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OpenBSD based Thinclient

Posted by Bernd Ahlers on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A while ago, one of our customers had an inquiry regarding good thinclient products which can be used with NoMachine (NX) servers. We actually found a nice thinclient based on VIA Eden. This hardware is shipped with a pre-installed Linux based operating system called “2X” which offers the possibility to connect to different remote terminal services like NX, Citrix, Remote Desktop (RDP) and Virtual Network Computing (VNC).

To get to know the hardware we purchased one unit. At first sight the shipped operating system was okay, yet second looks revealed deficiencies. One shortcoming was the really old NX client version. Another problem for our customer was that this software was built with some proprietary components which couldn’t be replaced by free alternatives easily.

Our client asked us if the shipped operating system can be replaced with an OpenBSD installation and some free programs to connect to the different terminal services. Since the operating system is installed on a compact flash card, used as the harddisk, it was just a matter of replacing this card with an empty one and booting an OpenBSD kernel via the network.

The first installation of OpenBSD 4.3 went quite well. Almost all hardware was detected properly, this is mainly due to the fact that this machine is based on standard PC hardware. Only the graphics card didn’t work with Xorg at first. The problem was that the shipped Via driver doesn’t support the newer graphic chips. We talked to Matthieu Herrb (matthieu@) of the OpenBSD project and he told us that there’s a replacement driver called openChrome which will actually support these chips.

After fixing some compile problems we got the openChrome driver to work on OpenBSD. After creating a small Xorg configuration we plugged one of our 22" displays and it just started with the correct resolution. To get some more test results for this new driver, it went into the official OpenBSD snapshots for some days so users can test this. Matthieu Herrb committed the driver to the -current CVS tree at Jul 12 and made it the default for all Via graphics chips since it’s much better than the old driver. Thanks Matthieu!

In the meantime we developed a basic prototype for an OpenBSD thinclient. The goal was to offer the same features as the shipped operating system does but with open source software only. The first test version that went out to the customer included a really slim window manager, jwm, and opennx to connect to NX servers. Our own tests went quite well (we’re actually using this system on a daily basis) and the initial feedback of our customer was quite well.

Here are some screenshots of our initial prototype:

Screenshot 1
Screenshot 2
Screenshot 3