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Re: [school-discuss] Portable applications & VPN services

Hi Chris,

One of the things that I've never thought about is the idea of a random person (erm, a kid) going into a library or computer lab & running a bootable CD Linux distro. As a sys admin if I saw some of my high schoolers booting Linux on my machines, I'd want to ask him some questions first... like can he su to root or is his acc't a sudoer -- the implicit worry being whether he can gain access to fsck, mkfs, dd, qtparted, parted & nc on his CD-bootable Linux distro. One quick dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda ... and the HDD is trashed ... then there's the question of playing with power toys like the Sys Rescue CD... cracking NT passwords, the whole bit (hey, I like to have the power, but I don't even want any of my students to have that power, never mind somebody else's kids... ).

FWIW, paranoid (erm - cautious, sensible ) library & comp. lab sys admins mightn't like portable apps either, and if they've locked down Windows correctly, the students won't be able to run any strange app coming in off a USB stick.

Maybe it was good to evaluate the utility of this kind of tech and what the barriers are to entry. Perhaps the best alternative really is something like SimDisk, but open sourced and truly web portable like Java Web Start. But again, I doubt if Web Start will work on a fully locked-down public system (a system typically config'd to prohibit full-bore Java Apps from loading from the internet).

In the end we may be faced with using elaborate AJAX-based applets like Google's spreadsheet or Yahoo's new (huge, fat, slow) e-mail client.


Chris Gregan <cgregan@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
I do not know much about Simdesk, but from what I gather from their
site, it is remote access to tools from anywhere, over secure https
connection. There are certainly advantages. I do not know of any service
from the FOSS community like it. Anybody else? The closest match to a
full featured desktop, available from any PC, that does not affect the
existing software on that PC, is a Live CD. Throw in a secure VPN client
to a school hosted server, and you have everything Simdesk offers.

I see your point about damage. The upside of Live CDs is that an iso
image of the cd could also be posted, so when a student destroyed their
school supplied disk, they could burn another copy for themselves using
their own media. All of the apps listed on the Wiki page are supported
by current distros. It would require a custom CD, but that has become
exceedingly easy.

As far as security, most distros can mount a USB stick as an encrypted
FS. Without the student passphrase, data would be useless.

Chris Gregan
Open Source Migration Specialist/Founder
Aptenix LLC-Desktop Solutions
New Market, MD

"Open source, open minds."

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lee wrote:
> Right, well the advantages / disadvantages of each technology... I was
> thinking in line of SimDesk & if its features held any advantages, what
> would a OSS method would be to get the same functional result.
> R/W CD-ROM multisession drives (ala Puppy or Damn Small Linux) are more
> prone to getting damaged by kids than a USB stick. I can believe a
> college student can take good care of a R/W CD-ROM, but not inside your
> typical highschooler's backpack...
> OTOH, there are a good number of portable OSS apps ported to work with
> most pre-installed OSs... This might be a plus for some, a minus for
> others. Students however could save the data on their local machine, as
> well as the VPN drive and access any local applications already
> installed as well. (this as opposed to the Linux-bootable CD that might
> not work well with Windows 2K/XP file system or the *next* Microsoft
> file system....).
> The downside, for the time being, is the cost of USB sticks &
> security... but the cost of USB sticks should come way down (like the
> 32MB CF disks have - $5.00). Security issues could be addressed w/
> on-stick thumbprint biometrics (again prices will come down....) and
> roaming user / VPN security features.
> Another technology that has caught my attention is Shinkuro. It's a
> secure file-sharing relay system similar in function to gnutella (or a
> truly distributed file system). It also has a secure whiteboard
> function. Shinkuro is not OSS but - AFAICT - is "free" -- for now.
> http://www.shinkuro.com/products.php
> What I'm looking at is ubiquity & appliance utility.
> /lee
> */Justin Riddiough /* wrote:
> I like the original idea of using a USB stick. If someone couldn't
> connect to the VPN folder from some location (firewall rules, no
> access, etc,) there could possibly be a sync / temporary working
> file space set up on the USB stick. Which would mean users could
> still use the portable apps without having to rely on a local drive
> to save information, and when possible, the benefits of the VPN
> drive.
> On 10/11/06, *Chris Gregan*
> > wrote:
> I guess since it would start out as a live cd, it could stay a
> cd. Then
> you could have a tool where students would get an iso image or
> CD that
> would log on from any PC with just a reboot. Save the cost of a
> USB stick.
> ======
> /lee
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