• Manage Linux from your Windows Desktop Part 1

    If you are still a Windows user and feel more comfortable working from Windows than from Linux, fear not. There are number of free utilities that will make your life much easier.

    In this first article, I will provide references to some of the utilities I have found. In a subsequent article I will show how some simple customization will make these utilities much easier to use and simplify the way you manage your Linux systems from your Windows desktop.

    For file access, you'll find WinSCP hard to beat. It offers a Windows Explorer like interface which allows you to drag and drop files between your Linux and Windows system. If you need to make changes to Linux config files, just double click and they will open in a Notepad like editor on your Windows desktop. If you prefer working from a GUI, nothing could be easier. You can learn more about WinSCP and download it here: WinSCP

    If there is one utility that is a must, it's SSH. Not only does it provide terminal mode access to your Linux system, it does so across a secure link. That secure link, once established, can be used by other applications somewhat like a VPN across a public network like the Internet to provide secure communication between your Windows computer and remote Linux systems. As if that weren't enough, SSH can be configured to use public key authentication as an alternative means of identifying yourself to a login server, instead of typing a password. If you are unfamiliar with SSH, or want more information, see the Wikipedia article Secure Shell.

    On Windows, PuTTY is the SSH client. We'll discuss more about this next time. In the mean time, you can download a copy and access the documentation here: PuTTY

    There are times when you may need access to your Linux desktop or perhaps you just prefer working from a GUI. In these cases it's Virtual Network Computing (VNC) to the rescue. Refer to these Wikipedia articles for more information:

    Be aware that most VNC implementations are unsecured. Passwords and other information are sent in clear text to the remote system. Next time I'll show you how to use SSH in conjunction with VNC to provide secure access to your remote system.

    Two VNC clients I have worked with are RealVNC and TightVNC.

    X Window System
    This is not strictly a utility but it sure is easy to use. You install it on your Windows computer like any other application. When it is running, you can start a graphical application on your remote Linux system from your local SSH (PuTTY) terminal session and a window for the Linux application will open on your Windows desktop. It's one of these things that you don't really have to know how it works to be able to use it.

    However, if you want to get technical...

    The Linux GUI (desktop) is only available when the Linux system is at runlevel 5 (Full multiuser mode with network and X display manager - KDM, GDM, or XDM). Linux servers are often run at runlevel 3 (Full multiuser mode with network but no X display manager) to save precious resources when the GUI is not normally needed. In this case, you can still run graphics applications if the X display manager is running locally on your Windows computer.

    For an explanation of runlevels, look here:

    For information about the X Window System, look here:

    There are two implementations of the X Window System for Windows. The one I recommend is the Xming X Server for Windows. It is the simpler of the two and will suffice in most situations. The other one is Cygwin/X.

    Rather than reinvent the wheel, let me refer you to this York University web page that shows how to get this all setup and working:
    Running Remote X11 Applications from Windows.

    In cases where a remote Linux server is at runlevel 3, you cannot establish a remote desktop connection using VNC but you can still run a graphics application if you have Xming running.

    Novell Support Advisor
    There's not much to say here. All the details are on the Novell Support Advisor webpage - including a link to the free download.