Streaming Ubuntu on tablets and smartphones

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©Thomas L. Raukamp

©Thomas L. Raukamp

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So, you want to access your Ubuntu desktop from your tablet or smartphone? With Splashtop, your wish can come true. This remote desktop software provides access to data, video, and music and is finally available for Ubuntu.

It's always the same. You've prepared for the presentation and gathered up all the important files – the only thing missing is that one crucial bit of artwork you left on your home machine. Wouldn't it be nice to access that machine from your smartphone or tablet PC quickly and easily?

A so-called remote desktop solution called Splashtop Streamer provides this external access to another computer. The Splashtop software has won some points in the mobile realm – if only in the Windows and Mac world up to now. In November, however, Ubuntu was added to Splashtop's list of supported operating systems. This is certainly a testament to the perseverance of the user community, which has repeatedly called for a compatible version, as Splashtop CEO Mark Lee said in a recent interview.

LTS Preferred

A Splashtop configuration consists of essentially two components: the streaming software on the remote system you want to reach, and the app on the tablet PC or smartphone to enable the access. Whereas the iPhone, iPad, and Android apps (for Mac OS and Windows) come from their respective app stores, the streaming software for Ubuntu LTS version 12.04 can be found in Ubuntu Software Center (see the "Pricing" box).


You can use Splashtop for free in your own WLAN. To access your computer from an external network or mobile network, you need to subscribe to the "Anywhere Access Pack," for either US$ 16.99 annually or US$ 1.99 monthly. The Android and iPhone apps are free, as is the streaming software for Ubuntu. The separate iPad version costs US$ 2.99.

If you're using the more current 12.10, you need to download and install a Debian package from the developer website [1], which is as easy as double-clicking the deb file. You also need to install the x265 video encoder. In Software Center, search for x264 , click Show technical data at the bottom, and download the x264 and libx264-120 packages.

Let the Magic Begin

After opening the streaming software from Dash, you get a window in which to enter your dial-up credentials. The Windows and Mac OS X versions might be more elegant (Figure 1), but Splashtop Linux provides some optimization through a configuration file in the home directory ($HOME/.config/splashtop-streamer/.SplashtopStreamer.rc ). In the file, you can change the frame rate of the stream, although this would have been better provided in a preliminary settings dialog.

Figure 1: The streaming software for Windows and Mac provides more visible functions than its younger Ubuntu counterpart.

Once the e-mail address and password match, the streamer sets up the connection with the Splashtop servers and transmits data in real time. As soon as you log in to the app with your tablet or smartphone, it lists the registered computer along with its device name. Now for the big moment: Once you choose the desired item, the Splashtop app connects the two devices and puts Ubuntu on the small screen. A help function explains the important gestures and elements of the remote desktop client and waits in the toolbar (Figure 2) on the bottom right of the screen.

Figure 2: The different function strip options and what's behind them.

Depending on the size of the display and desired resolution, the app doesn't use the entire screen to accommodate horizontal finger scrolling. You can even use Ubuntu on a seven-inch tablet display thanks to the concept of the big icons in the Unity Launcher and the Dash. It's amazing how easy work on a seven-inch screen is. Smaller elements, such as buttons for closing windows, are accessible through the usual two-finger zoom-ins that don't require extraordinary motor skills. You can also open the standard iOS or Android keyboard. Typing longer text strings doesn't work so well, but web browser address input is easy (Figure 3).

Figure 3: You can input text through your mobile operating system keyboard.

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