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Penguins Over the Wires: X Servers for Windows - page 2

Going with X on the Network

  • January 12, 2001
  • By Michael Hall
The MicroImages MI/X server is the less expensive of the two products, and it is accordingly less configurable and capable. Based on X11R5, it's unable, for instance, to support things like the recent port of the GNOME environment to Windows. At $25 with a free 15-day trial, however, one shouldn't expect a lot. Microimages isn't even a company specializing in X or UNIX: their primary business is GIS, cartography, and CAD. MI/X is a product they include for free with other products.

The 3.5MB package is available for download from the Microimages MI/X page for either MacOS or Windows, and installation is fairly simple under Windows: doubleclick on a self-extracting archive, agree to the license, and allow it to copy a few files. Mercifully, it doesn't require a reboot once installed.

Running MI/X is also simple enough: the software provides no means to launch applications outside of gaining access to the remote machine via telnet or ssh, setting your DISPLAY variable to reflect the hostname or IP address of the Windows client, and typing in a command. Alternatively, once it's running and an xterm has been launched, the remote xterm can be used to launch applications without having to swap back to the Windows desktop. MI/X doesn't support xdmcp authentication, so users running their prepared X sessions automatically from a login is out of the question.

Unfortunately, MI/X is a little cranky when it detects that an application is trying to display at a different color depth than it expects. Launching something like tkdesk or another light-weight app launcher would be a good way to put some of the 'G' back in 'GUI', but MI/X wasn't very cooperative on that score. MI/X also doesn't support OpenGL on the desktop (no glbiff, sadly).

MI/X also lacks a little where font support is involved. It comes with a limited number of .bdf fonts, and supports .pcf fonts. A mini-tutorial in the FAQ explains how to create a fonts.dir for the server, but it's not possible to use the font server running on the remote machine.

In terms of customization, MI/X offers few frills. The background color it presents can be changed, the size of the window it occupies on the Windows desktop can be adjusted (in case, for example, you just have a few monitoring apps to keep an eye on), and it can be set to use a window manager besides its built-in port of twm.

Finally, the FAQ that ships with it is all the documentation you're going to get for this minimal product. It promises little more than to allow you to run remote X apps on your Windows desktop, and it delivers: there's not need for much more than tying up a few of the loose ends and answering questions that aren't immediately obvious.

Despite the low-frills approach, its low cost makes MI/X a good candidate for someone interested in running a few X apps now and then. It isn't the prettiest, but it gets the job done. For $25, it might be worth it to you if you've got a Linux machine you need to keep an eye on now and then.

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