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A free alternative to Remote Desktop, TightVNC is compatible with Mac and Linux as well as providing remote access to Windows XP Home.

A free open source remote connection alternative to Remote Desktop.

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This is Leo Notenboom for

As many of you may know, I'm a huge fan of the Remote Desktop functionality in Windows XP Pro. Using Remote Desktop, for example, I can access any computer in my home that has it enabled from any other computer. In fact, having set up a virtual private network using Hamachi, another tool I rely on, I can actually access any of my machines from anywhere I happen to be - at home or on the road.

It's a powerful setup.

Remote Desktop, however, suffers from two major problems: It's not present in Windows XP Home Edition, and, for lack of a better term, it "steals" the console and keyboard of the machine. By that I mean that when a Remote Desktop connection is made, the actual physical console returns to the system login screen.

Now, an alternative I've been using lately to overcome both of these limitations is something called "TightVNC".

"TightVNC will work with Windows XP Home."

TightVNC is similar to Remote Desktop, but with a some important differences:

  • TightVNC will work with Windows XP Home. In fact, I believe it'll quite possibly work with Windows 98 and Me as well.

  • Tight VNC does not take the console away from the physical machine. In fact, a user sitting at the console will see what the remotely connected user is doing, and vice versa.

  • Unlike Remote Desktop, TightVNC does not encrypt the connection. Now, there's a great solution for the most common case I'll talk about in a second.

  • TightVNC seems, well, slower. Now, it exposes a lot of compression and configuration options, so it's quite possible I haven't found the magical mix, but head-to-head, Remote Desktop does feel snappier.

Just like Remote Desktop, if the machine you want to connect to is behind a firewall you'll need to forward certain ports in order for TightVNC to work. However, there is an easier way: Hamachi. Hamachi handles machine-to-machine connections across firewalls transparently.

By first setting up a virtual private network or "VPN" between the machines not only will the firewall issue not exist since all ports are available across the virtual network, you'll get encryption thrown in for free since Hamachi encrypts all traffic.

Perhaps the most compelling use of TightVNC is as a simple alternative to remote assistance. If they have XP Pro, you can of course use Remote Desktop to help a remote friend or family member, but they'll be unable to see what you're doing. With TightVNC, you can not only help the XP Home user as well, but more importantly not only can you see what they're doing but they can see your actions as well.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit and enter 11051 in the go to article number box and leave me a comment. While you're there, search over 1,000 technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for

Article C2891 - January 7, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

January 8, 2007 9:14 AM

We have successfully used Hamachi and a different VNC package for a development project. We contracted out a software project to an out-of-state vendor. We used this combo to show the developers bugs that they could not reproduce at their site We also collaborated on the user interface: We would point out what we wanted and they would tweak the appearance while we watched.

We set the whole thing up in half an hour, including downloads. We were careful to use a computer that was not logged onto our LAN.

Michael Horowitz
January 12, 2007 9:17 PM

Windows XP Home still includes NetMeeting. As does Windows 2000. Besides being free and pre-installed it has a lot going for it.

NetMeeting can be used with a person at either end and either person can be the controller or controllee. It can also be used to take remote control of a machine where there is no remote human. It can share a single app or the entire system. It has a read-only mode (really view-only) and a mode where the person at either end can take control simply with a double click (the mouse pointer makes it obvious who is in control).

Making a manual connection between two machines involves a number of steps which means you don't have to worry about it happening by accident or mistake. And when its off, its really off, unlike a web based remote control application that shall remain nameless.

K T Yeo
January 13, 2007 12:44 AM

I hv used and like it very much to assist in my offsite support schedules. However, how I wish there is a way to remote install VNC Server in the remote client like PC Anywhere so we don't have to install the VNC server in the remote PC.

wlc network
January 13, 2007 3:25 AM

A very helpful piece, Leo. Like you I'm a huge fan of Hamachi which I've been using with RealVNC. I've tried TightVNC today and it seems remarkably similar to RealVNC. When you have time it would be helpful to hear your comparison observations. Keep up the good work. Regards wlc

Eli Coten
January 13, 2007 11:55 AM

I use all of the products mentioned above.

The first thing I would point out is that there is a feature of Windows XP Home & Pro called Remote Assistance. This uses the same technology as Remote Desktop but both users can see and control the same screen. It also provides chat functionality. Its only drawback is that it is limited to only being used specifically for that purpose, and can sometimes be unreliable.

I use a WinVNC SC (a variant of WinVNC) to provide remote assistance sometimes, and this almost always works through most firewalls. This is slower than the Remote Desktop protocol but is more reliable and fairly usable on most broadband connections.

For my own personal use I do also use Remote Desktop. At one stage (pre-SP2) Microsoft were going to enable this feature to work like a real terminal server allowing more than one account to be logged on from different machines (ie upto 2 remote sessions + one local/console session). There are instructions on the internet how to download the old DLL file and enable this functionality for those with SP2 installed. This is the arrangement I have.

January 23, 2007 10:36 PM

use I pig to change youre Ip address to host computer , this will alow you to use remote desktop with audio from outside the host network.

l viswanathan
April 15, 2007 11:41 AM

wats the difference between remote desktop,remote assistance,terminal server....plz reply to this which would be of help to me

Frank D
July 1, 2008 1:20 PM

I've been using CrossLoop, entirely free and easy as abc to use. Both host and guest can see and use the host's PC at the same time, you can switch host/guest quickly if necessary, and send files. I tried Hamachi and Yugma, NetMeeting, etc. None compare with CrossLoop!

Chan Hee Seng
July 18, 2008 8:57 PM

How would I connect from the Internet to a machine in the external network which is behind a router? I can't do it but I can using logmein pro to do it ? Thanks

April 14, 2009 7:28 AM

i just installed tightvnc after config router was able to connect afterwards i retry and get message"this server does not have a valid password enable.until a password is set incoming connections cannot be accepted"this despite the fact that i did config the password

May 28, 2010 5:14 AM

I heard about TightVNC but have no experience with it. I have been using RHUB's remote control appliance for past 3 years. It works really cool. It's little bit different from the other solutions since it's appliance based. Its easy to setup and simple to use. It is multi-platform-supportive and also offers more security and has web conference functions. It's not free even though they do offer free trial.

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