Twenty-seven inch beauty

A 27″ iMac sits next to the two monitors of my Linux system. I wanted to use that smashingly good screen real estate to “host” — probably not the right term but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted in the beginning — some application windows. Using synergy [1], I was able to send keyboard and mouse commands to the mac from the Ubuntu machine.

At first I tried VNC. Didn’t need anything extra on either system; “vnc://172.16.0.1” from Finder->Go->Connect to Server in OSX and allowing connections through System->Preferences->Remote Desktop in Ubuntu, making sure to require a password for entry (the first time I tried without a password it refused to connect). The outputs of both monitors were displayed beautifully on the iMac but it was horribly slow. I also had to disable synergy because of poor input response; I wonder if the application was confused about where the input was coming from or maybe it wasn’t designed for the madness I had conjured.

It was not what I wanted. I don’t want to duplicate the applications on the mac display. What I needed was a way to run an application on the Linux box but have the program’s window displayed on the mac, effectively doubling available display space. I wasn’t exactly sure what to search for; I bounced around and took a brief look at “window aware VNC” and “Linux terminal server”. Eventually I decided maybe it can’t be done so I settled for a way to get a terminal session running from the mac and ended up installing telnet.

While I was able to do rudimentary commands remotely, I had a feeling that there may be subtleties that I was unaware of. At this juncture I wondered what happens if I just type “gedit &”. It didn’t work of course but now my belief was beginning to lean towards the existence of a solution. There must be a way. Somehow I happened upon pages with key terms “XDMCP”, “X11” and “remote GUI”. This led me to an article [2] on remote displays in the X Window System. When I looked at the figure in that article I was sold. The nitty gritty was missing until I landed on “Using Apple X11 for Linux remote GUI display” [3].

I installed openssh-server: “sudo apt-get install openssh-server”, ran the X11 app from Applications->Utilities and logged in using “ssh -l username -X -v 172.16.0.1”. I tested a few things, Nautilus, Gedit and Banshee worked; Clementine didn’t work; pleasantly surprised that Gloobus-preview worked on a pdf document; video worked using Totem and VLC but not watchable; the remote applications appeared to work nicely with Expose and Spaces. Sweet!

[1] http://synergy-foss.org/
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_display_manager_(program_type)#X_Display_Manager_Control_Protocol
[3] http://robrohan.com/2007/01/30/using-applex11-for-linux-remote-gui-display/

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