TL;DR: If you don't want to find out the solution by running over 40 Ubuntu installations with several desktop environments on AWS, read on.
On a current project the idea came up to put Ubuntu Desktop developer environments into AWS EC2 instead of local installations (VMs) and RDP into it.
If you have a Windows background, you would expect to just spin up a server and have a UI...
But with Ubuntu things get a little *cough* bit more complicated.
In general, there are several options:
- Install an Ubuntu or Debian Server and install an Ubuntu Desktop environment onto it, then connect via VNC to it
- Install an Ubuntu or Debian Server and install an Ubuntu Desktop environment onto it, then connect via RDP to it
- Create an AMI based on an existing AMI
- Create an AMI from scratch
Another option that sounds appealing won't work: Create a Windows Server VM, activate Hyper-V, install VMware Workstation or VirtualBox and just run your Ubuntu Desktop inside it.
The first two options won't work because you can't have nested Hypervisors in AWS EC2 and VirtualBox would only allow 32bit OS installations because of this constraint.
So, back to the viable options: First, I tried to install Ubuntu Server 14.04 from the official AWS AMI, install the XFCE or GNOME-Desktop on it as well as
While it works in general, the VNC performance and quality is not acceptable in 2016 (I expect true color and reasonable screen resolutions) - especially with GNOME or more complex desktop environments.
Besides that, XFCE feels like late 90th:
So, lets head over to the next option - the one I ended up with:
Install Ubuntu Server from the official AWS EC2 AMI, put Ubuntu Mate desktop on it and RDP into it.
What sounds like a straight forward plan, ended up as a *interesting* journey.
I've chosen (read: learned to choose) Mate, because it is one of the environments that looks pretty nice but doesn't require 3D acceleration enabled which you just don't have in cloud environments (at least not in the general compute instances).
If you're ok with XCFE, the folks at AWS have created a manual for that (on which this post partially is based on).
First, create a AWS EC2 instance of your choice, enable inbound Port 3389 (RDP) in its security group settings and SSH into it.
Enabling Port 3389:
After that, install the latest updates:
sudo apt-get udpate sudo apt-get upgrade sudo apt-get dist-ugprade
Next, enable password authentication for
sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config
Find the line
PasswordAuthentication no and change it to
sshd_config and restart
sudo /etc/init.d/ssh restart
Next, create a password for your default
sudo -i passwd ubuntu
Then, create a user which you want to be your Desktop user, I'll use
sudo useradd -m awsgui sudo passwd awsgui sudo usermod -aG admin awsgui sudo usermod -aG sudo awsgui su - awsgui
After that, install the Ubuntu Mate desktop and
export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/ppa sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-mate-dev/trusty-mate sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends ubuntu-mate-core ubuntu-mate-desktop sudo apt-get install mate-core mate-desktop-environment mate-notification-daemon sudo apt-get install xrdp
Now, make Mate the default desktop environment for
xrdp sessions (also for new users being created afterwards):
echo mate-session> ~/.xsession sudo cp /home/awsgui/.xsession /etc/skel
Finally, we'll allow changing the host post port we can connect to (this allows reconnecting to an abandoned session):
sudo vim /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini
port=-1 in the
[xrdp1] section to
With the changes done, restart
sudo service xrdp restart
Now we're able to RDP into our AWS EC2 instance from Windows:
First, enter the public DNS entry (later on you'll assign an Elastic IP, of course) into the Windows Remote Desktop Client:
Next you should get the
xrdp login screen were you enter your
awsgui credentials and make sure
sesman-Xvnc module is selected:
If everything went well, you should get this connection log:
After a second or two, you should also get the Ubuntu Mate desktop screen:
If you think we're done now: no.
Lets consider, we installed an EC2 instance with an SSD, that volume is mount to
To make use of it, we need to
chown it for the
awsgui user - open a Terminal window by hitting
<Ctrl><Alt><T> in the Mate environment. Then run:
sudo chown awsgui /mnt
Now, we can make use of
Running software in the Mate environment
Here are some tips for running software in that environment.
Ubuntu Software Center
First of all, Ubuntu Software Center doesn't work due to some configuration errors I didn't get behind.
So if you have some nice
.deb packages like Dropbox, just install them via Terminal:
sudo dpkg -i <package>.deb
Changing the timezone
If you want to change the timezone of your instance, you can't unlock and edit the setting in the UI.
Thus, you have to run
sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata in Terminal and select the appropriate setting.
If you plan to install Dropbox, just download the
.deb file and install it as described before.
You can start Dropbox using
start dropbox -i to install the daemon.
After the installation you might see a weird or even no notification icon.
Just restart your EC2 instance and everything should be ok.
Restart / Shutdown via Mate
Speaking of restarting: You might notice that using the Mate logout / shutdown / restart feature won't end your RDP session.
sudo reboot or
sudo shutdown now -h in Terminal.
If you're running Docker and want to use the aforementioned volume
/mnt (because otherwise it might eat up your small boot volume) for the images and volumes, just change your Docker config:
sudo vim /etc/default/docker
Add this line or change / extend your
DOCKER_OPTS entry as follows:
Before you restart your Docker service, make sure to create the folder:
Now restart Docker by running
sudo service docker restart.
docker pull node:4.2.3 should pull Node 4.2.3 and put it to
Visual Studio Code
It just doesn't work in
xrdp environments as of now - even with the latest Insider build installed.
I guess working with the environment will show some more caveats and if I get them solved, I'll keep the solutions posted.
I also would be happy if you share further tips in the comments.