I want to setup a Linux desktop where friends with windows PCs can login remotely and play with it to get familiar with Linux. I've tried Ubuntu 14.04 but failed miserably while trying to share the desktop [1]. I don't mind trying something else but I need it to be rather recent, stable and popular[2].

Have you used any Linux distro able to satisfy the above needs without too much tinkering (I don't want to spend more than half an hour configuring it).

It's only for demo purposes and light infrequent usage (one connection now and then) and I don't mind people breaking it because it'll be trivial to restore it (it will be a virtual machine on a KVM host).

If extra S/W besides what is included in the Linux distro is needed It must be free (as in beer) and free (as in freedom, open source). That's the reason I didn't use a popular solution like TeamViewer.


[1] There was no option for desktop sharing built in so I tried VNC which failed. Someone presents the main pain points here: https://medium.com/@mikemetral/my-experience-upgrading-from-ubuntu-12-04-to-14-04-5e6fac849ea3 He mostly worked around those issues but his solutions were either not good enough for my case (a half-backed desktop environment) or didn't work for me (keyboard mappings).

[2] Rather stable because I prefer to spent as little time as possible improving/fixing stuff in a machine that's for demo purposes only. Rather popular and recent because my friends are no Linux experts so I guess that a popular distro is best for getting their feet wet.

  • 2
    Is there a specific reason why you need to use remote desktop? I think that booting from a live USB stick is easier to set up and perform than remote desktop and might offer a better experience to introduce your friends to Ubuntu.
    – Tymric
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 15:13
  • 1
    Well, I want something that just works ready to show.
    – ndemou
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 15:47
  • 1
    I don't think it gets easier than a bootable medium. It's a three step process
    – Tymric
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 16:44
  • 1
    Regarding booting from USB: it's not unusual for a laptop to not work just right: sometimes it's the VGA, sometimes its the Wireless, the touch pad, the LAN or whatever. I've spent hundreds of hours during the last 10 years fixing such problems and at my 45 I'm tired.
    – ndemou
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 6:57

4 Answers 4



The clear winner for remote access/administration is undoubtedly TightVNC. Some of the features I love are:

  • file transfer is inbuilt
  • installs as a driver
  • to save bandwidth you have some amazing options like
    • ignore wallpaper
    • treat static windows as image & only track changes in mouse
  • Java viewer (for controlling Linux/Windows from Mac), see here for more details.
  • Tunneling VNC over SSH

A glimpse of following pictures & you would know you are in for a great deal:

admin tools

access control

I have been using it for 2 years now for all combinations of controlling, accessing, etc. my *nix from windows & vice-verse.

Also it plays nicely with firewall/anti-virus (maybe because it runs as a service/driver & not a binary).

If you are on a debian-linux distro see this.


Team Viewer runs on Linux and is free for personal/non-commercial use. It has the ability to:

  • Run on multiple OSes (Win, Mac, Linux, Mobile)
  • Start automatically
  • Route through your firewall (without setting up port forwarding)
  • Doesn't require tinkering
  • I would prefer free/open source software if possible. Let's see...
    – ndemou
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 20:16
  • 3
    You didn't mention that in original post.
    – AWippler
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 20:46
  • 1
    Sorry AWippler but things that look obvious to one person are not obvious to another. Of course your recommendation is still valid and if nothing better comes up within a day or two I'll accept it.
    – ndemou
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 6:38
  • @AWippler beat me to the mark. This is the obvious choice. It's probably the most widely used VNC, certainly more sophisticated than most and, as pointed out, free for personal use. Setup is a no-brainer. Try it, then accept the answer ;-)
    – Mawg
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 6:54

Why not just access the remote Linux machine via RDP?

A RDP client is natively available on Windows. On the Linux side, you just need to install the xrdp package.

  • I'm using this on several in-house VMs at the moment, and it works far better than you'd think. Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 13:32
  • Does xrdp allow multiple MSWindows RDP connections to connect to, view, and control, the same XWindows session?
    – bgoodr
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 12:20

Why not use SSH with X forwarding? Your friends will need to install X server (cygwin installer is quite friendly), log in and start pretty much any Ubuntu windows manager they want. No extra software required from Lunix side.

Once cygwin with X server is installed on a windows machine, the following commands in cygwin Xorg terminal should get you to the desktop:

localhost$ ssh -Y [email protected]
# accept the certificate, enter username's password
ubuntu.host$ openbox

Replace openbox with whatever windows manager you have (LXDE, LXQT, XFCE, KDE, etc.) You may need to click on Xorg icon in the task bar and tick "Show root window" option to see the remote desktop.

As an additional bonus, this method allows you to play with a particular GUI application without pulling the whole desktop from a remote machine, thus saving lots of bandwidth. For example, once in an SSH session you can simply run xlock or leafpad, and its window will appear on your Windows desktop.

  • But that excludes simultaneous work (on client and sever side)? Am I right?
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 10:07
  • @Suncatcher No, why? Several users can login via SSH at the same time. Each user will have to start its own Xorg instance in cygwin and use that. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 10:21
  • no, I specially said client and server. I want smth kinda Temviewer. Can some user login X in normal mode and another login it in forwarding mode and work simultaneosuly in the same session? I guess, not.
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 10:24
  • ssh -Y doesn't use the X server on the machine you login to, in fact you don't even need to have it installed. The X server lives on the machine which runs ssh -Y command. So you can still login to X server locally if you have one. You won't be sharing windows though: if user1 logged via ssh -Y opens xclock, and then logins locally, he won't see the xclock window (but will see the xclock process in ps). Then you have tools like xmove to migrate windows from one Xorg instance to another, but that's another story. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 10:50
  • So this is cumbersome to migrate the windows manually, sharing feature is what I looking for. Nevertheless, thanks for the option, I didn't know X can do it.
    – Suncatcher
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 10:56

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