Cooking with Linux - My Desktop Lies over the Ocean

Because being there is open to interpretation.

You have been on the phone for an hour, François, and it is nearly time for our guests to arrive. Who are you talking to? Your cousin in Riviere-du-Loup? And, you're helping her with her Linux system? That is commendable, mon ami, but we have work to do. Yes, I realize it takes a great deal of time when you have to ask the other person to describe what she sees while you try to tell her what she should do next. It might be easier to demonstrate. Yes, I know she lives a few hundred kilometers away. With your Linux system and the right tools, being there doesn't have to mean hours and hours of driving. Wrap up your call quickly, and you'll learn everything you need to know when I serve up today's menu. Vite! Our guests are arriving as we speak.

Welcome, everyone, to Chez Marcel. It is a great pleasure to have you here, where fine Linux and open-source software meets great wine. Please, sit, while my faithful waiter takes a short trip to the wine cellar. François, please bring back the Collavini 2005 Villa Canlungo Pinot Grigio. Quickly, mon ami.

It only makes sense that being there, in person, to show somebody how to work with his or her system isn't always convenient. Taking control of an existing remote desktop session lets you work with the desktop as though you were there, without having to walk up a floor or drive several hundred miles. In that respect, it's not only a time-saver, but also environmentally-friendly (imagine having to fly overseas). Another great incentive for remote control is the office environment. Do you need to show users how to add an icon to their desktops? Connect to their desktops and let them watch. Have you received a call asking for help interpreting an error message? Connect to the system and ask the user to re-create the scenario while you watch. The possibilities are endless. Taking control of a remote desktop also provides everyone with a learning experience. For you, the person doing the teaching, it lets users show exactly how whatever went wrong, went wrong. For users, it lets them watch a master at work, so they too can learn the ways of Linux. This remote control is probably better referred to as desktop sharing.

Excellent, François has returned with the wine. Mon ami, after you have taken care of filling our guests' glasses, please take care of mine as well.

Both of the most popular Linux desktop environments—KDE and GNOME—come equipped with excellent solutions for desktop sharing. With these tools, users can invite someone either to watch their desktop session or take control of it. In an office environment, system administrators also can set it up so they can take control whenever necessary. Let's start this tour with the KDE desktop sharing application.

On my Kubuntu Linux system, remote desktop sharing is under the Internet menu. The command name is krfb, if you want to start it directly using your Alt-F2 run dialog. When you do so, a window labeled Invitation - Krfb appears (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Invitations to desktop sharing come in different flavors.

The window offers you three important choices. You can create either a New Personal Invitation or Invite via Email. The third button provides a more complex interface that allows you access to invitations that already have been created. You can delete existing invitations or create new personal invitations. There's also a Configure button at the bottom—a button that is of particular importance to system administrators. Let's leave those things for now and concentrate on creating a personal invitation. To do that, click the Create Personal Invitation button, and a window labeled Personal Invitation - Krfb appears (Figure 2).

Figure 2. When you create a personal invitation, it expires an hour later.

For security reasons, the invitation itself lasts only an hour. If you don't do anything else, Desktop Sharing automagically comes up with a password and an expiration time for the session. The host address necessary for the connection also is displayed. Overriding either the password or the expiration time is not allowed. Make sure you pass on the information as it is shown to the person who will be connecting. When you have passed on the information (or written it down), click Close.