Open Source Public Workstations: Open Source Software Lowers Libraries' Cost, Environmental Impact

By Houser, John | American Libraries, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Open Source Public Workstations: Open Source Software Lowers Libraries' Cost, Environmental Impact


Houser, John, American Libraries


In a time where an economic downturn and concerns about climate change are influencing library managers' decisions, many libraries are looking for ways to save money and reduce environmental impact. Open source operating systems and software applications can decrease power utilization while providing a positive patron experience.

Prior to 1999, mentions of any open source operating system in mainstream library literature were hard to find. Linux might have been discussed everywhere in the computer science world, but no one was writing about using Linux and other open source solutions for desktop computing in a public setting. By 2000 Linux was making headway as a server operating system in libraries. Roy Tennant kicked off the year writing about open source software in Library Journal. By mid-decade, discussion of Linux and open source technology in libraries was commonplace. In 2005, these discussions expanded to include use of Linux for desktop computers and public workstations.

Three approaches

There are three distinct approaches to using open source software for public workstations. The first approach is simply to replace the Windows operating system with a Linux distribution on every PC. The second method is to utilize a multiuser configuration, based on Linux, that supports two to six users on a workstation. The third recommendation is to use the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) software to run a terminal session for every user from a central server or set of servers. This thin-client effort can support a large number of users connected to one server--50 or more, if the server is configured appropriately. It can significantly simplify system administration because the server administers all functions. This approach requires greater technical knowledge but may also result in greater hardware savings, reduced power consumption, and reduced air-conditioning costs. …

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