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Per-user screen sharing in Lion

I may buy Lion despite my initial hesitation.

What changed my mind was reading about per-user screen sharing. This is new with Lion and allows a remote user to login to their own desktop session while someone else is using the computer. This really blurs the distinction between the server and user versions of Mac OS X.

Here is how Apple describes it:

You can remotely log in to a Mac with any user account on that computer and control it, without interrupting someone else who might be using the computer under a different login.

If that's not a multi-user server, I am not sure why. But whatever Apple chooses to call it, the possibilities are very interesting.

New life for old hardware

As I have noted before, my ancient MacBook Pro is nearing End of Life. It won't run Lion, it won't run the new 64 bit VMWare Fusion: its useful days are fast drawing to a close. Per-user screen sharing could give it a longer life as a terminal accessing a newer and better machine running Lion.

I do have reservations as to whether that Mac Mini we own could be the server. It is a 2GHZ cpu and is limited to just 2 GB of ram, so running multiple sessions might be too much to ask of it. Currently, under Snow Leopard, Activity Monitor would seem to indicate that another session would not overload it, but I suspect Lion will be a bit more resource needy. We'll see soon enough.


If done well, an iPad could make a very slick screen sharing client. I've used iSSH VNC with our Macs - that is a bit of a clumsy experience now, but if screen gestures could be passed through to an OS like Lion, that slight ineptness could disappear. That would certainly seem possible: Remote Conductor lets an iPad function as a trackpad and wireless keyboard now: combining that with per-user screen sharing would be perfect. Imagine the possibilities for multi-user apps; for example, a point of sale system with the floor personnel carrying iPads without needing an iPad app for that central application. I have clients doing that now, but they need a specific iPad app or they have to struggle with the slight clumsiness of VNC. This could open up new worlds for the iPad as a GUI terminal device.

I would think Apple would almost have to be thinking along these same lines, but there is no mention of anything like this that I've seen. Are they leaving this for third party developers or are they planning their own integrated iPad client? I think that would be quite sensible, but Apple doesn't see the world quite as I do.

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Thu Jun 9 18:06:05 2011: 9543   Mark


As I'm sure you well know, you can run/share as many desktops for as many users as you want on Unix/Linux with VNC. On Windows, you can only share the main display - and judging by this new feature MacOS was the same in that regard.

Presumably, today you could login to a Mac via telnet or SSH and run an X application and display it back to your X-window capable client. Is that so? It looks like some epic fiddling with XDMCP and VNC could give you something similar to this shared desktop - but likely it would only work for X desktops and it's certainly not something a mere mortal is going to bother with - (link)

Thu Jun 9 18:21:20 2011: 9544   TonyLawrence


Yes, X has been the only way to do this up to now.

Mon Oct 3 13:20:55 2011: 9893   Asher


As I understand it, VNC is like remote desktop in Windows it doesn't support a separate sign on session.
I have now compile and install X11 and xQuartz. I can establish an SSH session with OSX. I seem to remember doing stuff with the DISPLAY env. variable to get apps to run on my local screen. Can I get like a kde or a gnome desktop to work locally (on my Ubuntu workstation) such that it is acting as the remote desktop environment for my Mac? How do I get the fancy apps like Krusader/Dolphin to run ? I have them on the local machine but I realize they are different apps.

Mon Oct 3 13:34:41 2011: 9894   TonyLawrence


VNC before Lion doesn't support separate signons, but Lion does. You don't need to use ssh if you want to do this. I have no idea how well this will work in Ubuntu, sorry.

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