I run an internet café, and here's how I had set up my terminals. I hope these suggestions would be of help. BTW, I use the Main Edition (DVD version) of Mint 9.o GDM LOGIN
Use auto-login. Since these are public terminals there's no need for separate accounts. Just create one account and set up the system to skip the GDM Login screen and directly boot to the desktop. It shaves off a few seconds from the boot-up sequence. That's the trade-off.o KIOSK MODE
Probably one of the more important things you'll want to consider first is preventing the user from casually messing up the interface. By this I mean the wallpaper, the main menu and other panel items. Definitely you will want to lock them down.
Enter: kiosk mode. To achieve this, you'll have to customize the default panel. Keep it simple -- you don't need two panels. One will suffice. Move it to the top of the screen instead of its default position at the bottom. Why at the top? Simple reason: less mouse movement between the window list and application menus & window buttons. YMMV, of course. If you want to keep it at the bottom, that's your preference.
Next, remove panel applets that your users shouldn't see or normally shouldn't have a reason to access. You will definitely have to remove the Mint Menu. It's so configurable that it's quite easy for a casual user to mess up the entries. So, in lieu of the Mint Menu, put launchers on the panel instead. Or, if you don't want too many launchers cluttering the panel, use the Drawer panel applet to hold these launchers. Never put launchers on the desktop. It's easy to move them around, re-arrange and remove. It's better to have them affixed on the panel or inside the Drawer.
And then there's pessulus
-- the Gnome Lockdown Editor. I mainly use this tool (it's in the repos btw) to lock down the panels. That way, a casual user can't do a right-click on a panel and start adding/moving/changing/deleting items at their whim.o FIREFOX KIOSK MODE
There are two main reasons why I'd rather stick with Firefox (for now) despite claims that browser X is faster or browser Y is feature-packed as compared to Firefox: (1) Public Fox and (2) Hide GUI Bars. Both are add-ons and both are fantastic in putting Firefox in kiosk mode, especially Public Fox.
It might be unnecessary for the user to gain access to Firefox's menus and start messing around with the settings. Hide GUI Bars will do the hiding nicely. Public Fox is quite useful if you want to restrict access to certain features. I will not discuss what those features are in this thread. Doing so is already beyond the scope of this post. Some external reading is recommended.o CLEANUP SHELL SCRIPT
You mentioned in your original post that you also do programming on the side. You might want to peruse at the following script to give you an idea how to restore certain desktop settings.restorehome.shdirectory.structureoriginal.xdgoriginal.bookmarkso CREATE A REMASTER OF YOUR CUSTOMIZATIONS
Once you're done customizing your ideal system, do a remaster. Remastersys is pretty good. I was able to cut down setup time for 6 other terminals to less than an hour once the ideal system was set up. Some external reading is recommended.
Hope this helps and good luck!
EDIT: BTW here's a screenshot of one of the public terminals. As you will notice, the panel's at the top, only the essential applets are on the panel, and in lieu of the Mint Menu, I used the Drawer applet to show the only applications I want the user to see. I also used conky to display some stats and a short notice for the user. For Firefox, I employed the HideGUIBars and PublicFox add-ons to lock it down.