Using Ubuntu or Debian as a listening station

Jeffrey F. Bloss jbloss at
Mon Jan 29 04:43:12 UTC 2007

chombee at wrote:

> I'm working on a little free software project for a cafe. They would
> like to have a 'listening post' for customers to preview music from

The term you're looking for is "kiosk". :)

I've set up a number of kiosks in libraries both for general browsing
and as dedicated "card catalogs". None of them were Ubuntu boxes, in
fact I was lucky enough to run across a LiveCD distribution designed
for that task which could be easily modified for my specific
requirements. Unfortunately that distro is no longer in production.
There are these on Distromania though...

Anyway, with the notable difference in targets stated...

> the cafe's record label. The original idea was an ipod attached to a
> wall, in a theft-proof box with some headphones. The plan now is to
> use a second-hand laptop:
> 1. Install an Ubuntu or Debian server.

Since you're not running a server in the respect that a "server" is a
machine that delivers content and you're looking to access it, the
opposite end of the connection, I'd suggest attacking the problem from
the angle of looking for a desktop installation that can be hammered
into something you can use. A server install would likely carry with it
much that you don't want, and lack much of what you do need. 

Indeed, a quick grep through repositories for both Dapper and Edgy turn
up some tools that may give you just what you want, or something very
close. KDE in fact, apparently has some kiosk ability built in which
one of the tools taps into. Learn something new every day. :) Here's
some links...

> 2. Install XWindows, but no window manager or desktop.

Much of the functionality you want to restrict is provided by X itself,
or the kernel and its modules. Which means these things deed dealt with
either at that lower level, or by higher level third party software that
locks things down after the fact. The window manager is a mostly
secondary consideration, but I gather the right window manager can be
one of the tools that helps implement the restrictions (Matchbox,

Whether you want to harden your kiosk at a high or low level would
depend on how confident you are with your admin skills and how dirty
you want to get your hands. I suspect your ultimate product will
include elements of both, if you can't find a canned solution. In that
vein, here's a relevant "wiki" page addressing some of the low level

> 3. Install the GNOME music player Rhythmbox.
> 4. Set it to automatically boot into an XSession running Rhythmbox
> fullscreen, no window manager so no window to minimise, with a script
> that periodically checks whether Rhythmbox is running and restarts it
> if necessary.
> 5. Attach some headphones to the laptop and mount it on the wall in a
> theft-proof box.
> 6. Use SSH to easily transfer music to/from it over ethernet.

Is there any pressing need to physically transfer files at all? It
would seem to me that a better setup would be a central server holding
all your tunes, which is accessed via NFS share, VPN, a streaming
content server, etc. This would also make plugging in more "listening
stations" child's play in case word gets out and people start
flocking from hundreds of miles away to have coffee and listen to
the best music on your side of whatever river you live closest to. ;)

> The main requirements are:
> * Should work flawlessly all day every day, no crashing, no
> maintenance

No maintenance is a pipe dream. Plan for it, and consider yourself
fortunate if you don't have to use it. Ironically this may be the only
server element you probably want to consider... an SSH daemon. You
could also bend SSH into a suitable wrapper for a secure NFS share if
you need to access a remote location across a publicly accessible
network, even if it's a local network...???

If you stick with Ubuntu I'd lean towards Dapper LTS (6.06). It's simply
more "mature". Regardless of what "genera" you decide on, shy away from
cutting edge releases or anything with "candidate", "testing", "beta",
or anything like it in its name. Unless you have some particular
hardware or format requirement that demands it of course.

> * Should play music and display album art. We must be able to give it
> the album art we want, because it will not find our art on any
> Internet search it might do, and will not be connected to the
> Internet anyway (Does rb allow this?)

I would imagine. It should be able to do everything it does on "the" net
if you feed similarly over a local network. I'm an XMMS guy myself, so
I can't speak to what Rhythmbox can do either way.

> * Should cost us as little cash as possible. An iPod video would do
> the job perfectly well and could be gotten off ebay for £100. I'm
> trying to convince them to use a laptop instead so that we can use
> F/LOSS and open formats.
> Any advice or warnings? Is our plan the best way to get about this
> project? Any other lists/sites/etc. I should check out? Would Debian
> or Ubuntu be best? What is the minimum hardware spec we'll need?

That too would depend on what route you take. If you go with the full
blown KDE install then you should probably stick as close to stated
hardware requirements as possible. On the other end, I could envision a
bare bones console installation with a pretty nice "curses" based user
interface being happy on ancient equipment. If I recall, even my old
386 did stereo. ;)

Just to pull numbers out of thin air, for a pretty GUI install of even
a bare bones modern distribution I wouldn't go any lower than the PIII
5xx range and at least half a gig of RAM. If you find a LiveCD solution
I'd amend that to "as much RAM as the thing supports". Storage depends
entirely on whether you can access content remotely, or have to copy it
locally. Hard drive real estate is pretty cheap, but it doesn't take
long to clog up even a sizable drive with high quality sound and

     _?_      Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
    (o o)         Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
-oOO-(_)--OOo-------------------------------[ Groucho Marx ]--
    grok!              Registered Linux user #402208
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