Saturday, June 11, 2005


VNC, a pretty simple piece of software but one that I use a lot.  VNC stands for virtual network computing.  I use it heavily at home and at work.

At home we have 8 computers together on the wireless network (with 5 people living here, you need that many at least, don’t you?). 

One of them is a cheap windows box, it has two purposes in life.  One is to be printer server to the family and the other is to accept the USB connection from the satellite and bridge that USB network device with a real NIC that is hooked into a wireless box.  It is that way because if I used a “real computer” (as I used to) that someone else used as a machine — it would become infested with spyware/viruses/whatever and bring the entire network down.  So, I’ve isolated this off and mange it myself so we stay connected and can print reliably.  It is a machine without a keyboard, mouse or monitor though, just sits in the corner and has blinking lights.  It starts the VNC server upon bootup and I use the VNC client to view the screen, move the mouse.  And I can do that from any of the computers in the house.  So, VNC lets me admin this box without having yet another monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.  And without having to get up from the comfort of my office to do so.

Down in the basement, I have two ‘headless linux machines’ — one is a big Dell PowerEdge (multi Xeon cpu, lots of disk, plenty of ram).  The other is a nice big single CPU machine with a regular Intel P4.  Neither of these boxes have monitors or keyboards or mice, they just sit there.  (and they sit in the basement because the fans are, well, a tad noisy).  They are actually conventionally cabled together into a gig hub, which my computer upstairs in my office is likewise wired into.  The hub itself uploads to the wireless network.  This lets me move big files between these machines nicely — and have access to the wireless and internet whenever I need it.  These machines both start the VNC server as well.

On the big poweredge and the p4 – I run some VMWARE instances as well.  A RAC setup and a Windows setup (I might have 8 computers but there are generally 7 to 10 instances of Oracle running in my house at any given time).  The windows VM has my 8i, 9ir2 and 10gr1 instances for windows testing.  The RAC VM — well, has 10g RAC with ASM and OCFS on it.  The way I get to all of these “virtual machines” — VNC again.  So, my laptop screen is generally “some other system” (my laptop appears to be one of the linux boxes, or the RAC VM or the Windows VM).  The big monitor off to the side of my laptop is actually my laptop screen.  So, from one machine, I have full access to everything on many machines.  When I’m asked a question specific to Windows — and 8i, I connect to that VM downstairs and work out the solution.  I can cut and paste from the Windows VM directly into my browser running on the laptop. (the kids love to watch me drag a window from screen to screen too).  If you want, you can see what my desk setup actually looks like (I bought myself a real camera, the fidelity of this picture is much better than the last).  In that shot, the left screen is a linux desktop from the basement, the right screen is my local machine — where I was writing this.

The other thing we are using VNC for into the future is “monitoring”.  My son Alan is dying to have his computer in his room.  We have tentatively agreed to this arrangement after reports cards come out.  The rule will be however that he will run VNC on his machine and we will be peeking at his screen from time to time.  Just not knowing when we might peek (as we do as we walk through the room the computers are in now) will be motivation enough to not go/do things he knows he shouldn’t.

VNC, VMWARE, two things that have made life a bit better.  I use VNC at work too – very cool to start an install in a VNC window, close it up, drive home and reconnect to it.  That is another thing about VNC, you can just close the window (the VNC client window) and open it again later — everything is perfectly preserved.  I hate icon clutter so at most there will be one or two VNC clients running, I just close them and open them as needed.  An extremely handy way to do everything. 

If you use more than one computer regularly — or would like to, highly recommended.



Anonymous Anonymous said....

Tom - that's just like my desk at home. Apart from the fact I've got a printer, scanner, docking station for pda,speakers,lamp, document holder,'phone,many cds and dvds,30 pens (!), a dozen pencils, pads of paper, print outs,bank statements,...
Okay, mine's a little cluttered and your's isn't. Apart from that...

Sat Jun 11, 05:16:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

printer is in the next room (my wifes office). No PDA for me, that little mobile device on the left hand side, that is my PDA (the notebook). Speakers -- I have those, they are there (two black things on the left and right). There are only 14 pens visible in the picture. No cd's dvd's (that's my XM Radio on the right, the little silver thing there). The phone, I keep it and the headset in the drawer.

It is true, I don't like clutter. You will not typically find paper around my desktop at all. Printouts are for taking out of the house, not for on the desk :)

Sat Jun 11, 06:11:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

(p.s. the clutter is in FRONT of the desk by the way, that is why it is angled into a corner, you cannot see the mass of cables, hubs, cords, etc that way :)

Sat Jun 11, 06:12:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Not sure I understand how you can drag or cut/paste from the Windows VM onto your laptop? You VNC into the Windows VM, right? So you put something into the clipboard on the VM and use VNC's "transfer clipboard from remote to local machine" feature, thats fine. I undertstand that part.

But how can you drag the VNC window around? Drag it and drop it onto what exactly?

BTW, very neat desk!

Sat Jun 11, 07:00:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I cannot drag a window from a VNC desktop onto my "local" one.

But I can move my local windows onto either screen (just stretched the desktop to span the two monitors).

So, I can cut & paste to & from VNC. I can drag any windows window (of wich VNC is just a window) from monitor to monitor

Sat Jun 11, 07:42:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Robert Blackwell said....

Another tool that is handy is synergy. From the website ...

Synergy lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems without special hardware. It's intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own display.

Sat Jun 11, 08:11:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Stefano said....

I'm a VNC fan too, a quite useful tool.
If you need more flexibility and don't want to complain about firewalls, routers etc. I suggest you a VNC evolution:
that's able, to go round firewalls using a server to bounce back.
Moreover EchoVNC can be configured to activate encryption (SSL)

Sat Jun 11, 08:19:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Synergy - I used to use that when I was "multi-computer".

before my notebook was my desktop, i had desktops, my laptop was the "mule". It was the disk I carried back and forth to work and on the road.

Now, my notebook is my desktop. Single computer with VNC out to other "server class" machines.

On the road, I downgrade to the same VM's running on my notebook. Same environment, just slower (but not too much -- mostly IO slow down in a big way...)


I'll have to check that out... But mostly I'm either outside or inside -- I rarely need to "cross"

Sat Jun 11, 08:26:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Bob Bunch said....

D'oh! Somebody beat me to the Synergy "punch"! ;) I've been completely addicted to it since about 5 minutes after getting it set up!

I have a very similar setup myself - HP AMD/64 laptop (zv5460us, 1GB RAM) and an XP/FC3 dual-boot system. Doing the Synergy thing between them. An ancient (3rd) system running FC3 is the print server for the laser, a networked HP PSC 2510, the list goes on... :)

VNC and VMWare play key parts in my environment too! Last summer's project was to get 9i RAC running in an FC2 VM - that was a trip!

Tom, what other nifty tools do you have in your arsenal? Other nice (and free) goodies I use as a DBA/SA/Java developer, or for playing at home:

-- PuTTY (great telnet/SSH client)
-- Cygwin (for those times you just GOTTA grep/awk/sed -- and comes w/ a free X server! ;)
-- Leech FTP (opens multiple connections)
-- Remote Desktop (they have a Linux version too)
-- DBVisualizer (hook into any flavor of DB via JDBC, OS agnostic)
-- Lemmy (for those sick people that MUST use vi on Windoze)
-- Enterprise Architect (my shop got me into this one; I use it for data modelling and generating DDL)
-- Eclipse (IMHO, simply the best Java dev tool ;)

Sat Jun 11, 11:14:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Bob Bunch said....

One more (don't have it at home, so I forgot out it) -- OraSchemaDoc. Generates JavaDoc-style schema documentation.

Sat Jun 11, 11:19:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

what other nifty tools do you have in your arsenal?

well, I use gaim for instant messaging...

firefox/thunderbird for web/email.

netswitcher as I move back and forth between work and home.

putty for telnet.

unison for file syncing (I synchronize my tkyte directory on the laptop with two servers, one at home and one at work.

vmware... ypops.... vnc..

Sun Jun 12, 07:49:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Gabe said....

One of them is a cheap windows box ... it is a machine without a keyboard, mouse or monitor though ... it starts the VNC server upon bootup

Which are the specs on that machine?
What software do you use to bridge between the external and internal network interfaces?
Is this a silly question? ... How do you get the machine to start without a keyboard? Usually it gets stuck right there?

Sun Jun 12, 10:00:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Which are the specs on that machine?

It is a 2.5 GHz Celeron with 256 meg of ram. It was a floor model in Circut City. It was dirt cheap. It has nothing but what it needs on it. I'm using Windows internet connection sharing to bridge the USB ethernet with the traditional NIC.

I had a bunch of old KVM (keyboard video mouse) switches and the wireless keyboard/mouse adapters from dead wireless keyboards/mice sitting around, so they believe they have one. Just a little cable off the back of them.

Sun Jun 12, 10:08:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Gabe said....

What printer do you have attached to that Celeron (what [flavor] of OS again)?

Can you print from Linux to that print server?

Just a little cable off the back of them

I'm living in a magnetic field of my own making ... there never is a little cable ... there always seems to be too many of them. Would be nice to have the house wall-wired ... still dreaming it will happen one day.

Sun Jun 12, 10:46:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Just a little canon and hp printer. nothing fancy.

And yes, Linux is able to print to them, although I don't have to do that very often at all -- just print out travel information from email mostly.

The satellite connection mandates Windows, cannot do it any other way. I could replace the entire thing with a "box" from Direcway now, but the new "box" costs lots more than the floor model did :)

Sun Jun 12, 12:08:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Bart said....

Could you take a picture of your desk with a 12m pixel camera and a little closer.

I zoomed in, but I just can't read your credit card credentials.

(I'm sure I've seen films where they zoom in and in and get sharp and crisp pictures at all level - I need that technology !! :) )

VNC is neat.

And so are you - I'm really enjoying AskTom (and lately your blog)

Mon Jun 13, 03:33:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....


Tom - couldn't help but notice the receiver - what's on XM? I spend time in Bluesville (74), but Luna (94) is nice for those long boring drives in the car. Laugh USA (151) is another good alternative.

Mon Jun 13, 12:00:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

xm radio

In the car it is CNN Headline news or 150/151

40, 44, 46, 110, 113 at work...

74 is good for the sitting on the porch in the summer...

Mon Jun 13, 12:20:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

hi tom
seeing the picture of your home office I rembered that word you used to describe your real office layout:

"I don't have any paper documents beyond

o my books
o Jonathan Lewis's book

;) otherwise, my office is quite bereft of paper.

Mon Jun 13, 01:51:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Dan Kefford said....

The other thing we are using VNC for into the future is “monitoring”... The rule will be however that he will run VNC on his machine and we will be peeking at his screen from time to time. Just not knowing when we might peek (as we do as we walk through the room the computers are in now) will be motivation enough to not go/do things he knows he shouldn’t.

Hmmm... you wouldn't be making sure he doesn't use software like... oh.. I dunno... Sybase or MySQL??? ;P

Mon Jun 13, 03:14:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Dave Carlin said....

Tom, Are you happy with Direcway? I use a cable modem currently as well as DirecTV and have considered using their internet service as well to consolidate. Your thoughts....or is cable modem not available in your area.


Mon Jun 13, 04:31:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

are you happy with direcway

I sort of described my situation. I would replace it with something else, if it were available. The latency is a killer -- it changes the way you work. The uplink is slow, the latency high. But -- it works and it is the best I can get.

It would not be a consolidation, it would be another dish. The direcpc satellite for me is 11 degrees off the horizon, directv is 30 degrees. The direcpc dish is a 3 foot wide ellipse. directv a circle. They are very different technologies.

Stick with the cable modem :)

If I could get it - I would. My CO is some 7 miles away (no DSL), cable is not an option, too many trees for the direct line of site available in the area. This is my only option right now.

Mon Jun 13, 08:14:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Marc said....

VNC is great if you need GUI, but if you just want to maintain several tty open on a server and just be able to check them out from time to time then screen is your friend. I use gentoo linux on several servers and I keep long emerge running under screen control. It would work on a long running import too.

Wed Jun 15, 05:38:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Robert said....

You got a cool setup there Tom ! wow 7~10 instances ! that's hard-core haha !
I got a Linux instance on a mainframe hosted by IBM. and I VNC to it.

Sat Jun 18, 08:19:00 PM EDT  


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