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Penguins Over the Wires: X Servers for Windows - page 3

Going with X on the Network

  • January 12, 2001
  • By Michael Hall
A little more upscale than MI/X is Labtam's WinaXe, which provides a lot more configuration options, xdmcp support, more sophisticated interaction between Windows and your X apps, and a heftier price tag. If you're going to be interacting with a remote Linux machine more than a few times a day this is the better of the two options, but at $90 for a licensed copy, it's not inexpensive.

WinaXe is available as a no-cost download from the Labtam download page. Without a license, the software runs for only 30 minutes at a time, but it never expires.

In addition to the basic X software, Labtam ships telnet, ftp, and tftp clients with WinaXe as well as an lpr implementation to allow for remote printing to UNIX printers.

WinaXe presents a lot of choices from its configuration panel. It provides three button emulation, built-in wheel mouse support, a large collection of international keyboards, and GLX extensions (go glbiff!). It can also support color depths independent of the hosting Windows desktop.

Font support under WinaXe is more obvious via a configuration panel: it provides a variety of 75 and 100dpi fonts that render fairly well under Windows. While it doesn't provide support for drop-in TrueType, it does support 'pseudo fonts', which allow for conversion of existing Windows fonts to use by the software's own internal font server.

The three truly big wins with WinaXe, however, are in the area of its integration with the remote machine.

First, WinaXe supports several modes of xdmcp support. If xdm, gdm, or kdm are running on the remote machine, WinaXe can query the machine they're running on and provide a GUI password login and access to normal X sessions. This makes the process of launching remote apps easier, since with a name and password, a user's .xsession is launched executing whatever it contains.

The second plus is the software's utilization of rsh, rlogin, and rexec to provide launchers for remote applications, which makes running programs from Windows easier. If you're more concerned about security than those methods allow, Labtam also distributes an ssh add-on for no charge which allows for X connection forwarding and provides yet another Win32 ssh client if none of the existing ports suit.

Finally, WinaXe has four modes of interacting with the Windows desktop, each of which offers some serious strengths, depending on your needs.

The first mode performs much as MI/X does: it provides a single Windows-managed window in which all your X apps run. This window can be sized to suit your needs. The one bit of "home" it doesn't offer is desktops larger than the hosting resolution. This mode makes it fairly easy to keep all your X apps together visually.

The next mode provides a full screen that obscures the hosting desktop entirely. It looks, for all intents and purposes, as if you're running a dedicated X machine. Since the X server is still a Windows-managed task, the alt-tab combo swaps the X server out for a normal Windows desktop. There's no apparent way to turn this particular "feature" of Windows off, unfortunately, which means that the illusion of working in front of your Linux machine down the hall is promptly shattered the first time you try to alt-tab to switch from mutt to xbill.

The third mode allows for simple Windows-managed windows on the desktop. Your X apps run with their normal toolkit, but with MS Windows window widgets. This is the most "transparent" of the lot from the end user's perspective, and probably the best one for using your remote apps seamlessly with the Windows environment.

The fourth mode offers a mix of options by allowing an X window manager to run concurrently with the Windows GUI, managing the X apps as they're invoked. This is a nice option since it allows users to treat their X apps in the manner they're most familiar with, but it can also be a little disorienting to switch from the Windows paradigm to whichever Linux window manager you prefer all on the same desktop. There are also some unexpected interactions where the two are concerned. While X apps, for instance, will respect multiple workspace windows and pagers, Windows apps, running under their own "window manager," don't and are effectively "sticky." The mouse wheel support was also affected poorly by this mode. Unless the window manager is an integral part of the apps you must run, this is the one to avoid.

The last two modes I mentioned are the most interesting because they allow for desktop environments like GNOME and KDE to operate as overlays to the normal Windows desktop. The GNOME panel, for instance, resides happily at the top of the screen while the Windows taskbar and Start button occupy the bottom. Clicking on icons on the GNOME panel launches, as one would expect, the related apps on the X desktop.

The documentation included with WinaXe is decent and leaves few questions unanswered.

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