My wife and I own a good size preschool (200+ children). I'm the official IT support person but it's on an as-needed basis since I still have a career separate from the preschool. So I'm looking for as much automation, setup once and lockout, self-healing setups as I can get.
We have 8 Dell (Win XP) desktops set up for the children (not hooked up to our network) that have a variety of educational software apps. That's all these PCs are used for; just for the kids. Problem is they delete files, rearrange files/icons; just generally wreak havoc over time. Currently this requires a regular visit by me to restore a disk image using Acronis True Image but that can easily burn up an entire day if enough PCs are hosed.
I'm thinking that VMWare might be a good solution to this problem; if I install VMware and install the kiddy software on the virtual machine, each time the "real" PC is turned on and VMware is loaded, a virgin copy of the OS + kiddy software will be loaded. So the virtual machine becomes a self-healing machine? I want to make sure I clearly understand this before heading down this path. Am I missing anything? Is there any way of automating the loading of the virtual machine, or will I have to teach my teachers how to load the virtual machine? Is it going to be difficult to implement this plan if not all the teachers are very computer literate? Is it possible for the virtual machine to automatically load when I boot the real machine (e.g. running a DOS batch file like we did 20 years ago)? "Double-click on this icon" would be next best; worst case, if I have to create a "how to" document that's more than 1 page long I consider that difficult (meaning likely a deal breaker).
Thanks in advance for any pointers.
two products come to mind,
VMware server (Free - a good price)
Vmware ACE (Costed, but provides read-only VM's)
squigit beat me to it. Deepfreeze is your answer. It basically lets the user do whatever they want and when the box is rebooted, it resets itself. If you need writable space, you create another drive and leave that unlocked.
Use VMserver which is free, build your xp workstations and put the disks in non-persistent mode. All changes are erased when you power it off. Doesn't matter what they do. You just need a way to connect to each vm.
I would vote for Player rather than Server. Since the desire is to have the student sitting at the workstation keyboard, rather than working across the network - and you need only one VM running - Player is a great fit.
A bear-bones Linux install with Player set to run on startup and you're set.
Also to add to what Ken said... You can use player and have windows start it up automatically on boot and with the disk in non persistent mode you can wlk away and forget about it
And better yet, look at Ulli's MOA (http://www.sanbarrow.com) or something similar and boot from CD (or better yet, PXE/bootp) with NOTHING installed on the local machine. That way, even if you have some "hot shot" in the class who figures out how to break out to the host, they can't break anything...
Not to steer you away from VMWare specifically...but is there a reason why you can't just lock the desktops down using Group Policy and make the kids "users" and not admins?
A user they can't do anything outside of their own profile, basically.
If an application needs extra rights to a system, look into purchasing a software like eRunAs.
Just some other ideas that would be cheaper and (maybe) easier to manage then going with a VMWare product and when it comes to schools, money is always tight.
Thanks very much for the overwhelming response. I went with Deep Freeze and it does exactly what I need and want. I spent 2 full days last weekend cleaning up the hard drive on 8 pc's (including having to completely reinstall XP on 3 of the pc's), reinstalling all the educational apps, and locking them all down with Deep Freeze. They can do whatever they want while logged in but it doesn't matter because upon reboot everything is back in order as I left it. What a relief!
We are using deepfreeze on all of our 1500 lab PC's. I can basically delete anything on the hard drive and its back on a reboot. The only way to get around DeepFreeze is to re-install the base OS and format the HD.
Doesn't ACE require an underlying OS?
If you expand much further, do consider looking at vmdk's in non-persistent mode. It works a treat when you combine it with a thin device.
No local hacking and cracking, script the vm to reset every night, and you have a pristine image the next morning. Need to make changes? easy, edit the vmx, and restart the session. You never have to leave your desk.