NX Machine. Shiny Thing.

Having been prompted by Neil Ferguson to look at NX Machine (or rather, FreeNX, the GPL version) I did tonight. I’ve heard a lot about this product over the last year or so, but I knew there were licensing and distribution problems with the server software. However, until now I’ve not been aware of a Debian repository for the GPL version.

So, I followed my nose, with the odd bit of help and got it up and running. I scribbled some notes as I went. The key thing to understand is that a mini file system is set up in /usr/NX which houses the home directory of the nx user. This is the user as which the nxserver runs. Authentication is via SSH keys but this is easy to set up by following the guide on the HantsLUG wiki. So, to clarify, the user account that runs the client needs to have its public key in the .ssh/authorized_keys file of the nx user on the machine running the server.

I use the XFCE desktop at the moment (possible subject for a future blog!) so I needed to select a “Custom” desktop. This gives the option of running any command to start a window manager. NX is a bit like VNC on *nix in that it sets up a second desktop environment, rather than giving you access to an existing session (as VNC on Windows does). That said, this might just be the default behaviour and there are many options I’ve yet to investigate, including something that looks like integration with VNC and RDP.

Admittedly this screenshot is of the localhost and LBreakout2 was a little jerky, but the perfomance of NX is still miles ahead of even the best VNC I’ve seen. It is equivalent (in this brief experience) with that of RDP, Microsoft’s protocol for remote management. It’s easily good enough for use in thin-client technologies.

I’m looking forward to trying NX over a wireless connection and can see me putting it to good use at work too. And if I remember, I can set it up to try to connect over low bandwidth to a system at home from the next LUG meeting too!

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