You’re in one room, sat at a PC; the data you want is in another, on a computer running Ubuntu. If both computers are in the same house, no problem; but what if they’re in the same office block? It might be a bit of a walk!
The answer, therefore, is setting up a remote desktop connection. Two good remote desktop options are available for Windows users to access Ubuntu.
Why Remote to Ubuntu?
There are several reasons why you might want to remote connect to your Ubuntu computer.
Perhaps you’re at work and need to log into your home computer. Alternatively, you might have an Ubuntu PC in one room, your Windows PC in another, and a desire to run updates on Ubuntu.
Alternatively, you might be running an Ubuntu server. Perhaps you set this up to manage the running of a game, like Counter-Strike, or Minecraft. Either way, a method of setting up a remote connection will save a lot of time and effort.
You have two options for establishing a remote connection with your Ubuntu machine: you can use remote desktop (RDP) or Virtual Network Computing (VNC).
Let’s take a look at each method in turn.
Find Your Ubuntu Device’s IP Address
Before you can establish a connection to your Ubuntu device, you’ll need to know the IP address.
The first way is the easiest. Physically go to the Ubuntu machine, press CTRL + ALT + T to open the Terminal, and input the command:
Look for the “inet addr” against the connection you’re currently using. For instance, if you’re on Wi-Fi, look for wlan0. If the computer is connected to the network for Ethernet, look for eth0.
Another way to find the IP address is to find the connection icon in the pane, right-click, and select Connection Information. You’ll find the IP address listed here.
Neither of these options open? You can also connect to your router directly, via your computer’s browser. Once signed into the router’s admin console, you’ll be able to see which devices are connected. Just look for your Ubuntu device name, find the IP address, and make a note of it for later.
Create a Secure Socket Shell (SSH) Connection to Ubuntu
Before you start, you might want to install PuTTY on your PC (or just try the built-in Windows SSH function). This enables you to set up an SSH connection, which gives remote access to the Ubuntu command line.
To be clear: this isn’t a remote desktop option; there is no mouse control. But it is useful to have in order to remotely install the tools you’ll be using. SSH is often disabled by default, however, so if it is not installed, you’ll need to fix this. In short, it depends on which Ubuntu version you’re using, and whether you’ve used SSH previously.
Once installed (sudo apt-get install openssh-server) you’ll be able to make a remote connection (just using the IP address and the Ubuntu username and password) and use the terminal to install the tools you need for RDP and for VNC.
Connect to Ubuntu with Remote Desktop Protocol
The easiest option is to use Remote Desktop Protocol, or RDP. Built into Windows, this tool can be used to establish a remote desktop connection across your home network. All you need is the IP address of the Ubuntu device.
While the necessary software is pre-installed on Windows, you’ll need to install the xrdp tool on Ubuntu. To do this, open a Terminal window (CTRL + ALT + T) and enter:
sudo apt-get install xrdp
Wait for this to install, then run the application in Windows using the Start Menu or Search. Type rdp then click on Remote Desktop Connection. With the app open, input the IP address in the Computer field. Next, click Show Options and add the Username for the Ubuntu PC. You can click Save to keep these settings for reuse on another occasion.
Click Connect to start the connection, and input the Ubuntu account password when prompted. The connection will then be established, giving you full mouse and keyboard access to your remote Ubuntu computer.
Access Ubuntu Remote with Virtual Network Computing (VNC)
Another option with full remote desktop functionality is VNC. This requires a client application on the Windows PC and a server on Ubuntu.
On the remote PC, install the TightVNC Server component after checking for updates:
sudo apt-get update
Then install the server utility:
sudo apt-get install tightvncserver
Once done, you’ll need to run it, at which point you’ll be prompted to set a password for the connection:
You’ll also be given a desktop number, usually :1. Keep a note of this.
Now that TightVNC Server is set up on Ubuntu, you’ll need to install the client on Windows. This can be downloaded from www.tightvnc.com/download.php — make sure you choose the right version, as it is available in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors. TightVNC tools are only available as a bundle, so once installed, look for TightVNC Viewer in Windows search.
Once you’ve launched the viewer, input the IP address of the Ubuntu box in Remote Host, followed by the desktop number. So, it might look like this:
Input the password when prompted, and commence your remote desktop activity!
Make TightVNC More Secure
By default, TightVNC will encrypt your password, but nothing else. This makes it insecure for connections over the internet. Fortunately, it can be made more secure, thanks to SSH and Xming.
To use this, download and install the Xming tool for Windows from Sourceforge. Once this is done, look for the desktop shortcut, right-click, and choose Properties.
Look for the Shortcut tab, and in the Target field, enter the following:
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Xming\Xming.exe" :0 -clipboard –multiwindow
Click Apply to save the change, then OK. Double-click the icon to run Xming, then open PuTTY. Here, expand the menu on the left to Connection > SSH > X11. Check Enable X11 Forwarding, then return to Session at the top of the menu.
Enter the IP address for the remote device, and click Open. Moments later, a secure connection to the remote Ubuntu desktop will be available.
Choosing the Right Remote Solution
How you use these methods depends on what you want to get out of your remote desktop experience. If you want complete control, video streaming, and even support for games, then the Microsoft RDP plus xrdp software is the best option, but things can get a bit slow.
For a more efficient experience that doesn’t require heavy graphics processing, use VNC. This is a low bandwidth solution, so keep your remote activity simple. And if you just want to quickly dip into Ubuntu, why not try the Windows Subsystem for Linux, available for Windows 10 Pro users. Failing this, an Ubuntu virtual machine would be the next best thing.
We’ve shown you three ways to establish a remote connection to your Ubuntu computer or server from Windows. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. But which do you prefer? Did any of these solutions fail to work for you? Still having trouble? Or did you find an additional solution? Whatever you have to say, tell us about it below.