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Broadcasting a VNC server to Mac OS X Leopard from Ubuntu

I'm going to cover how I very simply got a vanilla Ubuntu install to broadcast a VNC server to my Macbook. Why would I do this? Well, I have an extra computer hanging around and I wanted to use it to remotely download torrents. This way it won't get in my way while I'm working and I can manage torrents while I'm away from home.

So here's how I did it!

I installed Ubuntu 7.10 using all the default settings and opened up Multiverse and Universe repositories. This might not be necessary, but you will probably want to do it eventually.

After that I opened a terminal window (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and installed and configured x11vnc using the following commands:

$ sudo apt-get install x11vnc
$ x11vnc -storepasswd

Then I added x11vnc to start with my Ubuntu session. To do this I added the following to System > Preferences > Sesssions:

Adding VNC in my Ubuntu session: Here is the Sessions window in Ubuntu

The command 'x11vnc -forever -usepw -avahi' does the following:

  • forever makes the session stick after logging out
  • usepw lets you use the password created earlier by 'x11vnc -storepasswd'
  • avahi is for magically broadcasting the VNC server for discovery by OS X

We're done configuring Ubuntu, so restart your X11 session or logout and login again.

Now for the fun part!

Open up Finder in Mac OS X Leopard and you should see computername:0 under shared in the window. Click on the computer and you'll see a nice little button to 'Share Screen...'. You will probably get a warning about keystrokes not being encrypted which you can ignore.

The Finder window with a shared screen visible

Leopard has a hidden application called Screen Sharing which works really great. If you want to put the Screen Sharing application on your dock, you can find it in /System/Library/CoreServices/Screen Sharing. The application is intended for easy sharing of Mac screens but it works great for Linux as well. Instead of using the built in screen sharing with Leopard, another great VNC application is Chicken of the VNC. Despite its sketchy name it works really well.

Other tips:

  • If you want to access the server remotely you will need to forward port 5900 to you Ubuntu box. I also configured a dynamic DNS with my router and I can easily login from anywhere
  • If you want to speed up VNC, change your colour depth to 16bit and lower the screen size
  • Install a better bittorrent client. The default Ubuntu client is really barebones and I would recommend using either Azureus or Transmission (both of these clients are also available for OS X)

And that's it! Another thing that you might also want to install is SMB or AFP file sharing in Ubuntu, this way you can get your files off of the box.

Here are some resources I used:
http://lifehacker.com/software/how-to/set-up-vnc-on-ubuntu-in-four-steps...
http://www.sanityinc.com/articles/mac-screen-sharing-with-linux

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