Almost Free Computers or Using Thin Clients With Debian Linux.




Introduction: Almost Free Computers or Using Thin Clients With Debian Linux.

About: Bytesize articles instead of a trilogy in one post.

So you want to set up a small network for a business or just for home. Think about thin clients. Using thin clients has always been an important thing with me.Though they are mini subsets of full computers they save money in electricity and require less support. Most thin clients work by depending on a computer server to dish them content. Usually this is done using software known as terminal server clients.   Normally most people use LTSP (linux terminal server project) to set up thin clients with linux. That does take a bit of setup. I will show an easier way.  This set up will be for Debian linux. If you have another version of linux besides Debian, the setup will need to be done differently. Debian linux is probably one of the most universal linux distros around. If you want to get Debian linux go to My original experiment was with a Pentium 4 computer though lesser or even more powerful machines as servers might work.A virtual machine should work like a charm.  Whats Next?

Note: You can also install xrdp so that mswindows machines (or other rdp clients) can connect to the server.  Wrote this instructable before Ipads and Android tablets were common. You can get rdp clients for Android and the Ipad so you do not have to work with that old equipment. A more preferable solution.

Step 1: What's Needed? (part 1)

You will need a full desktop computer (a laptop could be used) to act as the server already running Debian Linux. If you have a spare computer that you do not mind losing what is on the hard drive, you could install linux on it and go from there.  You need a computer network to connect the thin clients and the server (usually a network switch and cabling). You need some thin clients that support the rdp protocol. Not all thin clients do. I have some thin clients that expect to load the software to run them selves from the server when you turn them on.  So if you plan to purchase thin clients you need to know these things. You will want some that have the needed software already built in. Purchasing used thin clients from the net can be a real minefield of problems.  I know I bought some units of one kind and ended up with 4 good ones out of the six I bought. Sellers tend to sell them with parts missing. But I bought them so cheap I can not complain. The Compaq Evo series is what we use most. We also use some Neoware units. Both companies were bought by HP.. The Wyse unit pictured is based on the Compaq EVO series.

Note: if you have an Android or Ipad tablets with an rdp application, skip over to step3.

Step 2: What's Needed? (part 2)

You will obviously need some (vga) monitors, keyboards and mice. You have to be careful here because some thin clients will only use usb mice and usb keyboards. Then there are some that only take ps2 keyboards and mice. Just a word of a caution. you will need a switch to support all the connections  and corresponding cable. You should be able to get the cables pre-made in various lengths. We make our own cables. Standard network cables should be cat5 with rj-45 ends and not telephone cable. Your computer dealer can easily help you here. Actually a hub is pictured and not a switch, but for the small network it should be fine.  Also the keyboard on the left has a usb connector and the one on the right has a ps2 type connector just so you know the difference.

Step 3: Use a Handheld Too

Most of your newer internet tablets and touch pads now come with or you can get an rdp client. I also have xrdp on other systems. Even the Raspberry pi supports xrdp.

Note: all touchpad use was done with a Google Nexus 7.

Step 4: Setting Up the Server.

You need to have a root password or sudo password. When you set up the system, those details were entered then. You will probably want to set up users (aka logins) and passwords for all the people that might want to use your network (via system>administration>users and groups). I did a screenshot from ubuntu, but they should be similar. Then you need to add the software. Using the package manager (via system>administration>synaptic package manager) should be easy. You need to search for xrdp. Click on the box to set it for installation and then agree to any other software it wants to load. Then viola your done.

Command line install on debian based distros.

$ sudo apt-get install xrdp

Step 5: Thin Client Setup.

At this point connect all the cables up. You will need thin clients that get their ip (internet protocol address from the network which is usually the default. See the thin client manual if not.  Your router usually provides these addresses automatically. You need to have a router to protect your network anyway, so get one if you do not have one.  Next you will need to get the ipaddress of the server. This will let the thin clients know where to connect to.  Using the terminal (via Applications>Accesories>Terminal)

$ su -
root@theserver:~# ifconfig
eth0      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 00:00:00:00:00:00 
          inet addr:  Bcast:  Mask: <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
          inet6 addr: fe80::218:e7ff:fe18:3939/64 Scope:Link
          RX packets:326951 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:211798 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000
          RX bytes:417920634 (417.9 MB)  TX bytes:25377722 (25.3 MB)
          Interrupt:21 Base address:0x6000

lo        Link encap:Local Loopback 
          inet addr:  Mask:
          inet6 addr: ::1/128 Scope:Host
          UP LOOPBACK RUNNING  MTU:16436  Metric:1
          RX packets:5 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:5 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:0
          RX bytes:319 (319.0 B)  TX bytes:319 (319.0 B)

root@theserver:~# exit

In this case the ip address is inet addr: From here when you set up the rdp client on your thin client. (Consult the thin client manual for details.) You can use this address as the host. Then fire up your thin clients and go to the terminal server client software and enter in the data. and connect. You have to do this step with each thin client.

Step 6: Logging In

Time to log in with the usernames and passwords you set up earlier. You did write them down did you not.

Step 7: You Are There.

You are there probably using a Microsoft based thin client to logon a linux system. Awesome. Sound will probably not work since the software is still being improved. You should be able to use most office type apps and the internet. You are now in Linux XWindows. You can't beat free! Good luck.

Note if you are running Microsoft MSWindows or Apple OSX with an rdp client they should easily connect also depending on the server's amount of ram memory.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Step 8: After Thought.....

Be the First to Share


    • Make It Bridge

      Make It Bridge
    • Game Design: Student Design Challenge

      Game Design: Student Design Challenge
    • Big and Small Contest

      Big and Small Contest



    11 years ago on Introduction

    Is this the same for ubuntu? Debian and ubuntu are very similar from what I see and have heard.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    $ uname -a
    Linux oesrvr104 2.6.32-32-generic #62-Ubuntu SMP Wed Apr 20 21:54:21 UTC 2011 i686 GNU/Linux
    $ lsb_release -a
    No LSB modules are available.
    Distributor ID: Ubuntu
    Description: Ubuntu 10.04.2 LTS
    Release: 10.04
    Codename: lucid
    $ sudo apt-cache search xrdp
    xrdp - Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) server


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Update: it does work on Ubuntu as long as there are no firewall restrictions.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    It should work for ubuntu as ubuntu has the same packages. Have not tried it yet though on ubuntu..


    11 years ago on Step 8

    I've been wanting to do the same. How about a LCD screen window! You could be in a windowless room and you pull the shade back to have a stunning view from a sky scraper's window or a country landscape from your basement mounted LCD window. There could be weather outside, bees buzzing from blooming flower to blooming flower. A hummingbird might come and take a drink from the feeder just outside your LCD window.

    What about a window looking out over a grand waterfall, or an erupting volcano. Or how about a live feed from times square? Perhaps a view of the Eiffel tower! Or maybe just the puppy section of a pet store. Or the chimpanzees at the zoo.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    how do you do the stuff in terminal in step 4? when I type su into terminal and then my password it says authentication failure


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Ubuntu you can just type ifconfig and you should get the info. Debian is a bit more security conscious, Alternative for Debian is to use "sudo ifconfig". if you are getting that error then more than likely you do not have su or sudo rights. Can you log in as an admin? On ubuntu the first user setup automatcially is given sudo rights. On debian, you have to do it yourself using the admin account.

    You may need to modify the file /etc/sudoers using admin rights. Lots of security issues modifying that file though.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I think LTSP is easier to setup, here are the basic steps:

    1) Install the packages for ltsp and build the thin client environment.

    2) Configure the network interfaces by easily editing one file.

    3) Configure the DHCP server by easily editing it's configuration file.

    LTSP also doesn't require to use special login software on the thin client, just the PXE network boot which is part of the BIOS. This also makes it very easy to set up new thin clients as you just need to plug them in.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Editing config files = needs experience. It's not hard, sure, but you need to know what to put in there, and it's probably different for each setup.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    If you need to add different hardware configurations for clients such as adding support for the atom cpu's becomes even more fun.


    Actually I have been using LTSP since 4.x and it is not that hard for more experienced users to set up. For the average user they will not either want to know or do all that. Most thin clients usually come or should come with an rdp client, so there is usually nothing to set up per se on the client, if the thin client does auto dhcp. You do not have to mess with pxe at all  Your network router will act as a dhcp server with nothing to configure. Though I do love pxe and gpxe even more. There are no interfaces or secondary nics to install or configure my way.  Ubuntu should work just as well with this setup. Fedora takes a bit more though.

    I appreciate your comment, but I can have my network up and running before you finish your first step.  If you really want easy ltsp, may I suggest the live ltsp dvd. Ltsp is about to get replaced anyway. I forget what the new version that Redhat is working on will be called. It is supposed to be awesome.