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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.
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
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 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 askleo.info 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 askleo.info.
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