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I'd like to run the DE remotely in a window of it's own on my local workstation. When I tried the naive gnome-session from an x-window tunnel it tried to takeover my local xfce desktop, got as far as changing the wallpaper before crashing.

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I am quite fond of NX. There are two sources for NX: OpenNX and Nomachine's NX. Nomachine's implementation is commercial yet free for Linux and Solaris - free as in beer. This software tunnels X over SSH, and provides an "RDP-ish" experience, with the entire desktop available in a window.

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