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Has anyone had experience using VMs as remote desktops for public access terminals (e.g. an internet cafe)

In our case we don't want to charge money for access but I figure this solution has a few advantages, such as:

  • can easily re-build VMs daily, erasing private data and clutter
  • can use rickety old PCs for the 'dumb' terminals
  • less IT support needed on site

Can you suggest tools to help do this? Keeping the terminals up and running as much of the time as possible is the main priority, so they need to boot straight into full screen remote desktop and stay there.

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how rickety is rickety? If they have sufficient ram, running a live cd or non persistant liveusb system, and having the info you need persistant from nfs makes more sense than virtualising the whole system, then running remote access software, which needs to run on something anyway

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They are 5 year old desktops running XP - users are expecting better performance. We have a VM infrastructure already so thinking this might be a way to upgrade without buying new desktops. – domspurling Mar 16 '10 at 14:32
You really need to try out the performance with rdesktop/vncviewer. Take one VM and remote desktop into it to see if the performance is acceptable. Moving pictures through LAN is not that fast. Windows 7 supports the new Remote Desktop with video and 3d acceleration, but your rickety workstations won't be able to run that if they arent able to run a workstation with a browser.. – tstm Mar 16 '10 at 14:53

Installing a simple Linux that has rdesktop/vncviewer as the window manager in full screen mode should be simple enough for the dumb terminals. It does have its drawbacks (video playback will be poor, no watching youtube videos etc) but the concept itself works for desktop use.

Running several workstations on one computer, for free, kvm is pretty good but not that easy to set up, and VMWare Server is a great commercial alternative. Both are free, kvm runs only on linux, but VMWare Server can run on Windows as well as linux. Both VM systems support running windows and linux as virtual machines. They also have snapshots, which makes reverting a VM back to a previous state pretty straightforward.

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like the linux idea.. saves doubling up on windows licenses – domspurling Mar 16 '10 at 14:33

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