Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fun with remote control

For now, the new machine is set up on the coffee table in the living room. That was the easiest place to set up and build, and my roommate's already got things placed there for a machine he's building up for a friend. My office is upstairs, though. While running up and down the stairs whenever I get some time to work on the new box gives me a little badly-needed exercise, it's nicer if I can just drive it from the desk I sit at most of the day.

On OS X, this is simple. VNC and sshd and the rest are all built into the system. Want to enable them? Just go to System Preferences->Sharing and turn them on.

Not so with Mint. VNC is installed, but I had to turn to Google to find out how to enable the included vino server. It turns out that previous versions included a Desktop Sharing menu item, but Mint 13 with MATE doesn't. I added it, and then set up a startup application entry to actually start the server. That got it working, with one not-so-minor flaw: the VNC session doesn't have the taskbar in it! That makes it damned hard to use the system. So far, I haven't found out why.

Connecting to VNC on the system connects to my already-logged-in desktop. I don't know if it's possible instead to set the VNC server up as another X display with a different login; that may fix the missing taskbar problem.

While I was adding things to the menu, I also added a menu entry for Firestorm. That was easy enough until I went to ad the corresponding icon. Googling wasn't any help, and it wasn't till I randomly clicked on the icon panel in editing the menu entry that I found out how to make it work.

At least sshd was easier. I did have to install it, but there's a virtual package that includes it. Once that was done, it Just Worked.

I haven't installed an FTP daemon yet. I assume that it's probably vsftpd, or something similar, and will require setting up before it can actually be used for anything.

This is all emblematic of the major difference between the OS X philosophy and the Linux philosophy. Linux is full of choices, and full of different ways to get to the same point, and leaves it up to the user to decide - and install. The kinds of folks who build Linux distributions understand and know and expect to install packages right and left. They also understand that they'll need to go several places to configure things, and even edit config files in /etc. An OS X user doesn't have to fiddle with any of that. It's there in the system. All they have to do is go to one unified system preferences application, where panes all act the same way and provide enough control easily, with more esoteric settings hidden behind an Advanced button.

Once you get Linux set up, it works well enough, but getting it that way takes much more work.

Addendum: While Chicken of the VNC doesn't show the taskbar, Apple's Remote Connect (the VNC client built into OS X) does. Weird. It saw that the Linux box was offering a VNC service and showed it to me as a remote desktop in the Finder's Shared list.

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