Ubuntu Web Appliance

I am working on a project here in the Philippines that uses computers to help rural health care workers capture and use data more effectively. I am really trying to figure out how to make the hardware configuration as easy and off the shelf as possible so we can quickly scale this up once we have the kinks worked out. Unfortunately off the shelf appears to mean a Windows XP netbook with Limewire and who knows what else pre-installed. For various reasons some of these virus magnets can't be wiped because they are owned by someone else.

I have written a script that creates an efficient, appliance-like, ubuntu client. It is customized to automatically connect to the right wireless access point, and it is bundled with a firefox profile that starts on boot and which has a full screen plugin pre-installed, the home page pre-configured, and a nice little plugin called 'try again' that automatically refreshes the page if the connection is lost. Of course, this lovely little piece of work is useless if I can't install Ubuntu.

That is until today, when I figured out how to use remastersys to create a custom bootable Ubuntu. Remastersys creates a bootable iso of your currently installed Ubuntu that you can put on a flash disk (with USB Startup Disk Creator) and boot from and use without making any changes to the hard drive. It's like the Ubuntu install disk but with all of my carefully crafted magic. So now I can convert the useless windows bricks into kick ass appliances without ruffling any feathers just by plugging in a USB stick. Removing the disk and rebooting will return them to their original spambot state. And if they ever decide that the Ubuntu setup is superior (and they will of course) the bootable disk has an option to install onto the hard drive. My USB bootable ubuntu appliance is here in case anybody wants it (but you might as well build your own). Oh, one last trick: use VirtualBox to create your ideal Ubuntu. It makes it really easy. VirtualBox snapshots are helpful in crafting the perfect, compact and clean image (but ideally you should use scripts so that you can repeat anything you do later).

A nice day's work if I do say so myself!

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