[nSLUG] classroom PC setup - looking for your thoughts

George N. White III gnwiii at gmail.com
Tue Jan 19 14:17:57 AST 2010

On Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 1:16 PM, Pat Gagnon <patgagnon at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello group, I’m hoping someone has already done this and can point me in
> the right direction.
> What I’m trying to do is setup PCs and laptops in the school where I
> volunteer so that they are back to original configuration after reboot.

People have done things like that using unionfs, with a read-only lowest
layer fs and writable overlay, e.g.,


> I know I can use software such as Deepfreeze and Microsoft SteadyState for
> Windows but the twist is that I want to offer a dual boot environment with
> Ubuntu (or maybe Edubuntu) and have the same reboot back to original config
> in the Linux environment.  Anyone know of a Linux equivalent to the
> Microsoft base software?  Prefer something with a GUI but not necessary.

Wubi boots linux from an image file stored in the Windows partition, so in
principle, windows tools would restore the original image, but you would need
to determine exactly when and how the restore is done, as the boot loader
goes directly to the linux image without much chance for windows to get

> I want to give the kids as much freedom as possible on the workstations so
> they can really learn the OS’ and not always be restricted in what they can
> do (ie install/delete/modify anything within the sandbox).  Since the
> machine will be back to original state after a reboot, for the most part I
> don’t care what they do.  They store files on a network server but I still
> want to provide a partition for both OS’ in case network connectivity is not
> available or an issue (especially the laptops).  These 2 partitions, or
> maybe just one FAT/FAT32/NTFS for both???, will not be wiped on reboot.
> In case this matters for software choices: There are 3 accounts used on all
> machines which dictate server file access.  The file server is a Linux
> server running a software RAID1 drive array.
> Any help on where I start reading up on this type of setup would be much
> appreciated.

It takes a lot of care to get the initial frozen images right, and
they will need
updates/patches, etc.

What is the hardware?   With P4 level machines that have .5G RAM and 30-40G
disks, dual boot makes sense, but those are well past the "best before
date".  With
last year's Core 2 Duo, 2G RAM, 160 G disk,  you should find that running
linux in VM's gives very adequate performance for students.

We run courses once or twice a year at locations around the globe.   Some of
the key apps are linux/macosx only, but with few exceptions the students only
know windows and must produce presentations/reports and use data which
they often bring in MS eXcel format.    Some learned to use OpenOffice
and stay in linux (and could mount the win partition to get data), but others
spent a lot of time waiting for reboots.

Last Feb. we used dual boot.   The student systems came with Windows, so
for each machine Ubuntu linux install was used to put linux on a separate
partition by an IT staff person.  Last October, again starting machines that
had Windows installed,  we used VMware Player and a linux VM.   The students
were provided with DVD's containing the player and a zip archive with the VM,
and did the install themselves.    This meant students saw reduced performance,
but much less IT setup effort was needed.   Student machines take a beating, so
you can expect a fair amount of hardware maintenance work.  Faster machines
may not make much difference to the students -- the real benefit is that IT can
do a reinstall quickly and reduce the downtime, number of spares, or hours
students are without machines.

I've played around with 32-bit and 64-bit linux VM's running under VMware,
KVM, and VirtualBox.   You can only run 32-bit linux in a VM hosted on 32-bit
windows.   With a 64-bit linux dual-core host all the options can give close to
"native" performance for either 64 or 32bit guests.  I think the same is true
for Windows hosts.

George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia

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