J.D. Fox Micro Resource Center
Remote Access Tools
These are links to software components you can use to gain access to another computer on your network or over the Internet, by a direct connection, or vice-versa. You should only install this software upon direction of your authorized technical support agent, or for a specific purpose if you know what you are doing. For one, these programs probably will require additional configuration of your network firewall or router for connections to work properly. Secondly, if your network system is not configured properly, then installing these applications may open your computer to anonymous access by random attackers over the Internet.
Note: If you are working on a business network, please see your IT systems manager for authorization before attempting to download and install software.
Below you will find links to downloads and instructions to use the Virtual Network Computing (VNC) standard. VNC enables raw screen sharing and remote control of the mouse and keyboard. In that respect, it's really good for remote technical support or tutoring. Because VNC is a standard system, you can connect from one computer to another using VNC software from different publishers.
To connect, you must install VNC server software on the computer you want to control, and the VNC viewer (also called a VNC client) on the computer you are using to make the connection.
RealVNC is the most venerable and versatile of commonly used VNC software. It is published by the inventors of the VNC protocol, based in the U.K.
The latest version runs on Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac computers, and UNIX/Linux.
For all platforms, the Free Edition lacks encryption, window scaling, remote printing, chat, or file transfer. The paid editions (Personal and Enterprise) both support these features. You should therefore only use the Free Edition if you have a separate method of encrypting your connection, especially to connect to a computer in another building or city over the Internet.
RealVNC also offers viewer programs that run on Android-based phones, the Apple iPhone and iPad, and in the Chrome browser (including on a Chromebook). These all support encryption so long as the VNC server running on the target computer supports encryption.
Use the links below to get started. All editions of RealVNC (Free, Personal, and Enterprise) are installed from the same download; features are unlocked using the appropriate license key. So, after downloading, you have to register your e-mail address to get a license key, even for the Free Edition.
RealVNC (server/viewer) (Windows, Mac, UNIX/Linux)
With just the viewer, you do not need a license key, but RealVNC will ask you for your e-mail address anywayy.
RealVNC (viewer only) (Windows, Mac, UNIX/Linux)
Here are the links to the viewers for Android, iOS, and Chrome.
Built-in VNC server for Mac OS X
Starting with Mac OS X 10.4, Mac computers have VNC software built-in, referred to as Screen Sharing (formerly called Apple Remote Desktop). Below are some links to some well-done blog postings by Graham Miln, Director of a software company called DssW in the U.K., showing how to enable it.
Once the VNC server is configured on a Mac, then to connect from a Mac, you can use the Finder to locate the target computer, and connect using the Mac's built-in VNC viewer software. To access a Mac from any Windows or UNIX computer, or from a mobile device, you can use one of the RealVNC viewers linked above.
The built-in VNC server software for the Mac supports integrated encryption, but it's not compatible with RealVNC encryption. So, when connecting to a Mac running the built-in VNC server, encryption will only work if you connect from another Mac using its built-in VNC viewer. If you want to connect from a Windows or UNIX/Linux computer or mobile phone running RealVNC Personal or Enterprise, you must install RealVNC server on the Mac to make an encrypted connection.
Don't try to configure the built-in Mac OS X VNC server at the same time you have RealVNC installed. They'll get in each other's way, and the results are unpredictable.
Another interesting note: Before Mac OS X Lion, the Screen Sharing function worked just like conventional VNC. That is, upon connecting, you would immediately see and control the remote screen concurrently with the user at that computer. But, as of Mac OS X Lion, you also have to log in using an account on the target Mac computer (even after you already typed the Screen Sharing password). If you log in with the same account as the person logged in already, you will both see the same screen, but this means the user will have to give you his password. If you use a different account, you will be controlling the computer in a separate desktop session (without affecting the currently logged-in user's session). It's kind of cool you can do that, but it's not helpful if you want to provide remote support or tutoring. Again, this change in function only applies to the built-in Screen Sharing function in the Mac OS; if you use RealVNC, it works the same in any version of OS X.
Then again, it gets more interesting. RealVNC allows you to set a password on the VNC server that the person using VNC viewer must enter to connect, of course. As of RealVNC version 5, you can now connect to a Mac running RealVNC using the username and password of one of the user accounts set up on the Mac itself, meaning you don't have to set up a separate password just for the VNC connection. But, despite this, you will still see the screen as it is. In other words, if you use Ludwig's account to authenticate to RealVNC, and Wolfgang is already logged in to the Mac, you will see Wolfgang's screen and share the screen with him, so the functionality is the same.
Apple Remote Desktop (VNC client for Mac)
Apple offers a paid product called Apple Remote Desktop (ARD), which is VNC software that supports additional features such as directory listings of the remote computers, scripting, and remote software installation and file copy (to Apple computers). Please note that in the ARD world, "client computer" refers to a remote computer running VNC server, while the computer running ARD (the VNC client), is called the "admin computer".
Microsoft Remote Desktop / Terminal Services
The Microsoft Remote Desktop system uses Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which is an alternative method of connecting to a Microsoft Windows-based computer remotely. It's quite different from VNC. RDP requires you to log on to the remote computer in a separate Windows user session, meaning anyone sitting in front of the remote computer will not be able to see what you are doing (as they can with VNC). RDP is also known as Terminal Services.
On a Windows workstation, only one user can be logged on at a time. Click here to read the J.D. Fox Micro articles about logging on to Windows 7 and earlier or signing in to Windows 8 (these open in a new window), which include information about managing Remote Desktop and multiple users sharing one computer.
RDP is less suitable than VNC for remote technical assistance and user support, but it offers a more secure, functional, manageable, and robust method for a user to connect to his or her own computer at the office from a remote location.
Remote Desktop server and client software is included with Windows. But, to connect to a computer remotely, an administrator has to manually enable the target computer to allow Remote Desktop connections.
Each successive version of Windows supports enhanced security and functionality for RDP. You can download an upgrade to the Remote Desktop client software from Microsoft using the links below, for connecting from a computer running an older version of Windows to one running a newer version.
Windows XP Service Pack 2
Windows XP Service Pack 3
Windows Vista, with no Service Packs
No separate download available; install Service Pack 1 or 2 from Microsoft Update (you must access this link from Internet Explorer)
Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and 2
You can connect to a Windows-based computer via RDP from an Apple Mac as well, using a free download from Microsoft.
Mac OS X 10.7 and later (64-bit Intel)
Mac OS X 10.5.8 - 10.6.8 (Intel)
Mac OS X 10.4.9 - 10.5.7 (Intel)
Mac OS X 10.2.8 - 10.5.8 (PowerPC)
Finally, Microsoft has published Remote Desktop Client apps for Android and iPhone/iPad.
While formally still in beta, PuTTY is the most common SSH client for Windows. It also supports asynchronous communications, and is recommended by Microsoft as a replacement for HyperTerminal (which is no longer included with Windows). It has also been recommended by Cisco for connecting to Cisco security devices via SSH from a Windows-based computer. PuTTY was developed by Simon Tatham, and is available free for download on his personal website.
PuTTY is not for ordinary users. If you do not already know what SSH is, you do not need PuTTY. The page linked below contains the PuTTY SSH/Telnet/console client itself, plus several related programs such as PSCP and Plink.