First, and possibly only, look at Dell’s weird version of FreeBSD: ThinOS

About a week ago I reported on a case study from Dell and FreeBSD, about Dell’s ThinOS thin client operating system, which basically consists of a proprietary Dell GUI running on top of, at the moment, FreeBSD 12 (they’re moving to FreeBSD 14 for the next ThinOS release). Well, this got me interested – I’ve always been fascinated by thin clients, and a Dell/Wyse FreeBSD ‘distribution’ is just wild enough to be interesting – so I went onto eBay, and bought a Dell thin client.

More specifically, I bought a Dell OptiPlex 3000 Thin Client, which comes with an Intel Pentium Silver N6005, a four core CPU without hyperthreading, 16 GB of RAM, a 32GB eMMC storage chip with room for a small M.2 SSD, WiFi 6, Ethernet, USB 3.0, 2.0, and C ports, Bluetooth, and so on. A low-power, but still quite capable little computer that I snagged for a mere €130, which is a steal compared to the full unit price; my configuration is sold new for like €700-800. Of course, these things are sold in batches of hundreds or maybe even thousands of units, and in such volumes corporate clients get massive discounts.

Still, it’s a nice deal.

My model came installed with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, which I was not at all interested in. I immediately downloaded the latest ThinOS version for my model, used Dell’s tool and instructions to create a bootable USB, and got to work. The installation process was quick and easy, and does indeed look like an automated FreeBSD installation, TUI and all. After the installation is completed, you get guided through a first-run experience to configure things like the keyboard, WiFi, and so on, and it looks rather fancy.

Once I completed the first-run experience, I hit the roadblock I was expecting: in order to use ThinOS, you need a ThinOS Activation License. Since my device was originally sold with (I think) Ubuntu preinstalled, it doesn’t have a TAL in its UEFI, and the only way to push a TAL to a device is to use the Dell Wyse Management Suite. Sadly, the Dell WMS only runs on Windows, and to make matters far worse, only on Windows Server. And it gets even worse – even if I created a Windows Server VM just to run WMS, I need the Pro version, which isn’t free (the free Standard version cannot push TALs), and I’d need to buy a TAL.

Aside from the Windows Server restriction, I was aware of these limitations and requirements, so I’m not in the least bit surprised. I was curious to see if buying a TAL was an easy experience, or if it’s entirely geared towards enterprise customers and silly hobbyists like me need not apply. Without a license, I can use the proprietary Dell user interface, but it seems I can’t connect to any possible VDI providers, and I can’t tell what other features might be gated at the moment. With some admittedly very mild poking and prodding, I also haven’t been able to discover any ways of ‘leaving’ Dell’s proprietary GUI to get to a terminal. I’ll do some more prodding over the coming days.

I’m not entirely sure where to go from here when it comes to seeing just how much you can do with ThinOS, which was my original goal for this project. I have a feeling the pro version of the Dell Wyse Management Suite is going to be rather expensive – I can’t find any pricing information, which confirms my suspicions – so I think the journey ends here. Unless any OSNews readers have experience with this stuff, and can point me to some tips and tricks to perhaps acquire and install a TAL some other way, there won’t be a more in-depth look at Dell’s weird version of FreeBSD on OSNews. Which sucks, but was to be expected when it comes to enterprise software.

Mind you, this does not mean the hardware is going to waste. Not only are there other purpose-built thin client operating systems to experiment with, it is also a full-fledged tiny x86 computer with completely silent passive cooling and a free M.2 slot, so the possibilities are endless.


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