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Installing software

Easy. On the server, do a chroot to the clients rootdir, then run apt-get as usual. The clients should be powered off when you do that.

Even easier is to log in as root on the client machines, and install software then. Note that the server must export the client's files rw in this case. It could also export them rw to only one machine, preferably the one you are using. Be advised that changes to an NFS filesystem from a client or the server may not propagate to the other clients immediately, as they do cache directory entries.