Hi Folks --

Nicolaie Constantinescu recommended that I contact this list with my 
questions after posting a query to the "Linux in Libraries" group.  I 
will be presenting an introduction to Desktop Linux at the New Hampshire 
Library Association next year, and would like some help on answering a 
question that is sure to arise from my prospective audience.  Many 
librarians are intrigued by the possibility of lowering IT costs and 
maintenance time, especially for their public-use computers.  Right now 
however, there doesn't seem to be any open source versions of a 
reservation / ticket system (such as the excellent WinXP "Time Limit 
Manager" from Fortres) and a desktop security application such as Deep 
Freeze.   There are commercial options from Groovix or Userful, but that 
pretty much defeats the practical goal of lowering IT costs, or the 
ideological goal of moving to free and open-source applications.

All the 'bits and pieces' for a good reservation and security system 
seem to be out there.  Edubuntu gives us a LTSP solution with a central 
server and the ability to see 'screenshots' of individual PCs if 
necessary.  CUPS gives a very fine-grained control over printing, and 
perhaps can be modified to function as a print-upon-payment release 
station.  A MySQL / PhP module could handle generating and storing 
random passwords / logins, while a small program to set folder 
permissions may be able to lock down a Gnome or KDE desktop to prevent 
users from changing icons, menus, or wallpaper.  Web content filtering 
is available from several sources if necessary.  A browser-based central 
server module might help to make the project "distro agnostic".

I think many small and medium-sized libraries would be much more likely 
to consider the advantages of choosing Linux for their public-use 
computers if a polished open-source reservation and printing control 
system was available.  In the world of commercial software, an 
entrepreneur or company sees an opportunity, programs a solution, and 
sells the product.  On that model we have the afore mentioned "Time 
Limit Manager" for XP (which we use here at the Lane Library and highly 
recommend) at a one-time cost of only $20 per PC. 

In the world of Linux and open-source software, how does one go about 
getting a programmer or group of programmers to provide a free solution 
(with regular maintenance and updates) to a pressing need?  Would 
Canonical (for example) be interested in creating the program as a way 
to popularize Ubuntu with the thousands who use library computers every 
day?  Would anyone on this list be interested in spearheading such a 
project?  Is there a place to float such a project before a group of 
up-and-coming programmers (Google Summer of Code??) that would give them 
bragging rights on a resume?

Any ideas (including ideas on a basic programming framework or project 
"how to") would be more than welcome ...


Darrell Eifert
Head of Adult Services
Lane Memorial Library, Hampton NH

"Beware the man of only one book"
Old Latin proverb