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GUI Desktop (XWindows Gnome) installation on Linux VPS Server with Ubuntu 10.04 or 12.04 OS

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Do you want a graphical environment (GUI desktop) on your VPS server, just like on your computer at home or at work? This can be done!

This tutorial is just about how to install a graphical environment (GUI) on Linux VPS server and VNC server to let you connect to your VPS GUI desktop from your computer and to use VPS server as a desktop computer, run Firefox, Openoffice and other programs. Also, you may check our other tutorial about very good Gnome Desktop alternative LXDE which is more suitable for a low RAM configurations (lower VPS plans) here: LXDE Desktop installation tutorial

For GUI desktop installation we choose minimal Ubuntu 10.04 or Ubuntu 10.10 OS version.
Since Gnome XWindows GUI will use alot of RAM, it is recommended to choose at least VPS3 or bigger plan with 1GB or more RAM.
Or you can choose Gnome alternative -  LXDE Desktop (recommended) which runs even in VPS1 plan with 256MB RAM and you can find LXDE installation tutorial here: LXDE Desktop installation tutorial for low RAM usage

Reinstall your VPS with minimal Ubuntu OS and log in to your VPS server ssh command line as “root”.

1) Preparation of empty VPS server for GUI installation:

Uninstall and remove all unnecessary services (if really not needed):

root@server:~# apt-get purge apache2* bind9* samba*

Update existing packages:

root@server:~# apt-get update
root@server:~# apt-get upgrade

Install text editor “nano”:
root@server:~# apt-get install nano

2) GUI desktop installation:

root@server:~# apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

Choose console country from the list, for example.: USA

Select keyboard layout, for example.: USA

If asked, choose optional keyboard shortcut to switch keyboard languages, for example.: Alt + Shift

Choose console charset, for example.: UTF-8

Choose console font: .Combined – Latin; Slavic Cyrillic, Hebrew, basic Arabic

3) Configuring Gnome and XWindows

root@server:~# /etc/init.d/gdm start

root@server:~# dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

4) Install Remote Desktop Server (RDS), we use TightVNC for Linux:

root@server:~# apt-get install tightvncserver

5) Configure RDS VNC server, and create VNC connection password.

root@server:~# vncpasswd

This command starts server and asks you for a password. Important! This password will be used to connect to your VPS server GUI desktop, so use a secure and strong password (but not longer than 8 characters).
Also, if you want you can create additional, limited privileges connection password (read only password), with this read only password it is possible to connect to desktop, but can not do anything, just view.
If you want to create an additional read only password then for a question:

Would you like to enter a view-only password (y / n)
Answer … Y(es), and enter another password.
If the additional read only password you do not want, then respond, N.

root@server:~# vncserver :1 -geometry 1024x768 -depth 16 -pixelformat rgb565

6) Check whether the VNC server is running with the command:

root@server:~# ps aux | grep Xtightvnc

Xtightvnc process must be shown:

Xtightvnc: 1-desktop X-auth …

This means that the VNC server is running.

7) By default, the VNC server does not use the Gnome window manager. To make VNC server to use Gnome window manager by default, you should make some changes to the configuration files:

root@server:~# nano ~/.vnc/xstartup

If you find uncommented, then comment-out with the character # line with:
#x-window-manager &
And in the end of the file add a new line:
gnome-session &
After changes files might look like this:

xrdb $HOME/.Xresources
xsetroot -solid grey
#x-terminal-emulator -geometry 80x24+10+10 -ls -title "$VNCDESKTOP Desktop" &
#x-window-manager &
# Fix to make GNOME work
gnome-session &

8 ) Important! Run this command before restarting your VPS server, to make sure SSHD service will run automatically when your VPS server starts:

root@server:~# update-rc.d ssh defaults

9) Restart VPS server (to see that everything is working fine)

root@server:~# reboot

10) Connect to your VPS server on the SSH console after reboot and start VNC server:
root@server:~# vncserver :1 -geometry 1024x768 -depth 16 -pixelformat rgb565

If, after updating and upgrading packages you can not connect to your VPS server via SSH, this means that sshd service is not started. In this case, connect to our VPS server control panel on:


On control panel select your VPS server from the list, connect to your server via Java SSH console and start sshd service manually:

root@server:~# /etc/init.d/ssh start

After that set configuration on your VPS server to launch SSHD automatically when server starts:

root@server:~# update-rc.d ssh defaults

11) Download and install VNC program on your computer from here:


11) Run VNC program on your computer:
Enter in the VNC program address bar IP address of your VPS server and the end of address add a colon : with number 1 (as in this example, we launched VNC server, with the number 1), for example.:
Press “Connect” button and enter VNC password you have set before:

TA-DA! You have connected to your VPS server GUI desktop Smile

And one more thing, for some unknown reason default GUI desktop keybord shortcut to minimize all open windows is set to letter “D”, so if you type in some text and press D all GUI windows will be minimized. To fix this you have to redefine minimize all windows shortcut. Go to System->Preferences->Keyboard Shortcuts as you can see in the image below:

Find “Hide all normal windows and set focus to desktop” line and change shortcut to something else, for example Ctrl+Alt+1.


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