977, with Unix, supporting the Man-Machine Systems Division (now dubbed the Human Systems Integration Division) where they were designing experimental cockpits and trying them out on pilots in simulations. The Head Up Display was designed while I was there. I used to play Zork over the fledgling Arpanet (which evolved into the Internet), hosted from computers in Denver (Global Weather Center?)

  2. I've lived substantial parts of my adult life in Northern California Go Slugs!, Boston "We're building a machine that will be proud of us", and currently reside in Florida The Mouse is in the House, where I work out of my home

  3. I love to go biking with my Autistic son Marc, on our 2-seater Tandem Bike, in places like this

  4. My kids and I also enjoy canoeing at places like Wekiwa Springs, Blue Spring, and De Leon Springs State Parks

  5. The town I grew up in had a television series based on it

OK Craig, happy? :)

Monday Mar 06, 2006

Another update to the AMGH HowTo

More requests for info, so I've added a section to the AMGH How-To giving some technical details regarding how AMGH works, and a note about AMGH not being supported with CAM/Kiosk mode.

However, in the interests of helping folks out, I've also provided some tools and a new guide for how to get AMGH working in CAM/Kiosk mode in an unsupported way.

Friday Feb 24, 2006

Update to AMGH HOW-TO

I've made an update to my AMGH HOW-TO Guide to cover the lesser-used aspects of the API. See the section titled "Less commonly used features of the AMGH API".

Monday Feb 20, 2006

Sun Ray at Home becomes more affordable

Recently Sun has started bundling Sun Ray Software along with Sun Solaris Enterprise System, so people who don't want to purchase support can now get it for free without any license fees or software cost.

What a deal! My wife just wrote and published a book using our Sun Rays and included an acknowledgement for them:
"Instant Romanian For Parents And Caregivers".

We hardly ever turn on our PCs any more, and flinch every time we do.

Monday Nov 28, 2005

Sun Ray home users

It seems that a few non-Sun folks have been chiming in about their own home experiences (all positive, that I've seen):

http://jroller.com/page/trasukg?entry=tried_a_sun_ray_wow

http://42.blogs.warnock.me.uk/2005/04/sunrays_prove_p.html

http://uadmin.blogspot.com/2006/02/how-my-son-uses-sunray.html

Getting Started using AMGH

I've written up this AMGH HOW-TO Guide to help people come up to speed with understanding and using this new, powerful interface available with Sun Ray Server Software 3.1. I'd love to hear reactions from folks using it (or even thinking of using it).

Sunday Nov 20, 2005

The real definition of Sun Ray At Home

My home setup in many ways exemplifies in miniature the value I see in Sun Ray.

In my house, I have a Sun Ray server with a few Sun Rays (bought and paid for) around my house for my family and I to use. I frankly got sick and tired of being a Windows Sys Admin for the 4 PCs on my home LAN. I got sick of constantly researching how to remove the latest virus. Sick of trying to diagnose why a PC got slower and slower and less and less stable over time (due mostly, I believe, to adware/spyware). This was on a network with a hardware firewall as well as software firewalls on all PCs, and the latest virus protection and periodic adware scans/removal. It's a vicious world out there. Actually, just as with the biological sort, I think kids are the main vector for computer viruses as well. They just don't have good Internet hygiene. :-)

Since I installed the Sun Rays I no longer spend my time on this nonsense. My wife is perfectly pleased with StarOffice for her writing/presentations, and my daughter and she have problem-free experiences with the firefox browser on 95% of the websites they visit. The Sun Rays are always on, and instantly available for small tasks such as to find a local business, get driving directions, buy movie tickets, or lookup a grade on a test. When not in use they use very little power - about the same as a decent monitor in power-save mode. They don't make any sound - no disk or fan. Any of us can sit down at whatever Sun Ray we like and pick up our work where we left off, without waiting for bootup. I've plugged in some speakers into a few of them, and we can listen to our mp3 collections wherever we are, and the sound quality is great.

Of course, this isn't our target market, and the cost of the licensing probably prevents us from rolling out Sun Ray servers in people's homes, particularly since the Windows Administrator works for free, so it's hard to make the TCO argument :-). But it wouldn't be hard to justify at all in a business where you had to pay your workers.

'nuff said. On to content.

My background

In case anybody cares, here's my background:

I'm a software engineer, in the Sun Ray Development group since it came to product in 1999. In the Sun Ray group I've worked in most areas of the product at one time or another. Most of my time has been spent in the session creation/hotdesking and security areas.

I've been in the computer industry, using Unix (and the Internet/ARPAnet), since 1977.

I've done work on a wide variety of platforms from Massively Parallel Processing Supercomputers to Thin Clients, involving a wide variety of tasks from writing network device drivers to doing administration GUIs, with a particular emphasis on networking.

And so it begins

I have to admit, I really don't get blogs.

I don't get why people would want to spend time reading them, and I don't get why most people write them. I'm a busy guy, and I spend too much time on the computer and not enough time with my friends and family. I assume that's true for just about everyone. So why read a blog? Why not have a pint with a buddy instead, or take a kid to the park? Unless you're looking for some specific information, of course - that's the beauty of the Internet. So it seems to me that blogs should keep the fluff at a minimum, and the content at a maximum, so people can find the stuff they care about.

I do like the idea of being able to disseminate information that could be valuable to others in a quick and efficient manner, without wasting a bunch of their time (or, frankly, mine), and that's what's finally motivated me to start a blog. So here are my promises to anybody reading my blog:

  • I will not fill my blog with a bunch of personal trivia which can't possibly be of interest to strangers. These initial entries will be my only personal blog entries. If you want to chat, ring me up and take me out for a beer, and let's get away from computers and socialize.
  • I will not fill my blogs with a bunch of cutesy BS.
  • I will only blog when I have something useful to say. Mostly this will be about Sun Ray, the product I work on and which I find, frankly, life altering. Until you use it, you probably won't get it. Once you've used it on a properly provisioned and configured server you probably won't want to use anything else.
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