I have been experimenting with setting up remote desktop access to headless AWS EC2 from a Windows box. After multiple attempts, I found that XFCE4 is by far the easiest to install and customize.
Here are the installation steps:
1. Launch a new EC2 instance. I tested with the Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS (HVM) AMI.
Enable SSH access to this instance via the appropriate security group.
Once the new instance is ready, SSH to it and execute the following commands:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install xfce4
sudo apt-get install xrdp
sudo service xrdp start
sudo passwd ubuntu // password to be used for remote desktop access
Assign a security group with the following inbound rule to the EC2 instance to enable remote access:
Port Range: 3389 // configuration can be found in /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini
Assign an elastic IP to your EC2 instance. You should now be able to remote access to it from your Windows box using your
ubuntu username and the password you just set.
Additional customization I did:
Installed the XFCE4 terminal emulator by running
sudo apt-get install -y xfce4-terminal
To get auto-complete tabbing to work in the terminal, I had to remove the 'Switch Window For Same Application' shortcut found under Settings > Window Manager > Keyboard.
Install Java, Eclipse, git.
Play around with all the awesome themes from xfce-look.