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Ask Slashdot: Recommendations For Linux Telecommuting Tools? 212

Posted by timothy
from the skype-works dept.
First time accepted submitter rodrix79 writes "Hi all. I am trying to move from Windows to Linux (Ubuntu, but maybe to Mint). The problem is I telecommute full time and I am having a hard time trying to find the right tools to keep communication flowing with my clients (which are mostly on Windows / Mac). Any good recommendations from Linux telecommuters?"
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Ask Slashdot: Recommendations For Linux Telecommuting Tools?

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  • Usual rule (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tim Ward (514198) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:01PM (#39589207) Homepage

    (1) Decide what you're trying to do

    (2) Decide what application level software will do what you need

    (3) Use whatever platform (2) runs on

    I would not put my income at risk by playing silly games with the platform I use to earn my living. If I want to use something else for other purposes, then jolly good, I'll buy another box.

    • I have to agree. We are in an Employers market, we have been in one for a while.
      You use the platform they recommend, or you work from the office.

      Now the question is different if the company is exploring to offer telecommuting then you may be evaluating tools then you have more options.
      Skype, Is good, so is WebEx, WebEx give you more professional features.
      There are a slew of web based tools, most of them are OS independent.
      • by nschubach (922175)

        I worked at very large shipping company and recently moved to a very small company... both have/are using WebEx and conference bridges for pretty much every meeting.

        I've only ever used Skype to talk to my one friend who refuses to use Teamspeak/Ventrilo while gaming because he doesn't know how to change the codec and he thinks they both sound terrible. I've personally never seen Skype used in business.

        As far as remote connections into PCs, there are various methods for connecting to RDP/VPN/and VNC that ar

        • by Skadet (528657)
          > I've personally never seen Skype used in business.
          I've personally seen it at AAA, eBay, PayPal, and a handful of startups.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Welcome to NuSlashdot. Where the most highly ranked post is as always a complete non answer. The OP asked a very specific question. He doesn't need you lecturing him on his workflow. And to all the jackasses that modded you up, you are the reason Slashdot sucks circa 2012.
    • (1) Decide what you're trying to do

      (2) Decide what application level software will do what you need

      (3) Use whatever platform (2) runs on

      I will also add Define what you mean. My first thought on reading TFS was that he was asking what the best remote control software was, for him trying to access multiple clients. He could mean that, or he could mean what other people are assuming: how best to communicate with the people he does business with. Two very different applications, with two very different answers: for the first, some variant of NX, PC Anywhere, etc., would do the trick. I like NX, because it works on everything and is pretty fast.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:02PM (#39589219)

    In all honesty... an IM program, an email program, and a web browser. Without saying what tools you're looking to replace, I really don't know where to go with this one.

  • by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdotNO@SPAMjawtheshark.com> on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:03PM (#39589233) Homepage Journal
    Can you be more specific? Like telling us what doensn't work? All major chat protocols work, email works, browsers work, OpenVPN works (others may work too). There are good terminal services clients. So, apart from the "I can't have Microsoft Office", what -pray tell us- doens't work.
    • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:06PM (#39589277) Homepage Journal

      And you *can* have Microsoft Office in a VM.

      As a matter of fact, if the real problems are only on the edges then using Virtualbox is probably one of the directions to look. I do admin work is a split environment and it works well for me. Most of the time it's turned off but when I have to do an Active Directory change I have a saved-state windows instance ready to go.

    • by Wee (17189) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:32PM (#39589657)
      Can you be more specific? Like telling us what doensn't work?

      Having already posted a reply, I have a gut feeling this submission is in some way trollish. No specifics, vague notions of "telecommuting" (do people even use that word?), and management-buzzword phrases like "hard time trying to find the right tools to keep communication flowing with my clients". Really? IM, email, online doc sharing, VOIP, video chat, Libre Office (or even MS Office in Wine)... shit even old-school ftp drop boxes: none of those will work in keeping communication "flowing"?

      I get the feeling the submitter is looking to say, "See? Even Slashdot -- largely regarded as Nerd Central -- can't think of ways Linux can provide the tools and services necessary to serve the business-ready needs of today's modern telecommuting professional". Or some such reverse-astroturfing thing.

      It could also be that the submitter isn't a technical person. But the submission smells funny.

      -B
    • Not all terminal services work in Linux. There are authentication and other protocols that M$ uses that aren't always available in Linux. Or like most other Linux interfaces to M$ products, there's a lag between what's required by M$ and what's available in Linux. And given how M$ likes to randomly change things on us, you could easily find yourself out in the cold if you can't upgrade as fast as your work. This is what happened to a coworker & I when we tried to use primarily Linux at home(he still
      • by ulzeraj (1009869)

        FreeRDP supports encrypted RDP connections including the strong crypto and FIPS features.

      • Can you specify which protocols that MS uses that "aren't always available in Linux?" Y'know, Kerberos works just fine, so does SMB and RDP and any other protocol you want to throw at it. Admit it -- the command line frightens you and you haven't the stones to figure out wine or virtualbox. This is this the typical bullshit FUD that Windows nimrods toss around in order to keep their customers sucking on the MS tit.

  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:07PM (#39589291) Journal
    KISS: Keep it simple, stupid (quoting, not insulting!)
    • Email.
      A private forum if applicable. (I'm trying to nudge my main client in that direction, they have multiple outlets who don't communicate with each other much)
    • Twitter/Facebook if your customers are into social media (mine are, Twitter is very handy for very quick support jobs).
    • Phone. Android if you want to vaguely stick with the Linux thing in every way.

    If you're trying to remote into a company LAN or VNC things then your main block is company IT policy rather than Linux capabilities, but if you're looking at standard communication tools then browser choice is sometimes more important than OS choice.

  • Wrong question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:09PM (#39589307) Journal
    I generally hate it when people don't answer the "real" question posted to an online forum, so for starters: Jabber and rdesktop, and at every turn, promote the use of Google's online collaboration tools if they don't already use them heavily (they actually don't suck, but I wouldn't run a company depending on Google to say non-evil).

    That said, you have asked the wrong question. You need to start with "I make my living serving people using X but don't want to use X, should I drink the Xool-ade or risk losing my shirt?"

    And if you don't already know the answer to that question, we can't help you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DrgnDancer (137700)

      Even more to the point I don't know that we can answer the question as asked. There's no standard answer to "what do I need to telecommute?" What do you do? What tools are commonly used by your employer(s)? Do you need voice or video chat? If so, what kind? Skype is easy, but Polycomms don't work with it. What do you do? If your job is "develop .NET applications", it's going to be really hard to just switch to Linux. Does your company use Exchange? Is there an OWA server available so you can hook

      • I have never ran it, but I have friends that have:
        http://sourceforge.net/projects/sipe/ [sourceforge.net]

        Adds OCS to pidgin.. :)

      • Pidgin can hook up to an OC server, there's a plugin for it (not bundled with pidgin though, download it separately).
        I remember using it about a year ago, inside a very very large corp that used OC.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Zblockquote> Does your company use Exchange? Is there an OWA server available so you can hook it up to a non-Outlook client? I

        Evolution no longer needs OWA. There's a native MAPI connector. You need something newer than Rhel5.x though (or a hell of a lot of coding work to backport it).

    • by nahdude812 (88157) *

      In fairness, OP's question is remarkably vague. The question boils down to "What are good communications tools for Linux?" Well, that depends on what you mean, and what you need. If you need to pass files back and forth and send fully formed comments, email. If you need to voice conference... a phone. If you need video conference, Skype or Google Hangouts. If you need text-based back-and-forth, any IM client. If you need Microsoft Office editing, Google Docs, Open Office, or Office in Crossover. If

  • by dejanc (1528235) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:10PM (#39589321)
    In my case, telecommuting requires some readily available tools, such as openvpn or git/svn. For my softphone needs, I use Ekiga. For instant messaging, there is Pidgin. For screen sharing, I had excellent experience with Teamviewer. For email, anything from Thunderbird to Mutt. But really, I never had any particular issues regarding communication on Linux. Linux may be lacking in other categories of software, but it really shines in communication department.
  • Use a Mac (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Tell yourself it's based on BSD and that's kinda close to linux. I've long ago given up on using linux as a desktop/laptop. Run a Mac, be happy and put a linux virtual machine on your mac for the hardcore geeky stuff. Best of both worlds, IMHO.

  • I have to take a Windows laptop home so I can use a VPN to start a putty session to log into a terminal to do unix system maintenance instead of just ssh'ing from my home linux box (yes , I know I can put VPN on linux but its hassle).

    When I've asked why they can't just have an open ssh port they start waffling about security. I'm sorry , since when are VPNs more secure than ssh? Never, thats when. I'm sick and tired of know-nothing Windows admins running IT infrastructure.

    • Just an FYI. There is a linux version of putty. It looks almost identical to the windows version.
      • by Viol8 (599362)

        I only use putty because the laptop doesn't come with eXceed or some other X installation so I can use an xterm.

    • I'm trying to figure out what exactly the hassle is with VPNs on linux. If you're using openvpn, drop the configuration in /etc/openvpn and make sure the your certificate, your keyfile and you CA certificate are accessible for openvpn. (Me, I just dump them in /etc/openvpn/connectioname folders). Then adapt /etc/default/openvpn and set those you want to autostart.

      Alternatively, under Ubuntu you can configure it graphically, but I haven't found a way to have more than one VPN active.

      That said, you do ne

      • by Viol8 (599362)

        "If you're using openvpn, drop the configuration in /etc/openvpn and make sure the your certificate, your keyfile and you CA certificate are accessible for openvpn. (Me, I just dump them in /etc/openvpn/connectioname folders). Then adapt /etc/default/openvpn and set those you want to autostart. "

        Yes, obviously thats so much easier than typing "ssh @"

        "That said, you do need to install a few packages. Which ones shouldn't be hard to figure out."

        Lifes too short. If my company want me to work from home they can

      • If your corporate SSH server accepts usernames and passwords, somebody is doing it wrong.
    • Cisco VPN
      sudo apt-get install network-manager-vpnc
      or
      sudo apt-get install network-manager-openvpn

      they both work as an easy replacement in ubuntu to connect. It adds the features to network-manager.
      Very easy way for me to connect to my Cisco SSL and IPSec VPN's.

      • When I saw your post, I thought, it couldn't be that much "Easy Button style" easy now, is it? I really don't have a need or use for VPN, butI did the Fedora equivalent:

        sudo yum install NetworkManager-vpnc NetworkManager-openvpn

        They were already installed, so I clicked the little networking icon, which I never really need to do since once I configured networking at install time, it just works, and there it was, VPN connections, click that and you can add/configure to your hearts content in a GUI. How wond

    • OTOH, a VPN and an open ssh port is less secure then either one on it's own. I agree, it's a very small difference, but I can see where they are coming from.

      VPN is, conversely, much more of a pleasure on Linux than it is on Windows. The Windows VPN client will only route my packets over the VPN, locking me out of my local machines, printer, and my spiffy 30Mbit/s network connection. Linux was easy to set up with the right network-manager plugin (YMMV), and routes my packets the way I want it to, so I get th

    • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @03:04PM (#39590125) Homepage

      Security is a valid concern. The VPN is another layer of security. Let's say there's a zero day vulnerability in ssh. That's OK, you have to be on the inside of the corporate network to ssh into the server, so there's a layer of security there. Let's say there's a zero day vulnerability in the VPN system. That's where the security of ssh comes in. Why expose an extra potential vulnerability vector to the outside world? The VPN external interface already HAS to be exposed and can get you what you need from there.

      For my more sensitive systems I actually have to get through three layers of password to get into root. Login to the VPN to get on the network, provide the password for my ssh key to get into the box, then provide either my own password (through sudo, my password is different than my ssh key password) or roots password (through su) to get to root. All three passwords are different, so that if one gets compromised somehow, you still need the other two.

      Sure shh is secure. That doesn't mean you should rely exclusively on that security if you can avoid it.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      I have to take a Windows laptop home so I can use a VPN to start a putty session to log into a terminal to do unix system maintenance instead of just ssh'ing from my home linux box (yes , I know I can put VPN on linux but its hassle).

      When I've asked why they can't just have an open ssh port they start waffling about security. I'm sorry , since when are VPNs more secure than ssh? Never, thats when. I'm sick and tired of know-nothing Windows admins running IT infrastructure.

      Sounds like IT supports a VPN server for all of its corporate users. One of them (you) says that a VPN is too hard for him to set up, so you want IT to set up a dedicated machine just for you that runs SSH and provides access into the secure network. And they have to keep that machine patched and updated. And integrate it with their IDS. And configure it to authenticate against Active Directory. Can they use access lists on this SSH server to restrict what resources different groups of VPN users can access

  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:15PM (#39589397) Homepage Journal

    I run Ubuntu. I like Ubuntu.

    But I won't install it again, because there are bugs introduced in the Ubuntu patches which are not an issue with the base Debian build.

    So come the next box, I'll be trying different distros again.

    I'm rather disappointed to report that every major distro has let me down on updates and patches over the years. I really have to question the value of a "maintenance service" if the maintenance introduces bugs instead of fixing them. (RedHat, Mandrake, SuSe, and now Ubuntu have all done this at one time or other.)

    • by Shikaku (1129753)

      http://archlinux.org/ [archlinux.org]

      I gave up on Ubuntu really early (9.04) but I moved to Arch and haven't looked back since. Give it a try, but don't expect it to hold your hand.

      • by evol262 (721773)
        9.04 is not early for Ubuntu, and Arch has much problems with needing to keep up on every hairbrained thing the Arch developers are doing instead of it just working. Update and Pacman is using GPG all of a sudden, locking you out of everything? To the forums with you. Readline updates, but everything you're using from the AUR is still linked against the old version (that they just removed)? To the forums with you. Awesome3 changed its configuration again? Forums. Etc. If you want to work instead of t
    • Unlike most distros you get a non-fucked-about-with kernel the way Linus released it and its very very stable. Granted , its not very user friendly but if you have even moderate linux skills this really won't be an issue.

      • by Nimey (114278)

        Life is too short to manually deal with dependencies, thanks.

        Seriously, that's the #1 thing that will keep me away from Slack. It seems pretty solid otherwise.

    • I really have to question the value of a "maintenance service" if the maintenance introduces bugs instead of fixing them. (RedHat, Mandrake, SuSe, and now Ubuntu have all done this at one time or other.)

      So has Microsoft and probably Apple as well. Things slip through. It is the nature of the beast. The question is how long do bugs remain unfixed.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        In the case of the mouse problems I've found with every single system I've tried to install a post Ubuntu 10.04.1 system on -- the bug has been around for over a year. Well over a year.

        The symptom is simple: If you install 10.04.2 or later, the mouse will randomly stop working, regardless of which desktop you run. Near as I can tell, it's a more pervasive problem with USB wireless devices that can report on their battery life, but it's also been an issue with an Acer laptop trackpad.

        I'm actually surp

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      I'm rather disappointed to report that every major distro has let me down on updates and patches over the years. I really have to question the value of a "maintenance service" if the maintenance introduces bugs instead of fixing them. (RedHat, Mandrake, SuSe, and now Ubuntu have all done this at one time or other.)

      Debian did it too with openssl.
      http://www.debian.org/security/2008/dsa-1571 [debian.org]

      Luciano Bello discovered that the random number generator in Debian's openssl package is predictable. This is caused by an incorrect Debian-specific change to the openssl package (CVE-2008-0166). As a result, cryptographic key material may be guessable.

  • My employer is on the east coast, I am in Santa Fe, NM. I'm currently running Linux Mint 12, with Windows XP as a VirtualBox guest for the Windows-centric activities. All bases are covered.

    --Doug

    "Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel."

    - Mark Twain

  • If your clients work on Windows and you can best interact with them using that OS, then use that OS.

    I've been working via a Linux desktop nearly every day since the mid-90's and even now I have an old laptop with Windows XP on it. Because every once in a while, a client issue will require me to fire it up. And sometimes the boss wants me to edit a Visio doc. Or whatever. In those cases, it's the right tool for the job. For day-to-day dev work, I'll be staring at XFCE and xterms and whatnot.

    Use
    • by jedidiah (1196)

      > If your clients work on Windows and you can best interact with them using that OS, then use that OS.

      It depends.

      On the other hand, desktop machines are now powerful enough that you can run multiple virtualized copies of Windows and not break a sweat. If you get to choose your own hardware and manage your own environment, you will probably even be more productive.

  • VirtualBox + Windows (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@cGINSBERGarpanet.net minus poet> on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:20PM (#39589469) Homepage

    Even if its not your primary means.... and believe me, I am a hardcore linux guy whose used linux on his desktop, even while working at VERY windows centric shops that didn't entirely approve. The key is to have windows available, either as a machine you can RDP or as a VM (preferable).

    95% of things, you can find a fine Linux based alternative.... but every once in a while someone is gonna send you a non-xml visio or maybe you have to talk to an exchange server (I never had luck with the linux tools.... even when I got them to work).

    As I type this, my work laptop is, in fact, setting up a windows VM for this purpose. At my previous job, we had both desktops and laptops, so i just did nearly everything on my laptop, which ran Ubuntu, and would just rdp control my desktop for reading email and filling out timesheets (which required IE)

    Personally, I would love to ditch windows completely...but I need it for steam anyway (my only non-work use for windows), and while I don't mind spending half a day getting a new free software alternative running... few people have the patients to wait for me to do it on their time.... so, I have windows for those times, and just take everything I have to do in windows as something to add to my "upgrade to linux" punch list.

    • VirtualBox is great for software, but if there's any piece of specialized hardware you need, it may be problematic or impossible. i.e. I needed to add a mouse to my Logitech unifying reciever. From the Linux side, I was able to assign the reciever to the Windows XP client, run the Logitech software and register the hardware. Then things locked up until I futzed around and shutdown the VM. Once I restarted the VM, everything worked great.

      VirtualBox doesn't (or didn't) support Firewire which might be
  • I have an HP Touchpad with ICS installed on it, has everything I need for commuting. I use Itap RDP to remote into computers and servers, the mail client works great, even supports exchange. Other tools I use; VPN, Skype, and Facebook. A tablet is the perfect tool on the go.
  • Most people in my organization telecommute, and we mostly use Google+ hangouts (with extras) whenever we need some face time with people elsewhere. It's worked well for us, but it has some limitations and it *is* controlled by a third party. We also use Google's Docs and Calendar tools heavily, so Google hangouts were a natural evolution. This works well in Linux and in both Firefox and Chrome.

    That is on a technical level; in reality you are the one who needs to adapt. If you can dictate a solution, the one

  • It's hard to tell what you're looking for here. I'm not sure what would be considered a "telecommuting tool" or what kinds of communications you want to have with your clients. For example, it seems to me that a telephone would work well even if you didn't have a computer at all. Email works fine on Linux.

    So let's start here: What are you used to doing on Windows that you're now having trouble doing on Linux? Is it an issue of trading documents, and you're not able to read some specific document format

  • Use all three on three separate machines and get a KVM switch to choose the most appropriate at the time. Some form of NAS would help.
    Alternately, you could try to use one piece of hardware and VMs.
  • Chatrooms are quick and people often end up helping each other thus saving you the trouble. I find them much better than forums or email for my most common communication. I set up one with ejabberd but you could use jabber.org or jwchat.org. There is even a browser based chat client so that your customers don't have to install anything: http://blog.jwchat.org/jwchat/ [jwchat.org]

    You can also log everything and when a user connects they get to see what happened recently instead of entering blind.

    Wikis are conve

  • by MattW (97290)

    Get VMware Workstation. Run a Windows VM in your Linux box, or vice versa. I'm on a Mac using VMware Fusion, but I do things in word and excel all the time and have a SuSE box (don't ask!) open right now for some dev work. It's honestly BETTER, for me as a develop, than an all-in-one environment, because the operating systems in VMs-as-containers means I don't run into application specific configuration or dependency hell. And, if need be, I can push a whole dev environment up into a service provider as a r

  • You have a few options:

    1) Keep your work computer at work to run windows and set it up as a ssh server, then use vnc type of program to remotely ssh back to your computer from home. This is probably one of the simplest way as long as your company network team allows you to do this. This is fairly easy to setup.

    2) Run windows at home inside a VM machine as others have suggested. This is much more involved as option #1 since you will have to set up everything from scratch AND you have to install all progr

  • I'm not sure what you're using it for, but if you want to do anything on any OS, you could go with VMware. It's not cheap but you can emulate just about any modern OS on it. You can either have it totally sandboxed (for testing or security) or you can allow it to share data between OS's. One of the problems I've had with Duel booting or just having multiple systems is getting data from one to the other easily. VMware lets you just cut and paste from a window running windows to a window running mac or linux.
  • by WarJolt (990309) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:57PM (#39590033)

    ssh -X gives you all the gui you need on linux. You can even use cygwin as a client. Mac osx comes with a xserver client that automatically launches when that command is run.

  • A VM is your answer. If not, then dual boot. In the worst case, buy two computers. If all you are short of is videoconferencing software, try Google Voice. I've heard the linux version works well. I Skype my folks from linux...It works well for that because I'm using only 2-way video and voice. You can't video conference with more than two and there are other issues as well, compliments of Microsoft, who has not updated the linux software in a long time.
  • Looking for remote desktop similar to and as easy as PCAnywhere - Team Viewer is about the only way to go, works on Mac/Linux/Windows and does quite a decent job of it.

    Run a Windows App remotely, GoGlobal works fot that. Though the printing and file systems are kinda sucky.

  • I think a lot of the recommendations are going to depend upon what you do for a living. Are you a Systems Administrator or Engineer, a Software Engineer, or remote tech support? I can't provide any recommendations without knowing what your job function really is.
  • How is using Linux for telecommute any different than using it on a local network? It's not. Whatever works there (everything except for native Windows software) will work with telecommuting. It's one of those latent benefits of having a standardized networking stack.

    So tell me, how often do you beat your wife?

    (Aside from running Outlook or using a Microsoft graphical console, I haven't had a need for Windows or a Mac in the past two years - and I have to deal with Linux, Windows, and Macs on a daily basis

  • ... a Plantronics [slashdot.org] solution?
  • I've been telecommuting on and off for several years now. It's such a non-issue that I had to think aobut what I should write here.

    Between OpenSwan, the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client, and my current employer offering Citrix-hosted services, there's nothing I cannot do from home. You don't need a phone system that ties into your employer's as long as you can forward calls from that system to your cellular, or home phone (if you still have one).

    I haven't used M$ Office in over a decade, and I haven't miss
  • by jimicus (737525) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @04:36PM (#39591471)

    Are you using Linux because you love Linux? Or because you hate Windows?

    Because it sounds like you're very close to treating it as a religion. Admittedly I've been there myself - and I'd say that there's damn-all in terms of vaguely usable Linux desktop VPN clients and diabolical commercial support. It's fine if you're looking to get two servers with a very specific configuration working; terrible if you want to connect a single Linux desktop to a commercial VPN system.

    Ironic, considering the number of firewall products that are Linux-based. But there you go.

  • rdp into your workstation in the office & use whatever os & apps everyone else at yuor office does.

  • Gobby is not perfect and has some editing issues but it's excellent for pair programming or at least to conduct source reviews.

  • Use Linux for your work locally if you want, but use Windows or Mac tools when the client uses them.

    I don't understand the "communication" issue. Email, telephone, and web conferencing are OS agnostic. You need to handle Word, Excel, Visio, and probably MS Project documents though.

  • Webex works better than skype for most of what we do. Seeing the other people isn't as valuable as being able to present a desktop, in my experience. Get a headset.

    If your remote desktop is Linux, you'll want xWin32. You can't effectively run KDE without it (that I know of), and Gnome works better with it. Unfortunately, it's not free. If you're willing to suffer with Gnome, you can use VNC, but it's buggy.

    Not sure how well webex works in Linux, but you can run both W7 and Linux on the same box using v

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