LJ Archive

IGEL Etherminal 3X

Michael K. Johnson

Issue #19, November 1995

In other words, it is just large enough to hold a monitor.

A low-cost Ethernet-based X terminal, the Etherminal is a box 2.25 inches high, 12.5 inches wide, and about 11 inches deep. In other words, it is just large enough to hold a monitor. It is powered by a 386 SX-40 processor, 4 (or 8) MB of RAM, and 2MB of ROM, with video provided by a standard Cirrus Logic video chip and Ethernet provided by a standard AT/LANTIC chip. Add your favorite mouse, keyboard, and monitor to the inexpensive base box and plug it into your Ethernet network (all three common interface types are included), and you are ready to work. This is standard ISA PC hardware done with an inexpensive everything-on-the-motherboard approach. Said another way: this is hardware that can run Linux.

And it does run Linux. While the Etherminal is sold as an inexpensive X terminal, it is a standalone diskless workstation configured as an X terminal. Since it is built on freely available software including Linux, XFree86, and fvwm, IGEL is able to sell it for less than if they licensed any commercial operating system. Also, since Linux is resource-frugal, they are able to take advantage of low-performance hardware to make an inexpensive X terminal with reasonable low-end performance.

This is not a speed demon. Graphics-intensive programs do not run quickly. This is not a detriment: the Etherminal is optimized for cost, not for speed. (However, note that it will become faster in the version that IGEL intends to introduce next year, which will include a 486SX CPU.) If you need a faster, more capable, and quite possibly less expensive replacement for character-based terminals, the Etherminal may well meet your requirements, for several reasons.

First, it is easy to set up, using a built-in graphical configuration utility that comes up automatically the first time the Etherminal is booted, and can be easily started at any other time. While it can be hosted by remote machines for centralized administration, it defaults to running on its own, which makes dropping it on someone's desk—as an easy and inexpensive way of providing X connectivity—a one or two-minute job. It also has sensible defaults for X-Windows setup; you will have no need to spend hours fiddling with an XF86Config file to get X to work right—just be careful not to tell it that you have a more capable monitor than you actually have, as doing so may be difficult to recover from quickly. However, the configuration program provides far more capability than this: multiple languages, keyboards, and boot methods are all available, among other things.

Second, it does not require any other X-capable machine on the network. Local terminal sessions to any TCP/IP-capable host are easy to establish.

Third, while the Etherterminal is easy to set up in a “standalone” mode, it is also just as easy to configure it to depend on XDMCP and remote font servers, to download its X server from a centralized server, to run a local or remote window manager, and to do complete centralized maintenance if you wish. Unlike some X terminals, the Etherminal gives you complete control over this—and comes set up to work out of the box. It is both “plug-and-play” and configurable, a useful combination.

Lastly, if you are competent with Linux, you can bring up a “local” shell session. You will be in a simple shell on a Linux system, able to investigate the file system, including the /proc file system, able to directly execute the executables there. This is not usually particularly useful, but IGEL hasn't tried to hide this from the curious user or administrator, to their credit.

Michael K. Johnson is the Editor of Linux Journal and wishes he had spare time to spend pretending to be a Linux guru. You can reach him via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com.

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