Linux Everywhere

[ Site Index] [ Linux Index] [ Feedback ]

One of the useful advantages of Linux is that, like all UNIX-type operating systems, it's glue. It oozes between cracks and holds things together. If you know the address of a UNIX system with a network connection, then odds are you can log onto it from anywhere on the net and do almost anything to it that you could do sitting in front of its keyboard -- assuming, of course, that you've got access permission. Telnet servers for Windows NT/95 are optional extras, and not necessarily free, but they come as standard in the world of Linux.

For when the telnet session isn't quite enough, Linux has X. The X window system doesn't provide a graphical user interface like Windows or MacOS; that job falls to the window manager you run under X. What X does provide is the ability to run a program on one machine and display it on another.

Life's too short to go into a deep discussion of X here; it's covered in detail at The Open Group, the people who until recently maintained it. (X was developed by MIT and the X Consortium; a couple of years ago they passed it to The Open Group, a UNIX standards body.)

Anyway, X is all very well, but how do you access it from Windows? And how do you access a Windows system from the Linux desktop?

There are two useful bits'n'pieces that I carry around on my "stuff" CDROM (a toolkit I keep handy for every contract job I get called on). Using them, I can bring the power of an X-based desktop like KDE to any machine I have to work on (Macs and Windows -- X11 machines don't need any extra bits!), and I can also run Windows applications remotely, so that they show up on my X system.

The first tool is MI/X. MI/X is a free X server application from MicroImages Inc. MicroImages make and sell the TNT geographical information system; because they wanted a uniform interface on all platforms, they undertook the job of creating their own port of X11 to Windows and MacOS. MI/X is basically the display end of the X11 system; applications ("clients") running on a UNIX system can show their windows on a machine running the MI/X X server. (You can also write X applications that run on DOS or MacOS, but most people don't.) Stick MI/X on your Windows PC or Macintosh and you can gain access to a UNIX desktop remotely.

The second tool is VNC -- the virtual network computing environment, from the Olivetti-Oracle Research Labs. VNC works both ways; you run a VNC server on your UNIX or Windows system, and connect to it using a VNC client (again, on a UNIX or Windows NT system). A complete desktop session on the remote machine is displayed in a window on the client. A full X session on a UNIX machine can be displayed on a Windows box with no X server; and it works the other way too -- you can display a Windows NT session in a window on an X11 system! Most interestingly, there's also a Java client, so that you can run a Windows NT or UNIX/X11 session remotely from inside your web browser or Network Computer.

picture of Linux running KDE inside a netscape window

VNC is still at an early stage but promises some pretty revolutionary uses. For one thing, Windows to Windows connectivity means that you can administer a Windows NT box remotely. Or put multiple users on the same thumping great server. For another thing, it lets you run Windows apps on a network of X11 workstations -- just stick a headless Windows NT box in the corner. ORL workers go a step further; they use tracking devices that follow their location in their office buildings. If they want, their desktop follows them around -- all they have to do is sit down at a computer (whatever operating system it is running!) and their desktop appears on it.

[ Site Index] [ Linux Index] [ Feedback ]