View a remote desktop with UltraScreen

Tutorial – UltraScreen

Article from Issue 238/2020
Author(s):

UltraScreen lets you view the screen of a remote computer without a central server or paying for an account. It's a good option to have when someone calls you for computer help.

When a printer simply won't print, when something has gone wrong with the package manager, or when other computer issues arise, it helps to be able to call on a friend, co-worker, or relative for help. However, you might not be able to meet in person, and the phone isn't ideal for this type of situation – it requires a lot of patience at both ends of the line to describe the problems.

Professional administrators, as well as many computer-savvy sons and daughters, instead turn to remote desktop solutions such as TeamViewer [1] or AnyDesk [2]. With the help of these programs, a connection can be established between two computers over the Internet, and you can operate the remote computer as if you were sitting at its keyboard. This works even without a fast Internet connection – modern compression methods keep the required data transfer rate to a minimum.

UltraScreen

Both TeamViewer and AnyDesk offer free options for personal use and are available for all common operating systems. However, the program vendors take great care to ensure that the user does not overstress their generosity. If there is an Exchange server on the network, or if the program is used conspicuously often and over long periods, they ask the user to purchase a commercial license.

Free alternatives like the classic VNC have the disadvantage that it is not so easy to route a connection securely through the Internet. Usually at least one of the participants will need to forward ports from the Internet router to the corresponding computer. This is where UltraScreen [3] steps in as a good alternative. The open source program does not require licensing or any configuration on the router side.

Installation

Like many young applications, you will search in vain for UltraScreen in the package sources of the popular distributions. Only Arch Linux has an entry in the Arch User Repository (AUR) in the form of ultrascreen-git. With the help of the AUR helper yay, the program can be quickly built and imported into the system (Listing 1, line 2). Alternatively, you can use the graphical package management front end Pamac developed by Manjaro, which can also be used on Arch Linux.

Listing 1

Installation

01 ### Installation via AUR
02 $ yay -S ultrascreen-git
03 ### Unpack and call ZIP archive
04 $ unzip ultrascreen-v1.0-linux.zip
05 $ linux-unpacked/ultrascreen
06 ### Run AppImage
07 $ chmod +x ultrascreen-v1.0.AppImage
08 $ ./ultrascreen-v1.0.AppImage

However, the developers also offer UltraScreen as a statically built version in the form of a ZIP archive and an AppImage. You only have to unpack the ZIP and then execute the binary ultrascreen, which is contained in the linux-unpacked/ subdirectory (Listing 1, lines 4 and 5). Then make the AppImage file executable using chmod or a file manager and call the executable directly (Listing 1, lines 7 and 8). The advantage that AppImages offers is that the application can also be installed on the system this way and called up via the Application menu.

Making the Connection

Immediately after starting, UltraScreen displays just a white window with a Login button and a prompt to enter a nickname. The choice of the name is completely up to you; no account will be created on a server. However, the name can only contain letters and numbers, not even spaces are allowed. After logging in, UltraScreen then loads the actual application window (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The UltraScreen ID is displayed in the top left-hand corner of the application window.

Below the program name in the left sidebar you will find the ID number of your UltraScreen instance in the style of 719[...]00000. UltraScreen creates a new ID every time you log in; there is no way to get a fixed ID. Below the ID is the nickname you chose previously.

If you're trying to connect with someone who needs computer help, you need the UltraScreen ID of that person. This can be communicated either by email or chat, or even by phone if needed. Use the icon to the right of the ID to copy the ID to the clipboard and then press Ctrl+V to paste it into a chat or email program.

The person who wants your help has to tap on the large screen icon labeled STREAM. UltraScreen then shows them a selection: They can transfer either the complete desktop (Entire screen) or only individual applications (Figure 2). This is a little unfortunate for users with two or more monitors: As of now, there is no way to stream only the content of one screen, which unnecessarily inflates the volume of data to be transferred in multi-display setups. After selecting the content, UltraScreen displays a preview of the Internet screencast in the application window.

Figure 2: UltraScreen lets you stream the complete desktop of the computer or, if so desired, transfer only the content of single windows.

You now need to enter the remote ID of the other person below CONNECTIONS. Pressing the plus icon tells UltraScreen to save the connection and paste it below the input field. However, the entry will be gone the next time you start the program, because it changes in every new session.

As soon as the connection is established, you will see the desktop or the selected window that you need to investigate. UltraScreen only transmits the image. There is no return channel to remotely control the remote computer (Figure 3). The screencast remains active until one of the participants taps Disconnect at the bottom of the screen.

Figure 3: In contrast to commercial remote desktop applications, UltraScreen only allows you to view the desktop of the counterpart. There is no remote control.

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