Both three topics?
both (conjunction): used as a function word to indicate and stress the inclusion of each of two or more things specified by coordinated words, phrases, or clauses <prized both for its beauty and for its utility> <he...who loveth well both man and bird and beast -- S. T. Coleridge>
Any particular vitriol you want to direct at Ubuntu, other than its overall Debian-ness?
I wouldn't expect it to be the most convenient starting point unless you went with Edubuntu (which still makes assumptions about being preloaded for a classroom) or the 'server' version that's close to a plain install of Debian anyway, but it'd be good to know if there's anything I don't know.
How about starting with the fact that it's Linux? It's all downhill from there.
But I'm not picking on Linux, really. All operating systems suck.
I tried Ubuntu because I kept seeing otherwise-non-insane people praise it, and because apparently it's got LTSP integrated in some smurfier way. The installer was cute, but then after I typed in my static IP and stuff, it gave me no default route (Hello, Linux 1993!!!) no matter what I did in the GUI. I added it by hand, but couldn't figure out (and no longer care to know, thanks) how to make it permanent. Also it had IPv6 turned on by default, which seemed to result in name resolution not working ("host" fails, "host -4" works.) So I wasted a few hours on that installation and reformatted the fucker.
FC5 was at least tolerable for its familiarity, but it turns out that they removed the feature from gdm where you can do TimedLogin=shellscript| where the script returns the name of the user to log in; without this, I can't have the kiosks all auto-log-in as different users, so nothing works. (They have to be different users or Firefox and all Gnome apps lose their shit with locks.)
I tried doing a trick where they'd all log in as user "kiosk" and that user had uid=0 and its shell was a script that would immediately do "su - kiosk01 -c .xsession" but that also caused gdm to lose its shit for some reason I couldn't figure out, something to do with xauth.
I also tried downgrading FC5 to the RH9 version of gdm, but that didn't work in twelve different ways.
Really I'd like to bypass gdm entirely, and just have the kiosks just launch an X server and then do "ssh kiosk01@server xsession", but the minimalism of the LTSP client environment makes that really, insanely hard to debug.
So I wasted a few hours on that installation and reformatted the fucker.
Free as in freedom.
I too was looking to do a kiosk type thing with minimal hardware and OS trouble. I found several nice LiveCD's which do just that - boot off the CD and plonk you right into Firefox. If anything goes wrong, you just reboot the box. No hard disk, and no place for people to fsck things up.
http://www.kioskcd.com/ was quite nice.
But "running everything on the local slow-ass CPU and having no swap" is exactly the problem I was trying to avoid.
Kioskcd is based on a very stripped down kernel - there is no overhead from crappy drivers, or other useless stuff. It will run in 64mb (and less apparently, but slowly) - so 512mb will probably be OK. Of course, your slow-ass CPU and video card may cause performance problems - but as it is a live-cd it is fairly painless to test out. Just burn a cd, and boot.
It didn't sound like his problem was with the kernel footprint. There's not a whole lot that a live CD can do to save firefox from itself.
woo thanks for the link!
I'm a huge Debian-family bigot but am curious to try other things for kicks.
I suggest recompiling the kernel.