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Thinkiosk 4

Re-using PCs with Thin Client functionality is still used a lot. In the past I wrote the article How to: Build a ThinBased-PC with Windows 7/XP where I describe how you can turn a Fat Client into Thin Client functionality using scripts and policies. Although it’s working, it’s time consuming and difficult to maintain. Also when using Thin Clients it can be difficult to configure those fully to the needs and requirements of the organization, especially when there is no management environment available (because the Thin Client does not have that or the company did not buy it). Andrew Morgan encountered the same issues and developed ThinKiosk to solve both issues. ThinKiosk is developed as the first Windows based software only product to convert Fat Client into a Thin Client, but it’s also often used to manage Thin Clients based on a Windows based operating system. ThinKiosk integrates with the big three suppliers in SBC and VDI: Citrix, VMware and Microsoft.

In this Glance at Free I will show and describe the free community edition; however at the end I will mention the additional features which are available in the Enterprise edition briefly.




Let’s start with the installation of the product. When using the community edition only the client installation part is required, the other components available are required for the Enterprise edition. Optional you can install the Profile Editor on a separate machine, but it’s also included in the client installation part. 

The ThinKiosk Client is delivered as a MSI file The installation requires .Net Framework 4. Besides the standard options as the license agreement and the destination location you need to provide an answer to the question where the profile location is stored. Within the community edition you can use two options: FTP server and Local Profile. Further in this review I will discuss in detail the differences between those options. The third option “ThinKiosk Broker Server” is only available within the Enterprise edition. Independent which option you choose, the first machine (for creating the profile in the community edition) you should choose local Profile; the other machines are dependent on your set-up.

Also during the installation wizard you can auto create the Firewall Rules and let the PC leave the domain. The last one should be considered carefully, it is still a Windows PC which you would like to update with security hotfixes. Dependent of you deployment system and/or methodology it can be required to keep the system in the domain. During the installation also a local account is created, which will be used to log-on to the system automatically. Last but not least the installation can be executed unattended including the configuration of the profile delivery.

Configuration

The configuration is done within the Profile Editor (within the community edition). The easiest method is to install the client on one machine and use the Profile Editor to configure the Thin Kiosk client to your needs. The Profile Editor offers a lot of options to configure the User Interface to your needs. To get to the Profile Editor you need to get into the administration modus via the padlock in the right screen. More possibilities are available within the Admin Menu, but for now we will take a look at the Profile Editor.

Within the first tab called Profile Details you can provide information about the name of the profile. For the community edition this is not really important. The second tab you can define the look and feel of the Thin Kiosk User Interface.

Within the community edition you can provide a bit of customization providing a Custom Title, other customization options are only available in the Enterprise edition. Also in this part you can define which icons are shown to the user in the ribbon and the clock configuration.

Besides the visual display of the ThinKiosk User Interface you also need to define here the way the users will connect to the MS, VMware of Citrix environment. Dependent of the solutions used you configure the settings at Browser (Citrix Web Interface, MS RDP Web Access), Application (MS RDP file, ICA file, VMware View) or Receiver Tab (Citrix StoreFront). For each tab you can define both the appearance as the settings to which environment(s) ThinKiosk should offer a connection to the end user. I really like the StoreFront integration within the product, unfortunate this is an Enteprise Edition features. Also the explanation of the possible connections and how to configure those as described in the administrator guide are worth mentioning. I also like the possibility to add local applications on the application tab.

In the Computer Settings tab you can define Local Device restrictions and other local configurations. It’s way too much possible setting to describe those individually, be careful as some settings only applies to the Enterprise edition (like the MagicFilter component and the Start-up Scripts).

Within VDI Integration Options you can specify the behavior of the corresponding clients from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware and the way ThinKiosk should react on a log of the Remote Sessions on the local device (Log Off, Restart, Shutdown or do nothing). ThinKiosk also has an SMTP configuration part; SMTP is used for sending screenshots (for troubleshooting purposes). The last two options (Management Server Settings, Licensing) are not applicable in the community edition.

When finished configuring the settings, you can save/export the created Profile. The Profile is actually is stored in a XML. This XML should be available locally within the installation folder of Thin Kiosk (localprofile.xml). As already touched during the installation paragraph the community edition has two options for the delivery of the profile.

Delivery of the Profile

The first option is to use the Local Profile Option. Actually this means that ThinKiosk assumes that profile is available locally and how to get it there is out of control of ThinKiosk. You can use GPO preferences, a deployment system, imaging systems or an own created copy script (but for all you should think about the access to the source location). The second option is to use FTP. You need to configure a FTP server yourself and point the ThinKiosk installation to the FTP site. During start-up to the ThinKiosk client the Profile will be downloaded to the local disk of the device. In the case the FTP server is not reachable the local available profile will be used.

Which Delivery Mechanism should be used depends on your infrastructure and requirements, personally I think the FTP server is the easiest to maintain and deliver changes in the profile to all ThinKiosk devices.

Admin Access

With the community edition you don’t have central management/administration (see paragraph Enterprise editions), but happily on each ThinKiosk device you can “escape” the ThinKiosk interface on each device. The Admin Menu that becomes available offers the most essential default Windows programs to troubleshoot the device or view the local device on the Windows level. There is also a debug option available for ThinKiosk it selves.

The Result

Now we have configured a Profile and delivered that to a device, we can start using the device as a Thin Client. After the initial Windows start-up the ThinKiosk Client is started with a ThinKiosk start-up splash screen, next the ThinKiosk User Interface is shown. I tested it using the website option using Citrix StoreFront, which is working fine.

What I also really like is the language support within ThinKiosk. You can configure the default language, but the user can (if required) change the language.

The Enterprise Edition

During the article I already mentioned the Enterprise Edition several time. The Enterprise edition is the commercial version of ThinKiosk. The Enterprise edition offers several enhancements and features which are not available in the Community edition. The Enterprise edition offers for example a Management Console, so you can fully centrally manage the ThinKiosk infrastructure including an easy method to use different profiles.

What also is real cool feature is the Magic Filter functionality. The Magic Filter technique ports CTRL+ALT+DEL and Windows+L to the Remote Desktop instead of the local device.

But the Enterprise editions offer more: full customization, more connections, full local device lockdown and more. Both on the website as a separate PDF the differences between the two editions are shown clearly.

Conclusion

ThinKiosk is currently available in a 4.x release. The product is simple, easy to maintain/support, but very powerful. It’s much easier, quicker and more stable than build your own solution based on the scripts and policies I described in my article. It’s cool that the guys of ThinScale offer a free edition that is really useable in enterprise infrastructures with some limitations on management. However if you really like ThinKiosk you should consider the Enterprise editions to get some cool features including full support.