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Better, but Still Not Best: Free VNC Options

Better, but Still Not Best: Free VNC Options

After using RDP with my Dad, I quickly realized that while it worked for me, more or less, it didn't do much for him except to deprive him of the opportunity to learn from what I was doing to his machine remotely.

That's when I realized that some kind of honest-to-goodness remote control package was warranted. These software packages not only permit remote access over the Internet but they also enable local users to observe what the remote user is doing, and may even allow them to interact with the machine, run simultaneous chats, and do other cool stuff along the way.

Being naturally cheap, I centered my first efforts on the venerable Virtual Network Computing (aka VNC) technology that has long been in use for remote control software. It was originally developed at the Olivetti and Oracle Research Lab in Cambridge, England, in the 1990s, and kept going when AT&T acquired this operation in 1999.

When AT&T closed the facility in 2002, several of the original developers started a company named RealVNC that continues to maintain both open source and commercial versions of this software to this very day.

Today, hundreds of variants on VNC are available. For an example of what's possible here, see lifehacker's "The Best VNC Apps for Your iPad" For an extensive list of remote control packages that shows how big this space really is, see Wikipedia's "Comparison of Remote Desktop Software."

I tried RealVNC's VNC Free Edition 4.1 to see whether it would cut the mustard for Dad's needs. This implementation features server components (they run on the machine to be controlled) and viewer components (they run on the remote machine that will do the controlling) that need to be downloaded and installed.

I had no trouble grabbing, setting up, and using the necessary software on test machines. But the free version doesn't offer encryption, and I couldn't get the .vnc files used to establish connection options to behave properly on Dad's computer, so I gave up on this approach after some fruitless fiddling about.

With a more computer-savvy partner on the other end of the connection, I could have made it work, but it turned out to be more trouble than it was worth in this particular situation. VNC Free Edition remains a free and viable option nevertheless.

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