Data Centers

DIY: Four Terminal Server alternatives

Jack Wallen features some alternative solutions for a Terminal Server environment that are sure to save your small business serious cash.

Many people think a terminal server is an ideal solution for a small business. You can have a single machine where multiple users can log in and use applications from a single source. The problem with the current state of Terminal Server (at least on the Windows front) is that it's incredibly expensive. Is the small office/small business crowd stuck with having to drop serious coin for the Microsoft solution, or are there another route to take?

Fortunately, the small office/small business crowd doesn't have to drop serious coin for the Microsoft solution -- there are some great options out there that won't put as much of a dent in your budget. The endgame to these solutions is a server that would allow users to connect and use the applications they need to get their work done. Some applications (such as QuickBooks) don't work on these solutions, but there are always alternatives to those applications as well (such as GnuCash).

Terminal Server replacement options

1: Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP)

This project is one of the easiest options to get up and running -- at least from a server perspective. It's so easy on a Ubuntu server, in fact, that the entire system can be installed with a single command from an already working Ubuntu server install (you'll also need to have two network interfaces: one for internal network and one for external network). The command is:

sudo apt-get install ltsp-server-standalone openssh-server

And then build the client environment with the command:

sudo ltsp-build-client

It's just a matter of connecting the clients, and you're good to go... well, in theory. There a number of other steps that must be taken, which you can read about in the documentation on the LTSP Wiki. LTSP might well be one of the most well documented of all the available options.

2: Thinstation

This solution is a different take on the service. Totally based on Linux, a Thinstation environment can be set up in such a way that a user never sees the Linux platform. Thinstation supports all major connectivity protocols and is somewhat the opposite of a standard thin-client setup. Thinstation is installed on the client and can then connect the following:

  • Citrix servers using the ICA protocol (on top of Microsoft Windows Server, Sun Solaris, and IBM AIX)
  • Microsoft Windows Servers using the RDP protocol by rdesktop or nxclient (Windows NT4TSE, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2003 Server, Windows 2008 Server, and even Windows XP or Windows 7 as single user only)
  • Tarantella servers
  • Unix servers running X or NX
  • VNC Servers (actually TightVNC)
  • Telnet and SSH (Secure Shell) servers

The minimum requirements for Thinstation are:

  • Processor: x86 +100Mhz
  • RAM: 16MB (min) (8MB using TinyX)
  • Video card: All supported by XFree86 3.3.6 SVGA, Xorg, or SVGALib
  • Network cards: Realtek 8139, NE2000, EEPro100, Davicom 910x, SiS900, VIA, 3Com 905/ 59x, etc. (see build.conf)

It's incredibly important to look at the documentation within the download. This particular solution will require you to work overtime to get it up and running, but the payoff should be worth the effort.

3: NoMachine NX

Once this free server is installed, it will allow easy remote access to a UNIX server or workstation. And since UNIX/Linux is multi-user by default, access to that desktop (on a per-user basis) will mean every user will have access to all user-level applications and services on the server.

The NoMachine NX server acts as much like a virtual machine as it does a terminal server. But unlike Terminal Server, NoMachine NX makes sharing sound and printing virtually a no-brainer. And, as they say on their website "NoMachine NX makes it possible to transform any traditional desktop computing environment into a centrally managed, globally accessible, virtual desktop infrastructure."

Be sure to also take a look at NoMachine's other solutions, which can help to expand your machine's capabilities.

4: ThinLinc

This option can serve as a terminal server replacement as well as a desktop virtualization solution. The free version of this client can run up to 10 concurrent users. You can download both the server and client CDs. The setup process is simple:

  1. Download Server image. (Note: You will have to register for the download.)
  2. Burn Server image to CD.
  3. Insert CD into the machine that is to be the server.
  4. Reboot server.
  5. Walk through the easy to use graphical installer.
  6. Download the client for the desired platform.
  7. Install the client.
  8. Connect to the server.

Check out a full break-down of ThinLinc's impressive feature list.

What do you think of these options?

Do you consider these suitable replacements for Terminal Server? If not, what do these solutions lack, and how could they improve to be up for the task? Let us know in the comments.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


Can anybody please let me know the difference between cloud computing alternatives and terminal services alternatives?


It is mostly observed that there are ways to virtualize your computer labs, and at the same time there are many solutions available in market and many of them stand there for simplicity, uniqueness and more importantly cost effectiveness. More probably small companies with better solutions represent themselves as citrix alternative. It is great to see that Citrix has created himself as a brand and is people say it and use it as famous technology. It also helps customer to understand the solution when anybody names it. Great Blog! Thank you for letting me represent myself here! My Best Wishes To All.. !!!


A big thumbs up to NoMachine. I use it on CentOS 5.5 and it's remarkably fast even over remote connections. Clients for OS X, Windows, and Linux are available so it makes Linux a transparent addition for your users. It's refreshing to see these kinds of articles highlighting free or low cost alternatives to the big names. So many people never look for alternatives past the first few Google results. Keep 'em coming.


XPUnlimited is one of those additions to Windows XP and upwards that really allows you to push a remote access solution to the limits. A much cheaper and flexible alternate to RDP.


is great and very nice to use. Beware though that the free version is limited to 2 users total. For 3 or more you'll need to upgrade to the commercial version. there are open source alternatives: freeNX and neatX. freeNX does not support advanced features (like sound and local file systems), neatX supported by google chose to only implement _relevant_ features of the protocol.

Ah, this is fantastic! I just asked about this a week or so ago, so I'm surprised to see something so fast. Thank you so much! When I try these, I'll let you know how they worked. Love this blog/column/feature!


Thank you for the suggestion. I have looked at several alternatives and this looks like it hits my needs. I am installing it right now.

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