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GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams

Remote Desktops

Debian Packages: vino grdesktop xvncviewer

The ability to view a remote desktop is particularly useful when we need to help someone out with some problem they might be having on their GNU/Linux system. This ability is particularly useful where we want to support family and friends who have no computing experience at all and are getting started with GNU/Linux. These friends might live thousands of kilometres away and need regular help, at least in the early stages of using GNU/Linux. To help them out we might use our free Internet telephone for audio connection and use remote desktop display to control their desktop from a window on our own computer. It works well!

Virtual Network Computing (VNC) provides a simple approach to sharing desktops over the Internet using what is called Remote Desktops. We need to have two applications to make this work. One of these two applications will run on the remote computer and this is called the server. It will serve the remote desktop across to our computer so that we can see the remote desktop. The second application runs on our computer, and is referred to as the client, having the responsibility of displaying the remote desktop.

The VNC server (vino is the one we use on and ) is initiated from the remote user's desktop from the System menu found in the top panel of the Gnome desktop. Using the left mouse button, click the System menu and then click the Preferences sub menu and then the Remote Desktop item to obtain the Remote Desktop Preferences window (Figure 85.1).

Figure 85.1: Remote Desktop Preferences
Image RemoteDesktopPreferencesDefault    Image RemoteDesktopPreferencesEnabled

Alternatively, the Remote Desktop Preferences window can be obtained by running the vino-preferences command (from the vino package) from the command line in a terminal:

$ vino-preference

The server is enabled by clicking left mouse button in the first check button under the Sharing label ([]Allow other users to view your desktop). The server enables other users to view the desktop that is running on the same computer as the VNC server. We notice that a second check button is also enabled, by default. This allows other users to control the desktop in that they can control the mouse and type on their own keyboard. If the aim is to provide support and instruction then this is useful.

The next couple of lines of text indicate a command that the remote user can now issue to view this desktop. We have at least two options though (including the suggested vncviewer command), and this is discussed shortly.

Continuing with the Remote Desktop Preferences, we leave the Security options as they are. The default is that when someone seeks to display the desktop the user (the one running the VNC server) is first asked for confirmation. As an added security measure the server can be set up to request a specific password be supplied. The default is to not require a password, and that is generally okay.

From the client end (that is, the other computer where we want to display the remote desktop) we start up the Remotedesktop Client, which is available with a click on the Applications menu (of the top Gnome panel), then the Internet sub menu and then the Remotedesktop Client item. This will display the Remote Desktop Client window shown in Figure 85.2.

Figure 85.2: Remote Desktop Client
Image RemoteDesktopClientAthene

In this example we have entered the hostname of the remote computer (a random example of athene.togaware.com). We need to enter the computer name (i.e., hostname) or IP address (something like, for example) of the computer running the server. Then left mouse button click the Execute button to actually request a connection.

After we request a connection from the client to the server a window will popup on that remote server and the user there needs to accept the connection before we can see their desktop (Figure 85.3). If the remote user is happy for the connection to continue then they will need to click left mouse button on the Allow button.

Figure 85.3: Remote Desktop connection request
Image RemoteDesktopConnectQuestion

A command line alternative to the Remotedesktop Client is vncviewer, as supplied by the xvncviewer package:

$ vncviewer athene.togaware.com:0

Note that the remote desktop could be running MacOS or MS/Windows, or another GNU/Linux variation.


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