Turn your NT workstation into a powerful X terminal

With Windows NT gaining acceptance in the enterprise market, you might soon need to administer a UNIX system. Alternatively, you may need to provide access to your UNIX hosts from a PC desktop. What options do you have? The common approach is to have a second, clunky dumb terminal on your desk, consuming precious desk space and providing limited access through a retro-text interface. However, using a PC-based X server is a reasonable and readily implemented alternative. Exceed 6.0, from Hummingbird Communications, gives you the capabilities you want.

Exceed is a 32-bit, fully X11R6-compliant X server and collection of programs and utilities that extend the capabilities of your PC and let it communicate with UNIX systems running X-Windows. The current version of Exceed (version 6.0 for Windows NT and Windows 95 or version 5.2 for DOS and Windows 3.11) supports NT on Alpha systems and all versions of Windows on Intel. To run the software, you need at least 16MB of RAM and a minimum of 90MB of available hard disk space.

You can use the collection of programs Hummingbird includes with Exceed to connect to your remote UNIX systems, execute programs in a terminal session (similar to a dial-up to a remote computer), or run an X-Windows client application on your UNIX server to redirect graphical output to your local PC. Numerous IP-based utilities, such as Post Office Protocol (POP)-based email, Finger, Gopher, Archie, and Whois, let your PCs act more like UNIX systems.

Exceed operates over a variety of network protocol links, but generally you use only a Winsock-compliant network connection to establish your link and execute programs. For example, if you are running DOS and Windows 3.11, you can use Microsoft's TCP/IP-32 version 3.11b or another IP stack, such as FTP software's PC/TCP. You can even choose some alternative protocols at this level, such as Novell's NetWare IPX/SPX (of course, your UNIX box would also need to run IPX/SPX, which is not unheard of but is very unusual). On NT and Win95 systems, simply use the TCP/IP protocol the operating system includes.

Exceedingly Simple
Getting Exceed up and running in my test environment took less than 20 minutes. The distribution software comes on CD-ROM, which is good, because my installation required 100MB of disk space and I certainly didn't want to shovel more than 80 disks into my system. After installation, I needed to reboot.

The installation was uneventful, but you must know something about your UNIX environment to install the software properly. When you launch the installation program, the software runs an installation wizard to step you through the process. You can choose several installation methods (typical, custom, or workstation). The important item to know is which fonts you want to install to use with the software. The product includes many categories of fonts; 75dpi is the default. Depending on the X clients you intend to run, you might need to install additional font sets. Refer to the installation documentation to decide which options to install. You must also select the keyboard layout you intend to use; I opted for the default US layout.

After all the file copies are complete, the installation wizard asks whether you want to run the performance tuner. Running this program lets Exceed test your computer's video configuration to find the best way to render graphics and perform other graphical operations. This process can be lengthy, depending on the speed of your computer's CPU and video subsystem. During my installation, the process took only a few minutes.

Exceedingly Swift
To test the software, I used an Intel-based NT host to connect to an SCO OpenServer 5 X-Windows environment. This configuration let me test several of Exceed's features, including its ability to perform remote logon through X Display Manager Control Protocol (XDMCP). The software worked flawlessly; I did not encounter any problems, even with some obscure X applications such as the X version of NetHack, a popular UNIX game.

To start Exceed, click the Exceed icon in the Exceed program group off the Start menu. The program then launches the X server and places the Exceed toolbar on the desktop for you to access common Exceed features such as the client startup utility and the Xconfig configuration program. To access one of these Exceed features, click one of the toolbar icons to launch the application. You can also launch applications from their Start menu entries. You can use the Exceed entry on the NT taskbar to remove the toolbar from the desktop. Screen 1, page 115, shows several sample X clients running simultaneously, with Windows applications coexisting on the desktop.

Exceed includes a special application, Xstart, to help you launch an X application from your UNIX server. Xstart is a basic Windows dialogue with a series of prompts for the connection method you want to use to connect to your UNIX server (rsh, rexec, rlogin, and telnet are the most common options), the category of program you want to execute (X client or standard terminal program), authentication information (username and password), and the command to execute. When you launch an X client for display on your PC from the Xstart program, or when you launch an X program through an existing connection to a UNIX server (e.g., if you use a product such as Hilgraeve's HyperACCESS to establish an IP link to a UNIX host), you must tell the X client where to look for the X server to display its data. You need to add the -display command-line option for each X client launched.

Exceed can run in one of two windowing modes: single or multiple. In single-window mode, Exceed creates a special desktop to contain all your X applications. If you minimize the X desktop, all your X applications minimize with it. This single-window mode operates similarly to Word: You can open several documents and interact with each, yet minimize the entire application. In multiple-window mode, each X client launched on your UNIX host appears in a separate window on your Windows host. You can think of multiple-window mode as what you usually see when you run Windows applications: If you start two different X applications (e.g., xclock and xcalc, the X equivalents of the Windows clock and calculator applets), each will appear in its own window.

Exceedingly Diverse
In addition to the X capabilities of the software, several other Exceed programs deserve special mention. These programs include the terminal emulator, virtual desktop, and scripting features in the X server, as well as a suite of IP-based applications (mentioned previously).

In many UNIX environments, especially legacy environments, applications are character based. An X server does little to help you run these programs. Exceed, however, includes a special Telnet application with basic terminal emulation and file transfer capabilities. The program lets you establish a Telnet session with a remote UNIX host and use the Digital Equipment VT (from VT52 to VT420, ANSI, and even SCO ANSI) or Wyse 60 terminal emulation to run applications (and launch X applications, if you want). Furthermore, Exceed includes support for TN3270 and 5250 terminal emulations; it lets you connect over TCP/IP to mainframe systems.

The virtual desktop feature lets you create several desktops. The product presents a picture of a desktop with a small rectangular overlay. You move the overlay to control an area of your desktop, as you can see in Screen 2. Although the virtual desktop was designed for older systems with limited screen resolutions (e.g., a 640 * 480 screen that might require a 1024 * 768 X client to execute), you can use this feature to run several applications simultaneously and move them off the screen to prevent clutter.

Exceed includes Hummingbird Basic, a scripting language similar to Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). It lets you automate processes through several different Exceed components. Using the software, you can create scripts to log on to remote servers, transfer files to and from the server, and interact with the user. The language is robust, offering several high-level language features, such as the ability to create complex conditional expressions through CASE statements, an assortment of variable types (e.g., string, integer), and the ability to create functions and procedures for execution elsewhere in your scripts.

An Exceedingly Good Buy
Although Exceed's single-user price is high compared with other X servers on the market, you get a great deal for your money. In addition, you get a quality, time-proven X server from the leader in the PC X server arena. If I had to spend my hard-earned money on one X server product, Hummingbird's Exceed would be my first choice.

Exceed 6.0
Contact: Hummingbird Communications * 416-496-2200, Web: http://www.hummingbird.com
Price: $545
System Requirements: 16MB of RAM, 90MB of hard disk space