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I have Ubuntu Server running on a headless box, which is right now, almost entirely doing only software RAID and feels a little underused. I'd like to get into using Ubuntu as a desktop a little more. What do I need to do (install/etc.) to get Gnome while keeping the box itself headless? I'm not sure which packages to install or which steps to take. I figure I'll just use X over the network (Xming or the like) but something like NX might work.

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Please consider marking an accepted answer if one has been made. – Thomas Boxley Aug 20 '11 at 23:17

For an NX-based solution, I would suggest using X2go. It's not compatible with Nomachines client or OpenNX, but it is much better integrated with things like PulseAudio. This means that you can have two-way audio with the remote desktop, for instance. They have several nice clients, including a Firefox plugin. Like other NX-based solutions, it runs over ssh.

In order to do that, I would just install the ubuntu-desktop package, then install x2go. If you don't already have openssh-server installed, you'll need that one too, but if it's a headless server, I guess you already have that. You don't say which version of Ubuntu you're using, but if it's 11.10, then you'll probably want to test Unity 2D. The X2go client might need to be configured for that. It's likely that you'd also want to disable LightDM or GDM as it'd serve no purpose on a headless server. The easiest way to do that might be to simply uninstall it.

There are also other desktop environments you might want to try. LXDE is really fast and quite suitable for a terminal server. So if Xfce.

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I believe that you should just be able to run sudo apt-get install gdm, and it will install the GNOME Display Manager and all of the dependencies, which include the other necessary parts of the GNOME Desktop.

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Will this cause it to start on boot? I don't want to change the behavior of the server itself. – Andrew Koester Feb 1 '11 at 17:52
Yes, but you can easily disable this. And when you do want to start it, all you do is type start gdm. – Thomas Boxley Feb 1 '11 at 21:29

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