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Silent diskless workstation

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My diskless workstation is 100% silent. It boots from an USB pen.

Boot Linux from an USB pen

On my page Roll your own 100% silent GNU/Linux workstation from an USB pen I have explained how to create a completely silent workstation. I use such a workstation every day. It is very nice to have a silent computer, and as a bonus it uses very little energy.

Efficient working environment

By building your own hand-crafted workstation you can tailor it completely to your needs. This requires knowledge about your needs. By analysing your daily use of your computer you learn what tasks your software has to provide for and you can start looking for solutions that brings efficiency and helps you through your day.

Typical use of the workstation

The results of the analysis of the daily use of the workstation will be different from person to person. This is my typical use:

  • a lot of rxvt windows with:
    • use of vi on some local text files
    • a lot of ssh sessions to other boxes with some application running in GNU screen
    • a few elinks sessions pointing to some web pages
  • firefox with a bunch of tabs pointing to some web pages
  • occasionally a pdf file opened in xpdf
  • occasionally a little bit of graphical editing in Gimp

This is a great setup in combination with a text mode shell server!

Choose your setup

There a several approaches to create a silent computer:

  • Thin client approach, like a X-terminal
  • Boot from a silent media like the network or flash memory and mount a remote disk (such as a nfs-share)
  • Run a complete workstation from flash memory

You don't need much hardware to play around with a X-terminal. If you have two machines, you build a server that provides the software and data on one machine and boot an etherboot floppy on the other. The second machine (the one with the etherboot floppy) only has to be able to boot from a floppy and will be completely unaffected. If the machine you want to use on the server side is already running Linux or something like *BSD, then you probably don't have to change much. For more information, see Linux Terminal Server Project

For booting from the network, see the The Etherboot Project

If you want a workstation that boots from flash memory and can run stand alone, then you have to build a small operating system consisting of a Linux kernel and busybox. See the Roll your own 100% silent GNU/Linux workstation from an USB pen page.

Choose your software

Busybox provides a lot of tools. Combine the Linux kernel, busybox and ssh and you already have a machine that you can do some decent work on. When you have this running, handpick some programs you want to add, based upon the outcome of the analysis of your daily use of your workstation.

Picking the window manager

There are a lot of window managers to choose from. To optimise your daily use of the computer you have to be very careful when choosing your window manager. The window manager dictates some parts of your way to use your workstation. Also some window managers require more system resources then others and result in a slower responding system.

Picking the primary window manager: ratpoison

For my type of work ratpoison is the most efficient window manager. It requires very little resources, is easy to learn (key bindings similar to GNU screen) and is extremely fast. Usually all windows are opened to full screen so practically every pixel from the screen is used for content.

Find out more about ratpoison: go to the ratpoison homepage

Picking the secondary window manager: vtwm

ratpoison is a great window manager but some tasks are better done with a different window manager. Using Gimp is one of them. The creators of ratpoison have anticipated this and created an command called tmpwm. Through this command you can hand over the control from ratpoison to another window manager. When this other window manager ends, control goes back to ratpoison. In such cases I use vtwm as the window manager to temporarily give control to. Yes, I know vtwm is ancient. But it requires little resources, needs very little libraries and has a small footprint. Tweak your .vtwmrc and you end up with a really useful window manager that provides a virtual desktop so you can keep your windows neatly organised.

Find out more about vtwm: go to vtwm.org

Testing your window managers

If you don't want to mess with your current carefully crafted setup of your workstation, you can use Xnest to test out window managers.
See my Fun with Xnest page.