How would you set up Ubuntu on a computer that will be used as public computer in a library?

I need the following features and user restrictions:

  • On boot, a guest user should automatically be logged in.
  • Only Firefox, Chrome and OpenOffice should be available for the guest user.
  • The guest user should be able to write files to his/her USB stick, but never to the computer's hard drive.

Any guidelines on how to set up something like this? Is there perhaps a remix of Ubuntu created for this exact purpose?

  • It might possibly be better to separate this question into 3? different one, handling one of the points each. I think all the things are possible, and some may already have a solution. The automatic login has been answered already at ubuntu.stackexchange.com/questions/842/…
    – txwikinger
    Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 21:45
  • 2
    I considered this, but I thought it was better to consider it as a whole.
    – codeape
    Commented Aug 7, 2010 at 11:48

4 Answers 4


You might want to have a look at these two programs: pessulus and sabayon

Especially sabayon is interesting, though it is a bit confusing! It can recreate a predefined session for a user at every startup, this session can then be totally restricted with pessulus. Then you just need to setup auto-login (Through the menu System>Administration>Login Screen) and you're ready to go.

  • While these two programs are still really much in development i now actually got a setup that works and can only use Firefox. Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 6:15
  1. Setting up the Guest account is pretty straight forward: System > Administration > Users and Groups Then follow this: Ubuntu StackExchange: How can user avoid entering password on bootup?
  2. After uninstalling all the software using Applications > Ubuntu Software Center get Google Chrome from here: Google Chrome for Linux and install it.
  3. This is really the tricky part. By default they're only allowed to download to the "Guest" home folder. You could change the home folders permissions or ownership to something else (baring in mind that the settings folder should remain owned by Guest. An alternative would be to have a script which re-created the Guest home folder on each login. For the USB drive reading that shouldn't be a problem as it's allowed by default.
  • 1
    Or guest could be added to the appropriate group necessary to read/write usb sticks
    – txwikinger
    Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 22:35
  • Chromium is also available if you don't want to install Chrome.
    – Broam
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 15:13
  • This answer has grown a bit long in the teeth (guest session available by default, chrome instructions)
    – Jjed
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 5:30

This is a summary of an email from Oslo public library, describing their setup:

  • The public PCs run Lubuntu
  • They use LXLauncher
  • The public PCs boot off a server image (using PXE, I guess?)
  • They follow the Libki and koha projects closely (I do not know how/if they use them)

The library IT people will create a detailed description of their setup. I will edit and add links when I know more.


This is pretty similar to what I did for some computers in our Student Center. They were WinXP machines with admin access. On a college campus. Shudder! I'm sure they had more virii than... well, you know.

After spending about 15 minutes trying to clean up the horrible mess, I decided to switch the machines to Ubuntu. At first we just had a "student" user that was automagically logged on, but we had some high school kids come in who had no problems standing at the computers for 3+ hours a day. So I created an .xsession script that made absolutely nothing start up except for my custom pyGTK+ script that gave them... I think it was 15 minutes, and then automatically logged them out. They could launch firefox and browse the web, but that was it. Once they closed firefox, my program would pop back up and lock the screen for 5-10 seconds (it's been a while since I've looked at it). This effectively annoys anyone who wants to stand there and just log back in, but that's about the time it takes for one user to move all their stuff, leave, and the next guy/gal to take their place.

Marco's idea is pretty solid, though.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .