Thin clients. Whatever operating system you prefer, you’ll find that you have a few available, allowing you to view the desktop of a computer far from you. I haven’t had much reason to mess around with VNC (the most common unix based thin client), but I’ve spent a lot of time messing around with Microsoft’s Remote Desktop. Part of this is because I administrate a server whose sole reason for existance is to allow people access to remote desktops (alias terminal services).
The last time I installed FreeBSD, I was amused to find a command line program called rdesktop. Rdesktop allows people to connect with windows just as well as a windows client, something that amused me as I am doubtful that Microsoft released the details of their RDP protocol. My only complaint was that they were apparently running RDP 4 instead of 5, opening the possibility that rdesktop would stop working as soon as Microsoft dropped support for 4.
This time I installed FreeBSD, I was amused to discover that GNOME 2.10 came with a gui for rdesktop and that RDP-5 is now supported. Not everything has been implemented, but that’s better than nothing.
As a result, I’m now able to administrate the Windows servers I’m responsible for via FreeBSD as well as XP and Mac OS X (which has an official Microsoft supported client). It also means that I can get at programs on my XP boxes from other OSes, something that entertains me.
It would be interesting if someone were to create an open RDP server. I imagine that there might be legal trouble as a result, but rdesktop doesn’t seem to have been shut down. On the other hand, the Remote Desktop client comes as part of XP and doesn’t really constitute any kind of money stream for Microsoft.
Terminal Server licenses, on the other hand, probably constitute a small but significant money stream (at $76 per person or device using the server). I can imagine they might get more upset about that.