Remote Desktop and Other Remote Control Protocols

I have looked at bunch of different remote protocols lately. I’m trying really hard to find something that could compete with Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol but so far, I’m having no luck.

I manage Win 2003 servers and XP pro machines at work. Funny thing, I can essentially do everything without getting up from my desk. Thanks to the excellent rdesktop client I don’t even have to run windows on my machine. I can connect to any windows machine straight from my Ubuntu laptop, and essentially see a full screen desktop session. I found that the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) just can’t be matched with respect to speed over a LAN connection. I use it on a daily basis to connect to various machines in the office, and I essentially experience no lag, slowness or display artifacts.

I have tried various VNC servers and clients but they are all essentially the same: slow as molasses. Compared to RDP, the Remote FrameBuffer (RFB) protocol is just sluggish and unresponsive – especially if you use full screen, true color display on the client side. There is just no comparison.

In fact, I have noticed that on the same LAN RDP will actually preform faster than straight X-forwarding. But then this might just be because I was forwarding X over an SSH connection when RDP is unencrypted.

Recently I started looking at the NX technology. It is supposed to be built on top of X and offer really high speed, and high quality connections comparable to RDP. The NX server is only available for linux and unix platforms, but there are clients for all platforms including Windows and OSX. I haven’t had a chance to test it yet, but it sounds like a really viable solution for connecting to linux machines. Unfortunately, it is proprietary software so if NoMachine does not support your system, you won’t be able to use it.

There is not much else out there, excluding bunch of proprietary services – most of which use the slow RBF technology anyway.

Do you have a favorite remote protocol? Is it better than sluggish VNC? Let me know! I would love to try it.

Update 03/04/2007 07:47:01 PM

Sorry – it turns out that I have been wrong about NX. The core libraries are released under GPL, and there exist open source versions of the software such as FreeNX. Thanks for the corrections Ulf.

[tags]remote desktop, rdp, remote, vnc, remote framebuffer, framebuffer, rbf, nx, nomachine, x, x-forwarding[/tags]

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18 Responses to Remote Desktop and Other Remote Control Protocols

  1. ambush CANADA Safari Mac OS says:

    I use ssh and ftp, but nothing revolutionary.

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I don’t know what protocol it uses but I have logmein installed on this pc so I can control it from anywhere with an internet connection.

    In terms of quality.. not that great, stuff seems to take longer (assumedly because of the turnaround time), some screen colours randomly change and your wallpaper is always blank grey-ness

    But it gets the job done, isn’t Microsoft and is free (there is also a paid version with more features, like drag & drop file moving between the 2 computers, and printer sharing (ie print the file you have open on the remote pc on a printer connected to the controlling one or vice versa)

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  3. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Even though I am a major UNIX junkie, RDP is my favorite. As you know, I live on my UNIX systems, mostly Solaris, but I do have a Mac laptop I use at home as well. I use rdesktop to connect to my Windows systems.

    I normally use straight X for all my remote UNIX stuff, however, if I am running over an intermittent connection (like dialup), I will use VNC through an ssh tunnel. VNC is clear text, so I will never run it without some kind of encryption tunnel. VNC also allows me to reconnect and continue where I left off.

    I must admit, RDP seems to be the most efficient. I can pump a 1280×1024 screen @ 24 bit color and pass sound events through the uplink on my cable connection at home (roughly 20kps) with little noticeable lag. I can’t touch that with anything else.

    Citrix works well since they offer cleints for just about every OS out there, but charge an arm and a leg for it.

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  4. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I sometimes wish that RDP was a standalone app which could be installed on WinXP Home and Win 2000 machines.

    When I’m working remotely from home I VPN into work, and then use Remote Desktop. Surprisingly, I still get somewhat decent response times. RDP is also clear text I think…

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  5. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    RDP here as well.

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  6. Ulf Retekipf NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox SuSE Linux says:

    “Recently I started looking at the NX technology.”


    “I haven’t had a chance to test it yet,”

    So why do you bother to write about it already?

    “Unfortunately, it is proprietary software”


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  7. Ulf Retekipf NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox SuSE Linux says:

    Let me add why you are wrong:

    * The NX Core Libraries are GPL. They are enough to create a fast remote
    NX session. Just be aware that you need to use the command line.

    * The finished/polished NoMachine product adds some proprietary
    components to make your remote NX esperience more comfortable.

    * NoMachine have a free-as-in-beer personal NX server software on offer
    that can handle two concurrent sessions.

    * Google for “FreeNX”. FreeNX has wrapped the NoMachine NX libraries in
    a bunch of Bash scripts, to make your remote NX experience nearly as
    comfortable as the NoMachine NX server. That is “Free-as-in-Stallman”.

    * NoMachine offers their free-as-in-beer NX Client (GUI to setup sessions
    to either FreeNX or NoMachine NX servers), which is freely
    redistributable in binary form.

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  8. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Thanks Ulf! I updated the post.

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  9. mark UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    RDP is encrypted (keyboard and mouse activity). See kb186607 for more info.

    I find the best interactive control of both *nix and Windows systems to be ssh command line environment.

    On Windows systems, why do you even need log on to the remote system’s desktop? Especially servers-that should be a last ditch thing to do-and only after a ssh or psexec prompt could not be made. All functions and management of Windows systems can be done via remote mangement tools which include command line versions. I also install Cygwin and UnixTools on my systems. And on most of my servers in the lab and whenever I can for those at work, I even replace the explorer shell with cmd.exe so all you get when you RDP in is a cmd.exe command shell.

    So I always encourage all administrators to learn their command line tools-you’ll be glad you did!

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  10. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I always have problems with sshd on windows. Tried setting up the cygwin version on different XP machines in the past, and each time they end up spamming Event Viewer with about 5 error messages per minute, and make the system unstable. Not sure why this happens, but usually after running ok for a week all shit breaks loose and I have to disable it to keep my systems usable. This has happened to me 3 times already on two different XP machines (one XP Home, one XP Pro) on two different network, and with and without being joined to a domain.

    On linux nad unix however it usually works flawlessly. I really wish I could get a stable, working ssh server on a windows machine. Any suggestions?

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  11. mark UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I have cygwin ssh running on Windows 2003 Servers and I don’t see a lot of event log entries. On one system that is connected to the Internet, there are a lot of entries of someone trying to get into the system, as sshd is reporting a closed connection with unknown user ‘root’-too funny, the would be hacker thinks this is a Unix system because it has ssh server installed! Now that’s security through obscurity!

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  12. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I can’t remember the messages anymore but they were all about sshd failing because of a missing resource, running out of memory for sshd, or to many sshd threads being initiated. Completely removed cygwin, reinstalled, set everything up and the problem seemed to be fixed.

    Then it came back 2 months later actually causing my machine to freeze every 3-4 hours. Once I took down sshd it went back to normal.

    I haven’t been able to track down the cause of this. I figured that the cygwin implementation of sshd is buggy, or that maybe it conflicts with some of the AV or firewall software that I usually run. :/

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  13. mark UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:


    I have only R2 versions so maybe something is different with services or security or something. I just ran through the instructions I found on-line.

    Also, on your comment regarding RDP as a standalone app, if it is the client piece you are talking about, it is actually a standalone app available for download on MS’ site, I’ve installed it on Windows 2000, Windows 98, but I’ve never actually used Home edition, but if it installs on 98, I don’t see why it wouldn’t install on Home edition.

    I have a couple of old computers that will only run 98 and with the RDP client, they’ve become like semi-smart thin clients.

    You’ve piqued my curiosity so I’m using my XP box and installing the sshd piece of Cygwin to see if my experience is the same on XP as yours.

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  14. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I meant the server. I would love to be able to connect to my home WinXP machine from work using RDP to check up on my torrents, see if the backup jobs are still running and etc… Unfortunately the server side is buried deep inside the guts of XP Pro and 2003. Supposedly if you copy and register bunch of DLL files from XP Pro you used to be able to get this functionality in XP home. Or so I’ve heard – never tried it myself. I saw people saying that it won’t work on SP2 machines so meh..

    I wonder if you get any issues similar to mine. Now that you said you never experienced it, I’m wondering if this was something specific to my systems…

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  15. mark UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Or you could just upgrade to XP Pro and that would take care of it. From what I understand, life sucks managing and using an XP Home edition as so much is either disabled or unavailable. I installed the ActiveX web control on my web server and hit an XP Pro system on my network from the web so it is worth the less than $75 on eBay for an upgrade edition. No need for LogmeIn or GoToMyPC.

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  16. Pingback: Terminally Incoherent » Blog Archive » Crossloop: VNC without setup. UNITED STATES WordPress

  17. asier SPAIN Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I have been looking different protocols to solve the same problem, to connect from my Ubuntu PC to a Windows XP laptop, but not simply to access to the laptop . I tried firstly VNC and it wasn’t a bad option but when i discovered the rdesktop option i realized that it had better quality and better speed capability.

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  18. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    VNC is nice for tech support kind of deals when you share screens and etc. Rdesktop is perfect for everything else.

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