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New Checkin Lab Software Makes its Debut this Summer

By Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Student Computing Services Manager

For the past year Academic Computing Services (ACS) has been developing the next incarnation of our Checkin software which has been used by our general access lab for almost ten years. The first production Checkin application (Checkin 2.0) was created in 1994 by then-ACS employee, Eriq Neale. This client-server based software was written in Delphi (client) and C (server) and housed on a Solaris server. The client could only be run on Wintel technology. Checkin 2.0 has served the UNT general access lab system well and a comparable commercial product has never been found to replace it.

However, Checkin 2.0 in many incidences uses out-dated technologies and design concepts and it was decided to develop a new product taking advantage of newer ideas and features with a higher degree of flexibility and usability in the UNT computing environment. When I was hired as Student Computing Services Manager, one of the charges of my new job was to oversee the development of this new product. It has taken over three years and much experimentation, but by George, I think we've got it!

The source code and web interface (the lion's share of the work!) for Checkin 4.0 has been developed by Blake Broyles, 2002 UNT graduate (B.S., Computer Science with mathematics minor) under my and Dr. Philip Baczewski's supervision. I created the database, the interface artwork, and overall application design. As a team we are excited about being able to offer the UNT community this tool for computer lab management, design, and patron logging and tracking. With no client software, the application interface is entirely web-based and runs on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh platforms (using Internet Explorer or Netscape/Mozilla browser as appropriate). The application is infinitely flexible and expandable and is designed for use by the UNT general access lab system, other computer labs on campus, and additional areas as appropriate.

Checkin graphic
A view of the lab administration page showing some of the configuration options available

Source code for Checkin 4.0 was written in Perl 5 with the web interface constructed with HTML and Javascript. All database work is done and maintained using MySQL. The separate database and web components are housed on two load-balanced Linux servers. Checkin 4.0 allows lab managers to configure labs, monitor all lab activity in real-time, set restrictions on lab room and equipment use, add and reject particular lab patrons as appropriate, setup waiting lists for equipment use, and compile usage reports from lab activity log files. Lab monitors at the lab checkin stations can grant equipment access with the swipe of an authorized UNT card through a card reader and keep up-to-date on lab usage with a glance at the computer screen. Additionally, a student interface is being developed to allow students to check on lab equipment inventories and current usage to aide in their decisions about which lab to visit for their current computing needs.

Checkin graphic
A view of patron information available in Checkin 4.0

The majority of these features were available in the older versions of Checkin but the new project has several advantages. Written and developed using freeware, the only expenses incurred were for the servers and the developer's wages. Perl and MySQL are so widely known throughout the administrative computing community that upkeep and further development expertise is readily available. Additionally, lab managers can now set up Checkin on whichever operating system with which they feel most comfortable because the application is web-based. For example there is no longer a need to have one Windows station to check in patrons to an all-Macintosh lab. With its ease of use and flexibility, it is anticipated that several of the departmental labs will now want to use Checkin to manage facilities and log activity and that implementation of the software will extend well beyond the thirteen-member general access lab system. In fact one of the most unusual beta-testers for Checkin 4.0 has been facilities management in the College of Music. Reservation and usage of the music practice room facilities has been done using the new software with the practice room coordinator configuring her "lab" to indicate room numbers and instruments available.

Checkin graphic
Lab managers can compile reports from the log files available via Checkin 4.0

The majority of the beta testing of Checkin 4.0 has been completed. Areas that need a few finishing touches include log retrieval, the student lab population web interface, and some aspects of the server architecture. Additionally, a formal manual for the software is in development for both lab managers and lab employees. Checkin 4.0 will become the official checkin software of the general access labs on July 7.

Anyone who thinks that Checkin 4.0 might be appropriate for their lab or department is welcome to contact me at You will be granted a test account and can work with all lab administration tools available and offer comments and suggestions.