How to setup and use Remote Access on your Ubuntu PC

by Sukrit Dhandhania on May 17, 2010

Linux

I have an Ubuntu desktop at home which I sometimes use as a server. I work from my laptop mostly, but sometimes I need to check something or do some work on my desktop. I could walk away from my laptop and sit at the desktop, or I could configure a Remote Desktop system instead. Turns out it’s quite simple, and requires no additional software other than what ships with Ubuntu.

I’m using Ubuntu 9.10, or the Karmic Koala, in this guide. However, these steps should work just the same on other releases of Ubuntu as well. The great thing about the way that the Ubuntu team has implemented the Remote Desktop setup is that it just takes a couple of clicks to get it going. There are a few modes in which the Remote Desktop system operates. The simplest is an open system – no passwords, no authorization request. Just access the machine over the network. Other modes allow a more secure form of protecting your computer – such as password protection and request authorization.

Let’s look at how to get a simple, password-less system going. Go to the Ubuntu menu -> System -> Preferences -> Remote Desktop.

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The Remote Desktop preferences window will pop up. Check the first two check boxes – Allow others to view your desktop and Allow others to control your desktop. Leave everything else unchecked. Hit Close and voila, you should be in business. Launch a Remote Desktop application (see below) on another another computer in the same network as your Ubuntu desktop or laptop. You should be able to use any VNC viewer to gain access to your Ubuntu box via Remote Desktop on your remote computer.

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To connect from your remote computer you need two things. First, you need to make sure that you are on the same network – be it a wired or wireless network. The second thing you need is a VNC client. There are several options for Linux, Mac OS, as well as for Windows. Real VNC is a good option for Windows users. I like to use Chicken of the VNC on my Mac. To connect launch the VNC client. Enter the IP address of the Ubuntu box where you have enabled Remote Desktop support. Hit Connect, and your remote desktop session should get kicked off.

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That was simple, wasn’t it? It’s also a rather insecure way to set up remote access to your computer, especially if you are on a network where there are others who are connected. So let’s secure it by adding a password. Check the Require the user to enter this password check box and then enter a password in the text box next to it. Now you will be asked for a password every time you want to remote to your Ubuntu box.

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You can also enable the Remote Desktop session in a read only manner, in which you can only view what’s going on on the Ubuntu box from a remote computer, and not control it. For that, uncheck the Allow other users to control your desktop option. Now your remote sessions will be in a view only mode.

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