Wandering Thoughts archives


My home DSL link really is fast enough to make remote X acceptable

A few years ago I wrote about how my home internet link had gradually gotten fast enough that I could toy around with running even VMWare Workstation over remote X. At the time (and afterward) I thought that that was kind of nice in theory, but I never really tested how far this would go and how it would feel to significantly use remote X for real (even when I missed various aspects of remote X). Recently, world and local events have made for an extended period of working from home, which means that I now very much miss some aspects of my work X environment and have been strongly motivated to see if I can use them over remote X. Because I'm lazy, I've been doing all of this over basic SSH X forwarding (with compression turned on) instead of anything more advanced that would require more work on my part.

I was going to say that I started with things that are fundamentally text based, but that's not really true. Even X programs that render text are no longer 'text based' in the sense of sending only 'draw this character' requests to the server, because modern X fonts are rendered in the client and sent to the server as bitmaps. Given font anti-aliasing for LCD displays, they may not even be black and white bitmaps. Still, programs like exmh and sam only really do relatively simple graphics, and not necessarily very often. All of this runs well enough that I'm mostly happy to keep on using it instead of other options. Given past experiences I wasn't really surprised by this.

What I have recently been surprised with is running VMWare Workstation remotely from my office machine, because what I was doing (from remote) reached the point where I wanted to spin up a test virtual machine and we didn't build a virtual machine host designed for remote use before we left the office. Back several years ago in the original entry, I didn't try to seriously use VMWare Workstation to get real work done; now I have, and it works decently (certainly enough for me to be productive with it). It doesn't even seem to saturate my DSL link or suffer too much when other things are using the link.

Of course, running X remotely over a DSL link that's only medium fast doesn't measure up to running it over a 1G Ethernet network, much less the local machine. I can certainly feel the difference (mostly in latency and responsiveness). But it's much more usable than I might have expected, and I've had to change my work habits less than I feared.

(I'm not sure if using SSH's build in compression is a good idea in general these days, but on a quick experiment it appears to be drastically reducing the total data sent from the remote VMWare Workstation to my home machine.)

PS: There are more sophisticated ways of doing remote X than just 'ssh -X' that are said to perform better. If we keep on working remotely for long enough, I will probably wind up exploring some of them.

tech/HomeInternetAcceptableX written at 21:45:26; Add Comment

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