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SunWorld: VNC works miracles for system administrators

Aug 05, 1999, 18:36 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Cameron Laird, Kathryn Soraiz)

"Think about the common telephone calls you get, asking for help: someone needs a Web server reconfigured, or the fonts on an engineering workstation look bad, or a rogue process has gone sociopathic and is thrashing swap space, or the Toronto office wants to see for itself the project management calculations Atlanta did. One of the great charms of Unix has always been that it allows you to manage all these operations from a distance. Sometimes that distance is no greater than the length of a hallway in your office building; these days, however, such work can be done almost as easily if your terminal happens to be a continent away from the malfunctioning computer."

"That happy picture has a few rough spots, though: using Windows or Mac OS desktops to monitor Unix has never been entirely convenient with the standard tools installed on the personal computing (PC) desktops -- and it's even more difficult to go the other way. Performing remote administration of PC operating systems is difficult and dicey even with expensive software add-ons. For these purposes, computer-human interfaces come in two varieties: command line, and windows-icons-menus-pointers (WIMP). It's always been possible to submit command lines to a Unix host from a distance. In the Internet Protocol age, this has generally meant launching a telnet client and logging in directly to Unix. Going the opposite way -- sending command lines to a personal computing desktop remotely -- has generally meant buying software that is proprietary and fragile."

"...Now, however, you can eliminate that complexity and expense from your life. Virtual network computing (VNC) delivers much of the functionality of these other components, in a single, high-performance, free-of-charge, open source package. Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser, staff research scientist for AT&T Laboratories Cambridge, thinks about VNC in terms of personal liberation: "You are freed from sitting in front of the machine you want to work on. You are freed from sitting in front of a machine of the same type as the one you want to work on. You are freed from the hassle of logging in and out, and restarting all your applications."

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