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I have a very basic beginner question that I didn't see an answer to. I am accessing a Linux server remotely from a Windows box, using SSH (Putty) and a database administration program.

I would like to be able to interact remotely with the GUI-based programs on the server, including a file manager that lets me drag and drop files. I am not sure how to start. Do I need remote desktop software? If so, can someone recommend a place to start? Would a VPN connection be better? Or are there other simpler solutions? Security is an issue because the server is inside a firewall, and I'd prefer a solution that won't take tons of IT help to set up.


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migrated from Oct 21 '11 at 17:32

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You need to install an X client such as cygwin then configure PuTTY to X-forward. – Mike Oct 20 '11 at 23:20

Assuming the server already have all the GUI stuff installed, you can do this:

  • Install and run Xming on windows ,
  • In the putty connection to your linux machine, go to Connection->SSH->X11 and tick the "Enable X11 Forwarding".
  • Log in wit putty to the linux machine, and start a GUI program from the prompt. Tty running e.g. "startx" to start the entire desktop, if it's installed/set up.

(This might be rather slow, compared to things like e.g. FreeNX or xrdp, but the setup is pretty easy.)

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I think this recommendation makes the most sense. I followed the instructions here and it worked perfectly. Just install xming and the putty ssh client for windows. Again, be sure to enable the "Enable X11 Forwarding" option, then connect to your Linux server and start the GUI program via the command line. – Sean Staats Oct 21 '11 at 19:09

A VPN would make things safer for you from a networking standpoint. This is a separate issue from being able to run GUI programs remotely.

I would recommend getting a VNC server installed on your Linux machine, then using a VNC client on your Windows machine.

If you just want to drag and drop files between folders, I would recommend running Filezilla in secure ftp mode. You can log in securely with the same username/password as ssh, but you can use a gui to view and drag/drop files.

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ford and Michael, thank you both very much. Is there a reason to prefer one approach over the other? Cygwin and X seems very easy and straightforward, and I naively think of SSH as being pretty secure. Is VNC more universal -- does the X protocol limit what programs will work with it, or is it hard to set up? – user663069 Oct 21 '11 at 0:18
Edit: I meant to ask how the approaches differ in terms of 1)ease of installation, and 2) usefulness/universality once installed – user663069 Oct 21 '11 at 0:34
It looks like both will do what you want. I recommended VNC because I've successfully set it up on a Windows client. For X-forwarding, I've only successfully done that on Linux and Mac clients, I haven't tried Cygwin. – ford Oct 21 '11 at 15:12

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