Userful.com offers a Linux-based system called Multi-station where you can run 10 Internet access terminal from one computer box, helping you cut down on the expenses of running public terminals.
There is an article about Userful's system on Newsforge that also discusses a similar system by HP that allows up to four terminals to run from one computer box.
There are hundreds of types of Linux ("distros") out there, and it may seem confusing deciding on which one to use.
For general everyday use, the best Linux live CD for beginners is the Ubuntu live CD. If you want an easy-to-use Linux that can surf the Web, check email, edit digital photos, chat on MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, IRC, and Jabber, run Internet telephone software (including Ekiga and Skype), then Ubuntu is a great choice.
Many people have heard of Portable Apps and are probably wondering if they will run on Linux. Portable Apps (as distributed by PortableApps.com) are not made to run on Linux, but I have been able to get them to work on Linux under WINE.
Here is a screenshot of a couple of the Windows versions of Portable Apps running on Ubuntu Linux from a USB thumb drive:
This section of LinuxForTravelers.com shows you how to create and use an Ubuntu Linux live CD. This tutorial is written for Windows, although the basic process is similar for Mac and you will probably be able to follow along. All screenshots are from the latest Ubuntu 6.06 release.
Ubuntu Linux is generally used as a regular desktop operating system, but the live CD so good that I'll use it as an example of how to make a live CD.
With the Ubuntu live CD you can surf the web securely with Firefox, edit office documents (including Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint files) with OpenOffice, edit digital photos with the GIMP, make Internet phone calls with Ekiga (compatible with SIP, H.323, Microsoft NetMeeting, etc.), and much more. Unlike with Windows, viruses are not a serious problem with Linux, and since the operating system runs from a CD-R, you will have a fresh operating system on every boot.
Ubuntu Linux is free. The download is almost 700MB so you should have a high-speed Internet connection, or you should go to an Internet cafe that has a high-speed connection. If you don't have access to a high-speed Internet connection, you can order Ubuntu CDs online here and get them shipped to you by postal mail for free.
If you run a business that uses security cameras such as a hotel, city hostel, and/or Internet cafe, you might be interested in ZoneMinder — a free Linux-based video camera security solution.
Here is a description from the ZoneMinder web site:
"ZoneMinder is intended for use in single or multi-camera video security applications, including commercial or home CCTV, theft prevention and child or family member or home monitoring and other care scenarios. It supports capture, analysis, recording, and monitoring of video data coming from one or more video or network cameras attached to a Linux system. ZoneMinder also support web and semi-automatic control of Pan/Tilt/Zoom cameras using a variety of protocols. It is suitable for use as a home video security system and for commercial or professional video security and surveillance. It can also be integrated into a home automation system via X.10 or other protocols."
Sometimes a Windows installation will become unbootable. You might turn on your computer one day and see nothing but a mostly blank screen with a confusing error message.
When this happens your files are usually still on the hard drive, but you just can't boot into Windows. The Knoppix live CD is a great solution to this problem becuase it allows you to boot up your computer from a CD and have access to all of your files even if Windows won't boot.
Once you have booted the computer into Knoppix, you can copy the data on your Windows hard drive onto an external storage device like a USB thumb drive or external hard drive, or even a digital camera. (See the note at the bottom of this post.)
In a rescue mission that would make MacGyver proud, Mark Rais writes about his creative use of a Linux live CD and a digital camera to save a friends business report after his friend's Windows laptop died.
"[My friend] was ready to fling...his laptop and himself out the window... So, I pulled a Knoppix Linux Live-CD from my bag and asked him to insert it into his drive... I looked around the room. Spotting his Minolta Digital camera, I asked if it was working and if he had the USB cable for it. Mitch handed me the camera and cable. I inserted it into the laptop USB slot just before I booted Knoppix..."
You can read the full account of how a Linux live CD saved a business report that otherwise might have been lost here.
Linux live CDs are the best solution to secure online transactions on public computers, but there are a few limitations on when they can be used.
The best conditions for using Linux live CDs are these:
- The Internet cafe doesn't use billing software
- If the Internet cafe uses billing software you will not be able to boot your live CD, unless they give you permission (which is unlikely). If they keep track of your Internet usage time on paper, then this requirement is met.
- There is an "Always On" Internet connection
- Using a live CD is much easier if you are on a computer with a high-speed "Always On" Internet connection.
If those two conditions are met, you can probably boot up your Linux live CD successfully.
While using Knoppix or another live CD you can save your files to a USB thumb drive or another CD (if the computer has two). You can also save the files by emailing them to yourself.
There are also ways to save your settings with Linux live CDs. I'll post information on how to do that for each distro soon.