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.