As originally posted over at Sun Bigadmin (although I don’t know for how much longer…). Needless to say after a year of operation this thing just keeps on running hassle-free, even on junky “server” hardware. Sun Ray rules.
A Cost-Effective Digital Signage Application Using Sun Ray Clients and OpenOffice.org 3 Impress
Dave Koelmeyer, February 2009
Our workplace recently acquired a couple of 50-inch plasma displays with the intention of installing them in high-visibility areas around the building for the purpose of “digital signage.”
The initial direction of the project was to copy the approach taken across similar installations in the company: to install one Microsoft Windows PC per display and pipe Microsoft PowerPoint presentations to each. But this solution would not be centralized, it would not be easy for the administrative staff tasked with managing the content, and with Microsoft Windows PCs in the mix (running on repurposed hardware), the solution would be maintenance-heavy in every sense of the term.
Fortunately, we ended up going with Sun Ray clients, and now we have the beginnings of a very neat little signage setup that is robust, cost-effective, centrally managed, and easy to use.
Although the system is basic, there is scope for a large amount of future refinement and development.
Summary and Parts List
In this tech tip, I’ll describe how we created a system capable of displaying an OpenOffice.org 3 Impress presentation to multiple remote Sun Ray 2 clients connected to large-screen displays.
Presentation content is created and uploaded to the server by non-technical admin staff from a central location. The staff use Microsoft Windows XP Professional workstations.
* Sun Ray 2 clients (two units)
* Panasonic TH-50 series plasma displays (two units)
* Dell Precision Workstation 380 (repurposed hardware used as a server)
* Custom-made mounting brackets (to secure the Sun Ray clients)
* Solaris 10 5/08 OS for x86-based systems
* Sun Ray Server Software (part of Sun Ray Software 4)
* OpenOffice.org 3 Impress
* Microsoft Windows Services for UNIX Version 3.5
* Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
Building the Sun Ray Display Server
Since I’m generally an all-Sun guy nowadays, I used Sun Ray Server Software running on the Solaris 10 OS for x86-based systems, as nature intended. Our corporate network is all 100Mb Ethernet for clients in a shared environment, so there is no private Sun Ray network. The Sun Ray clients in our particular scenario run on the same subnet as the server, so setup is a no-brainer; we just rely on the Sun Ray clients performing a broadcast to discover the local server.
During installation of the Solaris 10 OS, I made a point of performing a custom software installation and removing the StarOffice software, because we wanted to supplant the StarOffice software with the latest version of OpenOffice.org.
Aside from patching the fresh install and setting up roles, and so on, there was no other tweaking of the Solaris OS or the Sun Ray Server Software to be performed.
I downloaded and installed OpenOffice.org 3.0 from the OpenOffice.org web site.
Disabling the First-Run Wizard and Registration Dialogues
When OpenOffice.org 3 Impress is launched in the Sun Ray Server Software Kiosk sessions, we wanted to prevent the first-run Wizard and product registration dialogues from derailing the command-line option for automatically opening and displaying a presentation. Note that these are two separate issues that are resolved in two slightly different ways.
First, disable the first-run Wizard using the extension and instructions provided here:
Instructions for Deactivating the OpenOffice.org Registration Wizard
The unopkg command referred to in the instructions lives in <openoffice-installation-directory>/program/.
Next, to disable the registration dialogue, do the following:
1) Launch OpenOffice.org 3 Impress as a standard, local user.
2) Complete the registration procedure, and exit OpenOffice.org 3 Impress without saving a new document.
3) Under the user account used to do the previous steps, navigate to the following directory:
4) Copy the Common.xcu file, which is visible in the previous directory, to the following directory:
5) Execute the following command:
unopkg add –shared Common.xcu
Creating a Custom Application Executable in the Sun Ray Server Software Admin GUI
We now take advantage of the command-line options for launching OpenOffice.org Impress to open and run a presentation all in one command. You might want to have a test OpenOffice.org Impress file ready to go at this stage.
Fire up the Sun Ray Server Software admin GUI. The Kiosk Mode application executable custom path that is used is similar to this:
The arguments used to launch OpenOffice.org Impress and run a presentation are as follows:
-impress -show /<path>/<to>/<your>/<presentation.odp>
If all goes well, on session reset, the Sun Ray clients should launch OpenOffice.org Impress, bypass any registration prompts, and automatically open and run the presentation file. You might want to ensure your OpenOffice.org Impress presentation is set to loop endlessly.
Creating a Shared Folder on the Server for Microsoft Windows Users to Drag and Drop Content
I wanted to make it as seamless as possible (using the built-in Solaris OS and Sun Ray Server Software features) for admin staff to upload presentation content to the server. I figured sharing a folder to these Microsoft Windows users (and using this shared folder in the Kiosk Mode Impress path mentioned previously) would be one way to accomplish this. Admin users could simply drag and drop OpenOffice.org Impress files into a folder mapped as a drive in Microsoft Windows, and then log in to the admin GUI and reset the Kiosk sessions to broadcast new and updated content simultaneously to all displays.
Rather than installing and configuring Samba on the Solaris 10 OS, I installed Microsoft Windows Services for UNIX (SFU) Version 3.5 on a dedicated Microsoft Windows “signage workstation” in the admin office (for admin staff to use) to connect to a folder shared through NFS from the Sun Ray server.
On the Sun Ray server, I created a local signuser account, and set permissions on the shared NFS folder to be owned by this user.
On the Microsoft Windows workstation I installed the NFS Client and User Name Mapping components of SFU. I made a note of the UID of my signuser Solaris account, made copies of the server password and group files to the Microsoft Windows workstation, and set up mapping between the Microsoft Windows user account and the UNIX account name.
Then I was able to connect to the NFS share using Microsoft Windows Explorer. I mapped this to a drive to make it familiar and easy for our Microsoft Windows users.
The really cool thing was watching the tiny Sun Ray 2 clients automatically pick up the correct resolution for the 50-inch plasma displays as soon as we flicked the switch. Everything “just worked.”
We had some custom mounting brackets constructed for the Sun Ray clients and “lump-in-the-middle” power supplies (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The Sun Ray client is so light and small it fit easily on the inside of the wall mounting plate of the display itself.
We’ve received good feedback from the non-technical users about how easy this solution is to use. In addition, compared to what the likely alternative would have been, it’s a very low-maintenance solution. This is both in terms of the advantage over using PCs with myriad moving parts and in terms of the technician time that would otherwise be tied up fielding support requests that go with the territory of supporting Microsoft products (in my experience).
Surprisingly, Sun Ray Server Software on the Solaris 10 OS for x86-based systems hardly breaks a sweat running three or four simultaneous OpenOffice.org Impress sessions on the three-year-old Dell midrange workstation that was repurposed to act as the server.
About the Author
Dave Koelmeyer is an IT Support Specialist based in Auckland, New Zealand.