Introducing Ulteo: your virtual Linux desktop

This is in contrast to the typical VNC session, which is often hampered by the upload speed of your internet connection, which is typically many multiples smaller than the download speed. Ulteo's servers obviously don't have the same restriction, which is just as well, and upload speeds on the Ulteo servers aren't a bottleneck.

Ulteo is built on top of an older version of Kubuntu, and like the original Mandrake, it's KDE-centric, using version 3.5.2. This means there's a lot of graphical information to transfer across the network, and there has been very minimal curtailing of animation effects to help reduce the bandwidth.

The custom KDE menu, for example, scrolls and slides as you navigate through the list of installed applications, which can make the session feel a little awkward when you first connect.

KDE menu

The menu is the biggest visual difference between a default KDE installation and Ulteo, and that's because it's actually a KDE project called KBFX. This is something of a sprawling monster of an application in the best tradition of KDE development. It has embedded file and HTML browsing alongside the scrolling application lists, and it takes a bit of getting used to.

The theme styles and graphics have been updated to reflect the Ulteo livery, both in the menu and on the desktop, and there's very little left to give away its Ubuntu heritage. The KDE installation has been locked down, and it's basically running in kiosk mode. This means there are no system configuration tools and no package installer, but most importantly, it means there's no command line console either. This is understandable for security and stability, but many Linux users are going to miss the convenience of typing commands directly.

Fortunately, almost everything you're likely to need is already installed. There's a complete 3 installation, Firefox for browsing and Thunderbird for email, along with Kopete for instant messaging and DigiKam for photos.

Strangely, several multimedia applications are also included. But as there's no sound output with the Online client, there's little point in using them. You also have limited access rights to the filesystem, with your home directory being the only place you can store files. You can use your home directory just as you would the local equivalent, and Ulteo provides up to 1GB of online storage with its free accounts, and up to 10GB if you're prepared to pay.

The Ulteo distribution

The next most important project on is called the Ulteo Application System. It's a 650MB ISO image, which needs to be burned and booted from just as you would any other Linux distribution. That's because this is essentially the Live CD version of Kubuntu, though this isn't immediately obvious, thanks to the spooky artwork that reminds us of Antony Gormley's Another Place sculpture off the shore of Crosby Beach near Liverpool in the UK.

As with Kubuntu, you can use the desktop just as you would a standard installation, and everything looks almost identical to its online counterpart – only this time, the distribution is running on your hardware, so you can do what you like with it.

You can also access the Ulteo online services, but that doesn't make much sense from a Live CD. For this to work, you need a network connection. And if you've got a network connection, you might as well use the Online Desktop and save yourself the trouble of booting a CD.

Permanent installation is through an icon placed on the backdrop, and takes around 20 minutes, hardware permitting. One reboot later, and you're dropped into Gaël Duval's sequel to Mandrake. Unlike the online version, this is a fully fledged Linux installation, and it's stuffed full of the same applications you'll find in an average Kubuntu installation.