January 22, 2017

Penguins Over the Wires: X Servers for Windows

Going with X on the Network

  • January 12, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

When my DSL connection began to behave erratically recently, I was given a choice: keep on running Linux and putting up with the hassles of a connection that came and went on a whim, or get a working Windows 98 install up long enough to let the technician diagnose the problem.

I had several other choices to make along with that, like maybe deciding to swap a few NICs around the home network, drag some cables out, or even just put up with the inconvenience for a day and live out of my Linux laptop, which is a comfortable enough machine if you don't mind the touchpad and smallish keyboard with its accursed capslock key.

As a database administrator in a Windows/Netware shop not too long ago, I'd had a clandestine Pentium running Linux under my desk to run my favorite apps, so it wasn't a big stretch for me to imagine using one of the numerous ports of ssh to Windows to connect to the Linux laptop over my LAN and live in the shell for the day. It might be a drag to deal with Emacs in a small terminal window, and I'd miss gnomecal, my address book, and a few other X-based conveniences, but at least I'd be able to work on a Linux machine without aggravating my carpals or rubbing a shiny spot on the tip of my thumb from the touchpad.

This proved unsatisfactory after a short while, stinking, as it did, of the sort of humdrum practicality that gets the garbage to the curb on Tuesday but does little for the advancement of knowledge about interesting things you can do while you're waiting for a technician to call and announce they aren't about to let you out of your service contract.

So I found myself looking for another way. Enter the MicroImages MI/X and Labtam WinaXe X servers for Windows. These two products allow you to run X applications over the network on a Microsoft Windows machine with differing levels of configurability, cost, and facility. They make it possible, for instance, to do everything from bringing up a simple xterm to running a full-blown desktop environment. There is a free port of XFree using the Cygwin tools, (another wonderful set of tools for Linux lovers exiled in Windowsland) but issues surround running it on Windows 9x at this stage, which ruled it out for my purposes, since the technicians refuse to troubleshoot anything but Win9x installs.

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