NoMachine addresses the critics of Linux.com
Linux.com article is a call to arms for all people working at NoMachine.
by: Gian Filippo Pinzari
Here at NoMachine we have all been stunned by the article written by Nathan Willis and published on 11 July on Linux.com. The article, while recognizing the technical merits of our products, addresses aspects of the presentation and organization of the website with such strong criticism that would seem to undermine the dedicated work which has been carried out with such passion and dedication by those at NoMachine. This article is not a reply to the criticism itself. We are not used to responding to criticism published by the media. After all, bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. Our reply is to let our customers and users know NoMachine has taken the criticism very seriously and is already putting into action the necessary improvements.
In the past two days we have established and started implementing a plan of activities that involves all the managers and the members of the staff who develop and coordinate the website and the documentation supporting the software. Results will be visible starting from the beginning of next week.
Let's now take a look in detail at the corrective measures being taken.
1. ...I initially found the product matrix confusing...
In effect, knowing what to download at the beginning can seem a little complicated. This is because NoMachine NX is available in many versions: the Enterprise Server, the Enterprise Desktop Server, the Advanced Server etc etc. The different NX Server products are naturally there for a reason: to satisfy the very many different technical and licensing needs of our diverse customers. On the other hand, it is evident that a newcomer to NoMachine should be better guided in to downloading the basic entry-level product. This is the reason for which we will modify the website in such a way as to include a Getting Started Guide which will guide the user step-by-step through the installation of the NoMachine NX Free Edition. This Getting Started Guide will be at the beginning of the page “Products” to avoid future doubts as to what to do.
2. ...and the product pages described how great all of the products were without addressing how to get started...
Some doubts remain as to whether NX has an unfavourable reputation in certain Linux circles because of the confusion created by other projects that adopt our Open Source Software, rather than for reasons effectively concerning our product and its documentation. Getting NX up and running means installing three packages, all of which easily downloadable from our website, for practically all Linux and Solaris flavours. No additional configuration is required. Compared to the tens of dependencies that need satisfying in order to install products of similar complexity, one could say that NoMachine NX is an engineering miracle. Unfortunately, many Linux users have the habit of resorting to Google at the first difficulty, rather than turning to the website where they originated. It is therefore easy to imagine that the author fell upon the installation instructions of a different software, indeed difficult to set up. Years of bad publicity do not disappear in a day. We have therefore organized the following modifications to the web site and hope that these changes will finally make the instructions straightforward even for the most inexperienced users.
- First of all, we will add to the FAQ three new points specifically dedicated to the first installation.
- We will eliminate NX Node from the product list. The NX Server Node is actually an add-on to the NX Advanced Server. Although you can buy it at different times, it makes sense to make it available as part of the Advanced Server purchase process, instead of presenting it as a top-level product.
- For each product we will add the words “Starting at $....” or “Free forever” just where the product is introduced, to clarify which products are free and which are available for purchase.
3 ...The upshot is that you need to install an NX Server, NX Node, and NX Client
- To ease the difficulty in locating the documentation, we will bring back the Documentation tab in a way that it is easily reachable from anywhere in the web-site. The section will list the most relevant documents concerning the installation, configuration and administration of the software.
The download page of each version of the server clearly states that the client and node packages are requirements for the installation. The client is needed because it ships libraries used by the node. The node is needed because it ships tools needed by the server. Furthermore, a machine can be alternatively a node (in a multi-node configuration), a server or both. Nevertheless this seems to be the main obstacle for the newcomers. That's why we'll include the buttons for the download of all the three components in the same page, so that the users won't have to browse back and forth to find the additional packages.
4 ... the Linux client package should install several desktop.... lack of error reporting in NX 3.0...
It's clear to everybody that a software which fails without providing any clear explanation is unacceptable. Nonetheless, after hours and hours of new testing by our developers, we were not able to reproduce any fatal error which was not intercepted by the
software and for which an appropriate explanation was not offered. Everything can be improved, but maybe in this case it was a specific problem of the particular user installation. NoMachine will be happy to resolve the problem experienced by Nathan Willis if he would kindly like to contact our support staff.
5 ... with encryption turned off, I had trouble getting a session established...
Again here, we were unable to reproduce the occasional failures described by the author. We will be more than happy to work with Nathan Willis on determining the origins of the problem.
6 ... I found it odd that the default setting is to disable SSH encryption for the session data....
The enabling of SSH tunneling for the data traffic between server and client deserves a few more words. At the time of version 1.x.x, there were performance advantages in disabling encryption. With version 2.0.0 these issues had been addressed and, starting from version 3.0.0, the default was to create session files with encryption enabled. This change, unfortunately, was not extended to the Connection Wizard, making the improvement virtually useless. This is a bug which will be promptly fixed in the next client version.
7 ...I was able to get standard music players, but not when using Mac OSX...... and only applications that use esd for their audio output....
Sound support can definitely be improved, but as any Linux user knows, this is not a problem that concerns just NX. In order to configure a player so that it functions with NX, all you need to do is make sure that player correctly works with ESD, something which is often somehow difficult to achieve even on the local machine itself. There is a how-to document which provides instructions on configuring the most common players with ESD and NX. We will work at improving the document, especially to add new players and new platforms. We will also link such document right in the download page of the client, since sound forwarding is surely one of the most common source of headache for the NX users.
8 ... you can setup “shadow” sessions, where remote users can watch, but not interact with,...
It is not clear if this is reported as a feature or a defect. In effect, it is possible to configure a shadowed session on the server either in “view only” or “interactive” mode. A quick look at the Administration Guide should be enough to know how to configure either mode. By default a shadow session is started in "interactive" mode, so the impossibility of Nathan Willis to work with the remote session could indicate a bug. Again, we invite the author to communicate at least the Linux version he tested on the server so that we can try to reproduce the problem.
Finally, we would like to thank Nathan Willis and Linux.com for talking about us. Criticism is always an invaluable stimulus. NoMachine has always received very little attention from the Linux media, maybe because many out there do not forgive us for not being a 100% open-source company, maybe because when facing the many technical choices that we had to make in the past years, we have always pursued consistency, autonomy and simplicity: in one word, our users' satisfaction, instead of following the "orthodoxy" that would seem to dictate the technical choices in the Linux world, even when they seldom translate in effective advantages for the end users. Those issues that many Linux-on-the-desktop supporters have only just started confronting, NoMachine has been working with for five long years, often with very good results, often by leaving space for improvements. These same Linux supporters do not realize the very few business opportunities a company has at its disposal, and how much effort and time goes in to winning some visibility, compared to the heavy-weights, in a market, the Linux-on-the-desktop market, which is today pratically inexistent. It is for this reason that the article by Nathan Willis has given NoMachine an excellent opportunity to analyse the errors made and tackle with enthusiasm and optimism the technical and business challenges that await us in the months to come.