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German schools pilot remote virtual Debian/KDE desktops

Feb 10, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

An educational software organization in Germany is pilot testing an educational software system based on virtualized Debian/KDE desktops. Kreisbildstelle Stade's “Desque” system serves up virtualized desktops over “standard” broadband connections, letting students and teachers access their desktops from home or school,… the organization says.

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Kreisbildstelle Stade, an organization that provides new technologies to German public schools, is demonstrating the open-source Desque technology this week at the Didacta 2009 educational show in Hannover. The organization developed the Desque software with an open-source development group called Budget-IT, according to NoMachine, the Italy based network computing specialist whose dual-licensed “NX” compression technology was tapped for the system.

The Desque technology aims to let schools with older PCs or inexpensive thin clients access modern Debian/KDE desktops running at a remote, centralized location. The desktops in the pilot program are hosted in Hamburg, Germany, on quad-core Xeon-based servers partitioned into multiple virtual machines using the open-source XEN hypervisor paravirtualization technology. The desktops can be accessed by students with “standard” broadband connections, according to NoMachine. Along with the obvious advantages of virtual thin clients — centralized maintenance, low-cost clients, and energy savings — students and teachers are able to access their desktops whether at home or at school, NoMachine suggests. Since all processing happens on the remote server, remote client PC requirements are reportedly modest.

In the pilot project, each of the selected German public schools will receive their own dedicated terminal server running Debian. Along with KDE, the current version of Desque is said to include OpenOffice, Firefox, and for now, two educational applications: a “Stellarium” astronomy program, and a chemistry program called “Ghemical” that provides 3D visualizations of chemical calculations on molecules, using a variety of molecular models. Eventually, up to 70 educational programs will be offered, including titles designed for both teachers and students.

Stated Jorg Steinmann, head of the local administrative department of Kreisbildstelle Stade, “New computers are not needed in public schools anymore, reducing the cost of hardware, software, and maintenance. On the green side, this solution reduces printing costs and power consumption by 70 percent.”

Steinmann added, “In Germany, there is no other project like this.”

NoMachine's NX

The “NX” network compression technology used in Desque is available in open source and commercial versions, from Italian network computing specialist NoMachine. NX works to reduce the bandwidth required to run X Window sessions or applications over a network. It does this by placing caching proxy servers at either end of the connection. The proxy servers work to limit network transfers to “differential” data, such as cursor movements and menu expansions.

The X Window system has a “client-server” architecture, with the part running on the server referred to as the “client,” and the part running on the client referred to as the “server.” Almost all graphical Linux applications use X. However, since relatively few Linux users avail themselves of X's ability to run over a network, few X apps are optimized to economize the data transfers between the X client and the X server (which run on the same machine for most users nearly all the time). NX aims to fix that problem, NoMachine explained several years ago, in a conversation with LinuxDevices.

In other recent NoMachine news, the company in November announced an NX Web Player, which is said to enable browsers running on desktops and cell phones — including the Apple iPhone — to run and display remote Linux desktops without the need to install any client software. The player is due early this year, concurrent with the release of NX 4.0. It is expected to be a free download.


The DESQUE system is being demonstrated this week through Feb. 14 at DIDACTA 2009 in Hannover, Germany. Visitors receive a free demo CD to install the NX Client and connect directly to the demo server to test the solution on their own. More information on DESQUE may be found on this German-language project site.

NoMachine's NX 3.3.0 is available now for free download, here.

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