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Small, Fast RDP Client?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the linux-for-a-specific-task dept.

Operating Systems 40

Tazor asks: "I'm working for a small municipality in Denmark where most of our users are using our Windows terminal servers. Now we want to run a RDP client on our older PCs (133 mhz, 32 mb RAM, 2 gb disks). We figure that the best way to do this, is to use open source, and this is where I need your help. I'm trying to find a small Linux distro, running from either a floppy disk or from hard disk, that boots straight into a RDP client logon screen. It needs to be easy to customize (not much Open Source knowledge in our department) so that we can configure hostnames and set the distro to use Danish keyboard settings. We would also like it to be free. I found PilotLinux, but it runs from a Live-CD and is difficult to customize (for a PFY like me anyways). Hope that hardcore OSS geeks in here can help me."

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rdesktop (0)

Erik Hensema (12898) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709000)

rdesktop is small and fast. needs X though.

Re:rdesktop (1)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709306)

I use rdesktop on a daily basis and it's awesome. My only bitch is that cut and paste between rdesktop and my gnome desktop flakes out sometimes...

However, since it sounds like this person is setting up kiosk type machines, they won't need to run a window manager, etc.
You could just setup the .xinitrc to just do something like:

rdesktop -f theserver.ip.address

The -f is for fullscreen...

If this was setup right, you could even train the users to just do a ctrl-alt-backspace if they're session gets hung up.

Re:rdesktop (1)

mastagee (26015) | more than 9 years ago | (#10738712)

Actually there is an svgalib version.
Theres several versions right here []

DamnSmallLinux? (1)

Agilo (727098) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709002)

You could check out Damn Small Linux [] , which is a very small Linux distro.
You can install it to your hard-disk, too.
I, for instance, installed it onto a 200 MB hard-disk in my PentiumMMX. Runs really well.

DamnSmallLinux on a USB pendrive (3, Interesting)

svanstrom (734343) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709224)

Don't forget to support DSL by buying a USB (2.0) pendrive with it already installed: []

Not only will it be useful for projects such as these, but will also help you fix friends computers (quickly check if it's a hardware or software-problem etc); and you can have a lot of "look, I erased Windows and installed Linux for you while you were away"-fun... ;-)

Here's what you do: (3, Informative)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709009)

Take any distro you want that has an X server. Install enough to get the X server running. Install rdesktop. Find which runlevel boots straight into X in /etc/inittab and change it so that it runs the following command: xinit rdesktop [options].

I just thought that up on the spot. You can do all of this with Slackware easily. DamnSmallLinux looks like it works too if you modify the OS image.

Re:Here's what you do: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10710786)

Take any distro you want that has an X server. Install enough to get the X server running. Install rdesktop. Find which runlevel boots straight into X in /etc/inittab and change it so that it runs the following command: xinit rdesktop [options].

*cough* "It needs to be easy to customize (not much Open Source knowledge in our department)..."

Re:Here's what you do: (1)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 9 years ago | (#10720321)

Slack is easy to customize. You edit one line in one file.

Re:Here's what you do: (1)

SwellJoe (100612) | more than 9 years ago | (#10769661)

Slack is easy to customize. You edit one line in one file.

Yep. And there's only 62930 lines in 248 files in my /etc directory. Shouldn't be all that hard to pick the right line out of the right file.

Netstation Linux (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10709024)

NetStation [] is a Linux distribution for diskless thin clients terminals using standard x86 hardware. It can boot from network, floppy, or flash-disk and connect to an application server using VNC, RDP, XDM, SSH, telnet, Citrix ICA, or Tarantella.

set karma_whore 0

Re:Netstation Linux (2, Informative)

Shulai (34423) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709556)

Yes. Netstation and others like Thinstation and PXES (all in
All of them are related projects (I do not remember which one is the original and which are the derivatives).
They usuallay boot via Etherboot floppy, as are too large to fit into a floppy themselves. One of those (I do not remember which) can be installed on a Windows server, having any Linux station installed.
OTOH, when I investigated about this, I modified a LEAF-Dachstein Linux floppy router.
The result was a Linux self contained on a floppy booting and starting rdesktop on framebuffer (via NanoX and VESA 2.0). Not a so easy thing to do, but feasible.
Lamentably it didn't work for us, as lots of our oldies didn't have VESA 2.0 video cards, and a svgalib version didn't work well. (2, Informative)

servicepack158 (678320) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709030)

is really easy to install and works perfectly as far as I can tell.

oh come on, for heaven's sake (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10709053)

P133, 32MB RAM, 2GB Hard Disk? Back when these were new, they'd be doing all that and more on NT4 or any old linux distro. What's so hard about this? Up the RAM a little and you could even run Win2K or XP on them...

RDP on a COMPUTER?!? (1)

c0p0n (770852) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709067)

Ribosomial [] computers... hmmm I think I should file a patent against this. Thank you, nice idea!

What we did ... (4, Interesting)

Bin (31121) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709083)

I work in a school and rolled out a thin client system 4 years ago with a scripted RedHat 6.2 install with a customisation rpm thrown in on 2nd hand P100 - P166 machines with 16Mb ram and a 250Mb HDD.

We used citrix metaframe 1.8, so had the offical citrix ICA client for linux. The client was a little quirky - wouldn't go full screen properly so we had a +20 pixel green border around the edges of the 800x600 screen ... A later release of the client eventually fixed that.

The customisation rpm setup runlevel 4 to be a full screen session logging on to the metaframe servers.

We now have a nfs root system with very little on the harddisks; the kernel (isa network cards and netbooting was just too much work when we could just install grub and copy an updated kernel from the nfsroot when it changed), a few local settings (symlinked from the nfsroot into /localdisk/...) and a local ICA bitmap cache.

Needless to say the thin clients are now being phased out, the thin clients run office type applications very well, but they don't do all the fancy multimedia interactive elearning stuff that all the teaching staff tell me they can no longer teach without.


Everything you need (4, Informative)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709449)

sell the hard drives and buy decent network cards then use :

boot the thin clients from the network, and hey presto : Rdesktop kiosks

Sell the hard disks? (1)

nuknuk (97188) | more than 9 years ago | (#10718455)

Probably not going to get a very large mountain of money for your 2gb hard drives...

Although, of course I do understand what he's saying...the hard-drives won't be needed, and that's cool. Hrm, I might check into this myself. Would actually be a good way to re-use some old hardware I have at work to make what would effectively be an extra "kvm" (without ability to see computer actually boot etc.) in the datacenter...

Bad news for you. (1, Informative)

afd8856 (700296) | more than 9 years ago | (#10709520)

First of all, you can use LTSP and rom-o-matic to create a network where you boot from floppy disks and have networked X computing. On a 100 Mbit switched LAN it works fast and with almost no problem. The bad news is that your stations will be too slow. In my experience, there is a big difference between P200 MMX and P2 233.

In the end, if you don't want to replace your hardware, you would have to run win95 with and RDP client on them.

Re:Bad news for you. (1)

afd8856 (700296) | more than 9 years ago | (#10711928)

Modded down because I've mentioned win95... Hey, crackhead, I know what I'm talking about. What you've just did is try to hide the truth: win95 runs well enough on a p133 to run an RDP client, but you'll get really bad performance with that hardware running rdesktop on X.

PXES is where it is at (3, Informative)

wolf31o2 (778801) | more than 9 years ago | (#10710001)

PXES is a small Linux distribution based on Red Hat binaries that is designed to be used as a thin-client. It is capable of booting from a CDROM, a hard disk, a netboot image, or PXE. It is capable of running several protocols, including ICA, RDP(v5, too), XDMCP, and others. I jave used it quite extensively. All you do is create the image using the pretty GTK+ interface an dyou're done. There are also default pre-built images. There are packages for Red Hat, Debian, and even a Gentoo ebuild. All in all, I find it to be a wonderful solution and quite easy to customize. The developer, Diego, is also very helpful and friendly.

Re:PXES is where it is at (1)

Criggie (74150) | more than 9 years ago | (#10714825)

PXEs is sex-on-toast. I work at a school in New Zealand, where the government pays for licences for MS software. Even with free windows on the client, PXEs is cheaper. Rock on Diego!

Re:PXES is where it is at (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10735203)

We also use PXES in our company to connect to Citrix servers. I agree that PXES is easy to implement and customize.

This is a fantastic project. Thanks Diego!

Freedos (2, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | more than 9 years ago | (#10710162)

Freedos plus the free Citrix DOS client works well for all of my clients where I have implemented it. It takes a bit of work to get the DHCP and TCP/IP working but it's about as lightweight as you are going to get. It's a nice solution because it can turn any machine into a thin terminal, of course due to moving parts it also ends up costing something to maintain vs nothing for real thinterms.

CAL Licensing (4, Informative)

gadwale (46632) | more than 9 years ago | (#10710352)

Each user connecting to a Windows terminal server needs a valid Client Access License (CAL). Windows 2000 and XP apparently come with their own CALs. If you are going to use a different OS or client, you may need to separately purchase a CAL for each client and the CAL costs about as much as a seat license for Win2K or XP; so you might as well buy and install the OS.

More info: ticleID /5863/5863.html

-Adi Gadwale.

Re:CAL Licensing (1)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 9 years ago | (#10710865)

While he may still want to buy the clients rather than the CAL (don't know if the license counts if you don't install the OS), that won't solve his hardware requirements/restrictions. I can't imagine that WinXP will run on a P133 with 32MB RAM, or that I would survive the experience (heh, punny).

Re:CAL Licensing (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 9 years ago | (#10718093)

As long as you have 64MB RAM for setup (the installer checks RAM), and 18MB for running (nobody's tried 17MB, though), XP will run on something as low-end as a Pentium underclocked to 20MHz (that includes Overdrives, which is how the 18MB thing was done).

Re:CAL Licensing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10751924)

No, it won't run, it will walk.

Re:CAL Licensing (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 9 years ago | (#10753647)

Actually, it'll crawl. IIRC, the people who did that said it took longer than FIVE MINUTES to render a My Computer window ;-)!

Re:CAL Licensing (1)

Bravo_Two_Zero (516479) | more than 9 years ago | (#10711941)

And, depending on the SP level of the terminal server, you may still have problems with non-MS clients getting a temporary license that can't be used after a (somewhat random... like 50-89 days... don't recall the specifics) period of time. Lots of thin client vendors have worked around this, and it may not be an issue for you. Test, test, test (on a non-production system) and pay attention to the Terminal Services Licensing util on your terminal server. Also, don't forget that the TS CALs require a Server CAL as well. And, those are usually device CALs, not user CALs (unless you specifically buy user CALs with a 2003 domain). XP and 2000 no longer have their own built-in CAL, either.

Re:CAL Licensing (1)

Turmio (29215) | more than 9 years ago | (#10719579)

P133 + 32MB RAM + Windows XP = fun?

Re:CAL Licensing (2, Informative)

nachoboy (107025) | more than 9 years ago | (#10720791)

Wow that article's old - from 1999, when the latest server offering from Microsoft was NT4. The story remains mostly the same for Windows 2000, but in Windows Server 2003 things get complicated quickly.

For Terminal Services running on Windows servers, clients require a separate TS CAL. For NT4 and Windows 2000, this TS CAL requirement is waived if the client OS is of an equal or greater version. For Windows Server 2003, Microsoft discontinued this free TS CAL. A transition plan [] was made available for all Windows XP licenses owned prior to April 2003 (when Windows Server 2003 was released), granting XP license owners a free TS CAL, but any licenses acquired after that date are not granted the complimentary TS CAL. Part of the reasoning was due to an expansion of TS CAL types - TS CAL's can now be either per-device or per-user (previously only per-device was available).

Terminal Services licensing can be quite tricky, but the best thing to do is keep clear the distinction between normal Windows CAL's (not free; allow authenticated clients to access services like file and print shares) and TS CAL's (used to be free, not anymore; only allow access to Terminal Services).

Re:CAL Licensing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10739785)

Exactly, which is why you should replace Windows on the server as well.

Pilot Linux... (5, Informative)

DMadCat (643046) | more than 9 years ago | (#10710585)

Actually, though it may seem difficult, Pilot Linux is actually quite easy to customize.

I was looking for a quick and easy solution to getting more use out of aging PCs at my former job last Spring. We had a Microsoft RDP environment (switched from Cisco) and a bunch of old PIIs still running Windows 95.

I found Pilot Linux, which boots straight to RDesktop in effect turning your PC into a thin client.

Customizing it is really only a matter of changing a couple of scripts. The challenging part is mounting the .iso (mount -o loop -t iso9660 tiger.iso /mnt/iso).

After that you simply copy all of the files to another directory, dip into one of the config files (can't remember which off-hand) to change the settings (I even added a .png of my company's logo at boot) and then use mkisofs to create a new .iso with your customized files. Burn to a disk and you're done.

I want to stress that it took me about 3 hours to learn all of this prior to which I had zero experience with any form of CD distro. I didn't even know you could mount an .iso before I did it but Google is a wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, though it worked wonderfully well, my IT Director didn't know anything about Linux and therefore didn't like it. Instead he stuck with Microsoft products and so he ordered 50 new PCs with Windows XP pre-installed just for the Remote Desktop feature (everything else was locked down), in the process using up much of the department's leftover budget for the whole year within the first six months (the majority was spent on new XP servers).

Re:Pilot Linux... (1)

llefler (184847) | more than 9 years ago | (#10710957)

Unfortunately, no mod points today. But I printed it for future reference. Your post has saved me lots of time, I was planning to figure out how to do this next time I had some free time. I've been considering using one of the MAME CDs as a base to make a flash based rDesktop image. I'll grab a copy of Pilot and try that first.

Re:Pilot Linux... (1)

deunan_k (637851) | more than 9 years ago | (#10748083)

Unfortunately, though it worked wonderfully well, my IT Director didn't know anything about Linux and therefore didn't like it. Instead he stuck with Microsoft products and so he ordered 50 new PCs with Windows XP pre-installed just for the Remote Desktop feature (everything else was locked down), in the process using up much of the department's leftover budget for the whole year within the first six months (the majority was spent on new XP servers).

I can identify with that. The company where I worked with wanted me to setup a central file server as a knowledge base library for anything and everything. Recommended linux, but was shot down because the Managing Director doesn't know anything about linux, thus had a phobia of it. Forced me to sell my soul and install Win2K Server instead.

I think one of the reasons corporate resist Linux alternative due to the decision makers are too chicken to take even a calculated risk. Playing it safe, even though it is much more expensive!

Well, I'm getting my soul back and I'm not returning the money either..

Don't bother with rdesktop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10718928)

It performs very poorly compared to Microsoft's Remote Desktop client. You'd be better off investing in a few Windows CE-based windows terminals. The ones from Wyse are pretty good.

What's on them now ? (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 9 years ago | (#10719459)

Do these machines already have Windows 95 or 98 on them ? Just download Microsoft's RDP client and use that.

Alternatively, just pick some LiveCD distro with X11 and rdesktop included.

Re:What's on them now ? (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 9 years ago | (#10732987)

I second this idea. It's easy. Probably quicker than a Linux solution. Possibly more featureful and reliable - I don't know how feature compatible rdesktop is with MS's client, but I would guess that it can't map local printers or do stream sound.

More importantly, it sidesteps the problems of drivers! Granted, this won't be a big deal if they are all identical, all plug and play hardware. It depends on the gear, P133's are right around the time when plug and play finally started working properly for PCI.

FWIW, LiveCD's tend to require a lot of ram for the disc cache. Plus they're slower to boot. You'll probably be best with something that installs (Ghosts!) to the HD.

THINSTATION is the answer (1)

il_seba (318713) | more than 9 years ago | (#10721548)


It is a complete Linux distro that can be used as a RDP "thin terminal" (does also support ICA, Tarantella, XDM, VNC etc.).

Thinstation can boot on diskless terminals (Etherbot/PXE), but also from floppy, CD, HD or Compact Flash IDE devices.

133Mhz CPU and 16/32Mb RAM should be good enough.

You want them to be netbootable and diskless (1)

mi (197448) | more than 9 years ago | (#10738947)

Netbootable and diskless. RedHat is not good for this -- I tried.

FreeBSD is pretty good for it -- I tried too. If you insist on Linux, find one, which support diskless setup "out of the box".

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