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Over the years I've found that a significant hurdle to getting family and friends to switch to Linux comes from its lack of familiarity. This is especially true when it comes to troubleshooting any issues. Obviously, when a malfunction occurs it's not always possible to be there in person.
However thanks to the wonders of broadband Internet and advanced software, we're now able to do the next best thing. In this article, I'll share some recommended remote desktop software for Linux. I’ll explore both open source and closed source solutions.
Easy to use remote desktop software
Most people are going to want something simple, something best classified as plug-n-play. Realizing this, I decided to start off my round up of remote desktop software with this in mind.
Splashtop – Nothing and I mean NOTHING touches this software in terms of simplicity and stability. There is no port forwarding and no explaining how to set it up to the remote user – just login and go. Have the remote desktop user install Splashtop Streamer onto their Linux box. Then you can connect to their desktop remotely via Splashtop Personal. If the remote desktop user needs help and you're away from your desktop, you can provide assistance with the Splashtop app for Android.
Pros: Free to use for personal use, easy to install/setup, fast and reliable.
Cons: Not open source in its entirety, although it does use some open source code. Also the lack of a file transferring option is a bit of a downer.
TeamViewer – Like Splashtop, TeamViewer puts Linux users into a position of control fairly easily. It offers a graphical installer, however I've found it works better on non-Ubuntu distributions than Splashtop.
TeamViewer has also put together extensive Linux documentation on installing the software onto just about any distribution you can think of. Its speed isn't quite as fast as Splashtop, but its good enough for most people. I'd also point out that TeamViewer is better suited for remote desktop help desk than Splashtop. The main downside to using TeamViewer I've found is that it nags you when you close the application. The nag screen asks you to buy the application.
Pros: Free for personal use. TeamViewer Management Console has web-based access, assigned IDs or user accounts, and Android app for control of remote desktops. I was also happy to find it offers remote file transfer.
Cons: TeamViewer is powered by WINE, it's not as fast as alternative software, and TeamViewer is nowhere near as user friendly as Splashtop. Additionally, TeamViewer is proprietary software.
ScreenConnect – If offering remote support is your job or business, you will not find a better solution than ScreenConnect. This is an enterprise grade remote support tool that is affordable for almost any small business. It's compatible with practically anything you can think of and it's fairly easy to brand/customize for your business as well. This self-hosted software puts you in the driver seat – there's no downtime, it's on your server.
Pros: Cost is reasonable considering this is enterprise software. Supports multi-monitor configurations. Offers screen recording for client assurance and remote file transfer. It also supports two-factor authentication. Self-hosting is possible on a server, desktop, VM, mobile, or even a development board! And lastly, this software also supports remote meetings with a shared screen.
Cons: It's not free, which means you will need to buy it. You'll need to run it on your own hardware, and it's proprietary software.
Open source remote desktop software
OpenNX – If you're someone who likes using NoMachine's NX client, you may find this open source solution to be a great fit. OpenNX supports VNC, NX and RDP remote connections. Now I'll go on record in stating this isn't my personal choice for a remote client. However, it's a good option and highly configurable.
Pros: It's an open source software client. OpenNX supports VNC, NX and RDP remote connections. I'd recommend using a NX server environment for the fastest speeds possible. Depending on the protocol being used, it can support remote printing and file sharing.
Cons: While powerful, it's geeky and not terribly user friendly. The quality of your connection will vary greatly depending on the connection protocol being used. Also port forwarding and Dynamic DNS may need to be added for a better experience when used over the web.
X2Go – Out of all the available open source solutions for remote desktop, this is the one I'm most excited about. X2Go uses the NX protocol, but without the need for a proxy user account. X2Go provides a secure means of connecting to a remote desktop over SSH. It's also a fair performer with regard to connecting to PCs with limited bandwidth. And unlike NoMachine's new client, you're not limited to simultaneous connections from only two users.
Pros: It's open source software. X2Go supports shared sound devices (pulseaudio). By utilizing NX technology, its performance is very good on all types of connections. There is even a readily available browser plugin to make remotely controlling another PC possible from a web browser. I'm also happy to report that X2Go supports remote file sharing.
Cons: Port forwarding and Dynamic DNS are recommended if you're using this over the Web. While accessing X2Go is extremely simple, using desktop sharing functionality requires a bit more work.
Linux Remote Desktop – Going Forward
When you look into the available Linux packages for remote desktop solutions, the options are mind boggling. Just the options using the VNC and RDP protocols alone are enough to keep you busy for days. The best options I've found over the years are listed above. Sadly, the easiest to use among them are not open source software.
I am happy to report that if you're insistent on sticking with an open source solution you can have decent success with X2Go. It's the singular open source remote desktop environment that I feel is both usable and duplicable. For a LAN environment it's simply unbeatable. For remote support over the Web, however, it requires someone who is willing to do an initial setup to get it working for client and server alike. This applies for similar options using NX and RPD protocols as well. None of these provide a simple out of the box experience for casual users.
For casual remote desktop support over the Internet, proprietary alternatives are reigning king. For my family, I've had tremendous success with Splashtop. However if this ceased to be a viable option, I'd have no problem whatsoever moving folks over to TeamViewer. Both applications offer stellar performance.
Back on my own LAN, however, I'll continue to enjoy the benefits of using X2Go. Because using Splashtop streamer on my own PCs for LAN access would be overkill.