Here's the core bit from the question I got:
I'm doing some research for my Unix/Linux Administration class, and I'm wondering about Smart Displays. I'm looking for more information on how to run Windows and Unix programs on them simultaneously and I'm assuming that there would be a Windows server involved somewhere. Would I be correct in this assumption?
Yes and no, mostly yes.
There are many different ways to provide access to Windows applications on Sun Ray smart displays. This Sun page offers "white papers" and real how-to information on a wide range of choices.
Of these, the least troublesome, and often most effective, require the use of a Windows 2003/XP or comparable Microsoft server, while those offering the lowest cost and the most interest to home or hobbyist users provide the needed services on a Linux or other Unix machine.
For example, WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator) runs most major market Windows applications directly on Linux (or Solaris for x86) by plugging in emulated libraries. Getting things working can be a pain, so "crosss over" products like those from codeweavers and win4lin cost something but let you install and run most major MS apps out of the box.
WINE is much better than most people believe, but its downside is simply that you can't trust all users with it - the more users you have, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to show how smart he, or she, is by taking WINE outside the boundaries of what it will do, and thereby bring it, and ultimately you, down.
Rdesktop provides a very good open source mechanism linking your Unix desktop to a Microsoft Terminal User slot on a Windows/XP or 2000 server. That gives you reliable Windows application access on your Linux, Solaris, or Sun Ray desktop.
At the moment the biggest downside is that some functions, noteably sound, have yet to be mapped to their Unix equivelents.
Citrix Metaframe offers a high end commercial solution that obviously requires a Windows server to run on, but nicely lets your Unix desktop (console or Sun Ray) handle Windows and Unix applications concurrently.
The downside on Citrix is licencing cost, downstream suppport complexity, and its Windows centric support and implementation processes - in other words, a good Windows person will feel right at home with it, while a Unix sysadmin will get (I know I did) pretty frustrated.
Tarantella is pretty much a Citrix competitor but based on earlier technology. This is probably the easiest option to implement, works quite well, and is considerably cheaper (particularly now that Sun owns it) than Citrix despite the extra hardware needed.
I suspect that Tarantella is one of those products you have to use for a long time to get to like. Personally, I've never understood why it didn't go out with the 486, but some people I respect swear by it and assure me that what I see as kludgey operational complexity is actually simple and valuable.
There are some less heralded options too.
- if your employer requires you to use Windows for some jobs but you can get your hands on a Sun Ray with a big screen, you can put that Windows machine in a storage closet (or under your desk) and then map its display to a CDE or other Solaris Window on your Sun Ray using VNC - just run the server on your PC and the client on your primary Solaris host.
- Once upon a time there was a product called WABI - Windows Application Binary Interface- that ran on Solaris 2.5.1 (and HP-UX and a few others too) which allowed users to run Windows 3.11 binaries on the Unix machine. WABI was insanely great: at one time I had 30+ 21" NCD X-terminals running a major application and made Windows 3.11 available to all of them via WABI running on a SPARC 20 with dual Hypersparc 125s -that gave me today's PC graphics on 21" screens and running much faster than on a 486. Legal action killed that and Sun's replacement was the PC co-processor board - putting a 486 then or Pentium now into your SPARC machine to load and run Windows as just another Unix network task. Personally I think the graphics and mouse control transfer issues have never really been resolved for this, and don't recommend it -but it can be useful for running (and rebooting) some Wintel applications directly under a Solaris monitor.
One word of caution, however. It's been my experience that using Wintel software as part of a transition to Unix ends up being self defeating because busy users won't take the time to learn - they'll just use whatever opportunities you give them to carry forward whatever they already know.
For example, I once gave a bunch of bookkeeppers access to their old MS-DOS based accounting software on a new SCO Unix system loaded with an integrated RealWorld accounting system. My idea was that they would use MS-DOS access to ease the transition and move data from the old software to the new, but a year later they were all still running the old stuff - turning my ten user Realworld machine into ten underpowered MS-DOS machines.
More recently I've seen the same thing happen to a company which decided to transition the majority of its MS-Office users to OpenOffice.org but elected to give them temporary Windows access during the transition period. It's been two years now: and no one's made the change.
So here's my advice with respect to running Windows on Sun Ray: it's not hard to do, and you have many widely supported options, but you should ask yourself if it's really necessary and avoid it where possible.