Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Windows on Public Workstations

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Windows on Public Workstations

Article excerpt

Libraries are beginning to see many more Windows applications designed for public use such as OPACs, OPAC front-ends, and CD-ROM products. Running Windows on a public workstation presents some additional considerations beyond those that we encounter with the standard character-based programs.

One concern that this brings about is how to prevent the library user from breaking out of the library application and using the workstation for other purposes. Although this is not strictly a Windows workstation problem, the multitasking capabilities of Windows add an extra dimension of difficulty. After all, the experienced Windows user knows many ways to move from one application to another or to start a new one running.

I'm going to describe a reasonably effective way to make it much harder for the persistent patron to break out of a public-use Windows application. For purpose of illustration, I will use a particular CDROM product, Chadwyck-Healey's English Poetry CD, which uses a Windows-based search engine. This example has a real-life origin. The English Poetry CD was installed in a certain university library, and one of the librarians asked me if there was any way to prevent patrons from accessing the Windows Program Manager and from exiting to DOS. The method I describe here is the advice I gave that librarian.

The Problem with the Original Setup

First, I need to tell you how the poetry program was originally installed. Windows was located in the C:\ WINDOWS directory, which was on the DOS path. Poetry was in C:\ POETRY. The last two lines of the AUTOEXEC.BAT file were these:

cd \poetry

win poetry

Obviously, upon boot-up, \poetry became the active directory and then Windows ran, launching the poetry application automatically. The problem was twofold:

1. The Program Manager window was always present just beneath the CD search program window, and as any experienced Windows user knows, pressing Ctrl+Esc or selecting Switch To from the Control Menu would bring up the Task List, making it easy to switch away from the poetry application.

2. Getting to DOS was also very easy -- the users could simply exit from the poetry program and from Windows, and it didn't take much knowledge of Windows to realize this.

The Solution

Solving these problems was not difficult. It required a few modifications to the SYSTEM.INI and AUTOEXEC.BAT files, plus the creation of a new batch file. I'll discuss each of them in turn. Remember that these are ASCII text files, so you must edit them with a text editor such as Windows Notepad or the SysEdit program.

SYSTEM.INI Modification

The first change was to the shell= line of the SYSTEM.INl file. By default, that line says shell=progman. exe, which launches Program Manager as the shell when Windows starts running. The main purpose of the shell is to start other programs running, which is why you would normally use something like Program Manager or Norton Desktop for Windows as your shell. Because we don't want to start other programs -- indeed we wish to prevent other programs from starting -- we need a different shell. So the first move is to change the line thus:

shell=c:\poetry\poetry.exe

By making the poetry application our shell, only the program we want running will be. Because it cannot launch other applications, any programs listed on the load= and run= lines of WIN.INI will not load or run. Save the change to this file and move on to the next step.

AUTOEXEC.BAT Modification

The changes to AUTOEXEC.BAT simply replace the last two lines with the name of the new batch file that we will create in the next step. Because this batch file is for the poetry program, I suggested naming it POETRY.BAT. So instead of ending the autoexec batch file like this:

cd \poetry

win poetry

we end it like this:

poetry. …

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