Delivering remote Mac, Linux and Windows desktops with NoMachine NX

Get to know NoMachine, a lesser-known product for desktop virtualization that focuses on delivering remote Mac and Linux desktops.

You hear a lot about Citrix XenDesktop, VMware View and Dell vWorkspace in the desktop virtualization space, but

there are other options that are simply less well known or oriented toward niche use cases. This week, I want to take a look at NoMachine NX 4.

For the past -- well, for my entire career, I've sort of written off NoMachine as a point tool that you had to use if you wanted to remote Linux. It has supported Windows for a few years, but there has always been stiff (and frankly, better) competition from the companies that are mostly focused on Windows desktop virtualization. NoMachine 4 recently arrived on the market, though, and word on the street is that things are different now. There was a long delay between versions of NX; I've been hearing about NX 4 for three years now. At long last, it's here.

NoMachine offers flexibility

The main benefit of NoMachine NX is that it supports almost any combination of back ends, desktop platforms and clients that you can come up with. There is a 1:1 option for remote access to physical desktops running Linux, Unix, Windows or Mac. There is an enterprise virtual desktop infrastructure option that can use both public and private clouds. With private clouds, you can use any hypervisor, and with public, you can use any provider that supports Xen or KVM.

Plus, clients exist for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux and Unix, and there's a browser-based component, if for some reason that's not good enough for you (or, more likely, if you have unmanaged endpoints).

Everything can be accessed through a NoMachine Enterprise Server, so you can deliver virtual desktops or remote access to physical desktops to the most appropriate users. As promising as it looks, you can sense the Linux pedigree with the NoMachine NX product line. It offers a terminal services product, but it's limited to providing Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH)-like functionality to Linux servers. I'm guessing that you can come up with a way to use Windows RDSH servers in a NoMachine Enterprise Server scenario, but it would require jumping through a few hoops.

Reviewing NoMachine NX for Windows

From an experience standpoint, I have nothing to compare NoMachine NX to, Linux-wise. I assume that since NoMachine is made for Linux, it works rather well. After all, the NX protocol was created to enhance X Windows performance over WAN connections (it's old enough that it was originally intended for use with modems).

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For Windows, the experience is at least above average. It does a decent job of maintaining audio sync with a YouTube video on some occasions, although I did have some issues with frame rate and audio skipping. (I could attribute that to the fact that I was running the server in a virtual machine and connecting from my host, though.) Suffice it to say, when NoMachine NX 4 works, it works quite well, so there have been some clear improvements.

The challenge when evaluating these kinds of tools is that the competition is fierce in the Windows world, and the protocols and user experience are all really, really good. That means that everyone is likely to choose a more traditional product when they're remoting only Windows.

However, if there is a situation where non-Windows remote desktops are needed, NoMachine NX gives you a compelling option. When you can deliver and, more importantly, access different desktops from a single pane of glass in these environments, life becomes easier. I don't think I'm ready to stop calling NX a niche product, but I will certainly pay more attention to it because of its performance and broad device, OS and delivery mechanism support.

This was first published in November 2013

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