Saturday, June 30, 2007


Years ago, before I was a High Paid IT Security Dude and UT99 Server Jockey, I was a High Paid Computer Consultant Geek. This was way back in pre-millennial times (1995-2000). For the most part, it was a decent job. I worked for a "Value Added Reseller". A gig here, a gig there. Replace parts, install software, get a new network up and running, that kind of thing. None of that long-term "body shop" bullshit where they sit your ass down in a cubicle and you're expected to mine for opportunities to get more billing bodies on-site (although, sadly, it eventually degraded down to that level).

I fixed broken computer shit and told people what to do and how to do it.

I also told them what not to do.

One of the things I evangelized against to every customer I ever had was the pure evil that was PCAnywhere. They never listened.

Ah, the horror stories I could tell you.

Like the Hospital IT staffer who decided to install PCAnywhere on a "mission-critical" Windows NT4 billing system at 4:30PM on a Friday afternoon. I didn't get out of there until 3PM the next afternoon. Good times, good times.

Everywhere you went, PCAnywhere was blue screening Windows servers. It didn't matter what version or which service pack. It simply blew up servers (in the NT 3.51 days, if you uninstalled a certain version of PCAnywhere it would delete every single file on the partition it was installed on - fun stuff!).

And everywhere you went the resident Windows honcho (the guy who convinced management to spend $50K on a PCAnywhere site license) always said "We've never had any problems with it."

All that disappeared after Windows 2000 and RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) entered the stage. Some, like the dot-com I worked for before the bust, clung to PCAnywhere because it was somehow simply better than RDP (and they had already dropped the $50K on the site license). And they paid the price with server crashes, day after day.

While all that was going on, an Open Source project called VNC was maturing. In the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) department, it had a similar track record. Sometimes, depending on your video driver, it was just plain fugly. But the site license was free.

I never cared for it much. To be fair, I never cared for any NTx remote control product. Sooner or later they all crashed servers.

Time went by and RDP took over. I haven't looked at another remote control product in the last five years, primarily due to the fact I work in a "Windows shop".

But VNC development marched on, unrelenting. Now it's up to version 4.1-ish. And now it's not entirely free anymore.

But it has certainly matured.

Although I'd never use anything but RDP on a Windows box these days (and I have seen a few extremely rare BSODs), the options for remote desktop control of a Linux box are more limited.

There's Cygwin X, but it's insecure, it doesn't do NAT (Network Address Translation), and they still have a problem integrating with the Windows clipboard (it worked for about two weeks several revisions ago but not since).

Then there's... well... not much else.

I tried VNC4 on a whim, since it was (is) available in Debian 4.0r0 and most if not all major Linux distros. I was prepared to be disappointed but in the end I was amazed at how well it performs, clipboard and all!

Now I have it on about seven Linux systems. It performs almost as well as RDP, even over an encrypted SSH (Secure Shell) tunnel over the 'Net. Absolutely astounding performance, compared to its earlier days. And the CPU footprint is barely five percent.

When used with VMWare Server (or VMWare Player for that matter), it's a much faster "desktop experience" than the native VMWare client.

And it absolutely leaves Cygwin-X in the dust.

There are a few drawbacks, mostly if you want a multi-user environment, in which case you have to decide how many users you want and which port to run them on (and then educate the end-users, a daunting task).

And of course there's that pesky site license issue.

Your boss'll get over it.

Trust me on that one.

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