10
Aug
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Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

In the final installment of the SysAdmin Series, I’m going to cover some tools to access a remote system’s desktop using VNC (Virtual Network Computing) clients.

I’ll admit that as a sysadmin, I don’t personally have a lot of use for VNC as almost all of the systems I need to access remotely are text-only systems, and I use a simple SSH client for that work. However, I know some sysadmins who rely on VNC clients to do some work on graphical interfaces when being at a terminal isn’t possible.

With VNC, I feel it’s prudent to mention that while these VNC clients make remote desktop access possible, they’re not entirely practical given the current state of Android device screen sizes and resolution. While each of the clients I’m covering in this article have pinch/zoom capabilities, you might be better served simply tethering your Android device to a laptop and using that for remote desktop work instead.

First, I want to thank the folks who developed Remote VNC Pro and InHandVNC for providing packages for evaluation. Remote VNC Pro gave us a full copy, and InHandVNC gave us a copy which lasted longer than their 3-minute demo. The WYSE PocketCloud RDP/VNC Beta app was free of charge.

As a “global” comment about these VNC apps in general, if you press your Back button too many times, you may find yourself back at your Android desktop, disconnected from your session. Be mindful of how many steps you need to back up if you need to maintain your session.

The following apps are covered in no particular order.

Remote VNC Pro

Market Information and Introduction

  • App Name: Remote VNC Pro
  • Developer: Walter Yongtao Wang
  • Rated 4 stars from 181 ratings
  • Latest Version/Size: v1.8.1, 101Kb
  • App has had 1,000-5,000 downloads to date.
  • App Security Settings: modify/delete sd card content, full internet access, install shortcuts
  • App Web Site: http://www.toremote.com
  • App Support Email: androidremotecontrol@gmail.com
  • Paid version cost: $5.98 USD
  • Free version available: Yes, ad-supported

Market Description

(typed exactly from the Android Market, typos and grammar mistakes included)

VNC(not RDP) client to ontrol you computer from anywhere.
share same smart UI with Remote RDP(another app).
connect to any Windows, Linux, Macs with VNC server installed.

See http://www.toremote.com for key mapping…

App Review

My review of this software was done in July 2010 on v1.7.8, so there may be some bug fixes in newer versions.

Whether this can be considered a bug or not, pressing the Back button enough will put you back on your Android Desktop and disconnect you without prompting you ahead of time that you’re about to exit the application.

Overall, I was impressed with Remote VNC Pro, especially the key binding support for complex configurations on systems that require more than a simple keypress to do some work. The only real bug I found in the system was adding a new VNC host without a password, tapping on it to connect, then hitting the Back button. This seemed to get stuck in an infinite loop trying to connect. Hitting the Back button simply shows a black screen, and pressing Back again put me back at my Android desktop.

My favorite feature is the ability to create a shortcut to a saved host on your Android desktop for a quick connection. A close second is the ability to take and save a screenshot of the remote host.

1a - RemoteVNCPro - first run shows a brief help screen 1b - RemoteVNCPro - first run help screen, page 2 1c - RemoteVNCPro - first run help screen, page 3  3 - RemoteVNCPro - home screen submenu 3b - RemoteVNCPro - home screen submenu part 2 4 - RemoteVNCPro - add a new VNC host 4b - RemoteVNCPro - adding my local VNC server 4c - RemoteVNCPro - new home screen once a VNC server is added 4d - RemoteVNCPro - long tap on a VNC host entry gives us new options 5 - RemoteVNCPro - Key configuration list 5b - RemoteVNCPro - long tap on a key configuration shows this dialog 5c - RemoteVNCPro - editing the CTRL-ALT-DEL key shows this screen 5d - RemoteVNCPro - lots and lots of key combinations can be created 5e - RemoteVNCPro - I created CTRL-ALT-L to trigger my screen saver 6 - RemoteVNCPro - main settings panel 7 - RemoteVNCPro - connecting to a host 7b - RemoteVNCPro - a wrong password when running from a home screen shortcut will put you back at your home screen 7c - RemoteVNCPro - connecting to Ubuntu's vncserver shows me a console prompt  8 - RemoteVNCPro - submenu while connected shows keybaord, mouse controls 8b - RemoteVNCPro - submenu page 2 8c - RemoteVNCPro - keyboard mode 8d - RemoteVNCPro - launched Firefox from the cmd prompt 9 - RemoteVNCPro - connecting to krfb on Ubuntu 9b - RemoteVNCPro - connecting to krfb seems to lock in View mode, does not update if remote screen changes

Download

Free:

QR code for market://search?q=pname:com.toremote.vncmanager

Paid:

QR code for market://search?q=pname:com.toremote.vncpro

 

In-Hand VNC

Market Information and Introduction

  • App Name: In-Hand VNC
  • Developer: DevFr
  • Rated 5 stars from 2 ratings (demo has 2 stars from 25 ratings)
  • Latest Version/Size: v1.2.1, 383Kb
  • App has had 50-100 downloads to date (demo has had 1,000-5,000 downloads)
  • App Security Settings: coarse network-based location, full internet access, modify/delete sd card content, read phone state and identity, prevent phone from sleeping
  • App Web Site: http://inhandvnc.blogspot.com/
  • App Support Email: inhandvnc@gmail.com
  • Paid version cost: 1.98 Euros
  • Free version available: Yes, limited to a 3-minute session once connected

Market Description

(typed exactly from the Android Market, typos and grammar mistakes included)

In-Hand VNC : your VNC client to access your computer from your android mobile phone.

Working with most VN servers, main functions are :
Zoom and Move
Mouse and Keyboard Control
Position bullets
Screen capture
Recording of action sequences
Transfer file (download and upload, for UltraVNC and TightVNC servers)

App Review

My review of this software was done in August 2010 on v1.2.0, so there may be some bug fixes in the newer 1.2.1 version.

The developers of In-HandVNC clearly know that sometimes your VNC server setup is a little more complicated, and have added numerous setup options which you can see in the screenshots below; most of of the screenshots are of the configuration area alone. Some of the settings might be a little daunting though you should be able to ignore most of them if you have a basic setup. On this app, I tested a connection to an UltraVNC server on my Windows 7 laptop.

Once connected, In-Hand VNC does a good job of panning and zooming, and toggling between mouse and keyboard control. The ability to record a ‘macro’ of actions while in the session was a nice touch, but being able to configure and save preset complex key combinations would have been nice. While in keyboard mode, you can opt to send one of a handful of preset combinations, or scroll to the bottom of the list and select to create one of your own.

In terms of mouse control and behavior, In-Hand VNC does a good job with the basics, but I couldn’t figure out how to mimic things like sending scroll wheel events or extra button clicks beyond left/right.

I did find a few bugs in the demo version; again, these may have been fixed in v1.2.1:

While browsing the settings, i hit the Menu key which started to connect to the pre-configured VNC server (which didn't exist). Pressing the Back button locked up the application and prompted for a Force Close.

After entering some information, scrolling to Other Parameters, tilting to landscape mode, tapping on server type and choosing 'other', then tiling back to portrait mode and scrolling back to the top breaks the screen layout for the identification section.

I did test the file download, and was eventually successful (it’s a little confusing to select a file and begin the transfer) but I could not find a way to upload a file from my Android device to the remote system.

1 - splash screen 2 - submenu from splash screen brings up this view 3a - setup - identification 3b - setup - optimized settings 3c - setup - network proxy settings 3d - setup - advanced settings for compression and color depth 3e - setup - other parameters 3f - setup - how to use compatibility mode help screen 1 3f - setup - how to use compatibility mode help screen 2 3f - setup - how to use compatibility mode help screen 3 4 - communication initialization attempt 5 - connection success 6 - connected in landscape mode 7 - submenu when connected lets you pick from zoom, pan, and mouse kbd control 8 - in mouse mode

Download

Free:

QR code for market://search?q=pname:com.InHandVNCDemo

Paid:

QR code for market://search?q=pname:com.InHandVNCr

 

Wyse Pocketcloud RDP/VNC Beta

Market Information and Introduction

  • App Name: Wyse Pocketcloud RDP/VNC Beta
  • Developer: Wyse Technologies Inc
  • Rated 4.5 stars from 774 ratings
  • Latest Version/Size: v0.9.3, 2.72MB
  • App has had 50,000-250,000 downloads to date
  • App Security Settings: full internet access, read phone state and identity
  • App Web Site: http://www.wyse.com/products/software/pocketcloud/android/
  • App Support Email: n/a

Market Description

(typed exactly from the Android Market, typos and grammar mistakes included)

Wyse Pocketcloud &tm; enables complete access to your Windows PC, virtual machine or Remote Desktop Services from your mobile device.
Features:
-Intuitive User Interface
-High-accuracy Touch Pointer
-Remote esktop Protocol (RDP 7)
-VMware View Support (Pending Certification)
-Enterprise Security
-VNC Protocol (Tech Preview)

App Review

My review of this software was done in August 2010 on v0.9.3.

The beta version of this app is available and operable until August 31, 2010.

The developers have done a great job on this app. It looks classier and the setup is extremely simple. Whether there’s any auto-detection of settings in the background, I have no idea, but the connectivity and operation are flawless. I found no bugs in the evaluation of this beta version.

Some nice features include complex mouse controls such as mimicking a scroll wheel, and advanced keyboard operations. On the topic of keyboard operations, Wyse also releases a free add-on for Windows-based VNC hosts, which can auto-detect this Android application, and automatically enable the keyboard when it detects that a keyboard is needed on the remote side.

I was disappointed, however, that there were no options for file transfer, screenshot capability, macro recording, or shortcut creation. However, it was by far the simplest VNC client to set up, and hopefully some of these popular features will be added in the full release. On a positive note, this was the only app that claims it can connect RDP and VNC, and differentiate VMware hosts, which lends to my suspicion that some auto-detection work must be happening under the hood to create a simpler setup.

I haven’t heard how much the app will cost when fully released.

1a - splash screen 1b - beta notice 1c - anonymous data survey permission 2a - settings screen 1 2b - settings screen 1 3 - home screen submenu 4 - long tap on an existing connection brings up a connect, edit, delete submenu 5 - ading or editing a connection brings up this edit screen 6 - connecting 7 - connected 7b - dragging on the screen shows zoom controls 7c - submenu when connected shows controls to switch between mouse, keyboard and function keys 7d - function keys setup is pretty comprehensive, top and bottom 7e - mouse control option shows keyboard, function key ontrols, and a control for emulating the scroll wheel

Download

QR code for market://search?q=pname:com.wyse.pocketcloud

 

Conclusions

As stated in my introduction, I don’t personally feel that an Android-based VNC/RDP client is a necessity, but in an emergency situation, it’s an extremely effective tool in your arsenal. Since I personally use a Nexus One with native/vanilla Froyo on T-Mobile, I have tethering out-of-the-box, which means I have the ability to use whichever VNC client I want on my laptop while tethered to the Nexus One for Internet access.

Of the three apps I’ve covered here, my personal favorite is Wyse Pocketcloud. While it gives the impression that it’s too simple, and is missing some of the nice-to-have features like file transfers and shortcuts, its simplicity and multi-protocol (VNC/RDP/VMware) support gives it the edge. As long as they don’t do something outrageous and try to charge more than $10-$15 for this app, I’d label it a must-buy once fully released for any sysadmin who needs a mobile VNC/RDP client.

Note by Artem: I've also tried android-vnc-viewer but it ended up being too buggy for me, at least with the RealVNC server. Unfortunately, I don't remember why exactly, but I then switched to Remote VNC and had no trouble.
  • http://www.supportsmith.com/ThinVNC Mariana

    Did you hear about ThinVNC, a pure web app that uses HTML5 to provide remote desktop access?

    http://www.supportsmith.com/ThinVNC/HTML5-VNC.aspx

    :)

  • http://www.filereflex.com FileReflex

    Visit http://www.filereflex.com allows you to access remotely your desktop or laptop computer from Windows Mobile 6.5. You can send and receive emails, surf web, edit documents in word processor, copy, cut, paste files or folders and do hundreds other things that you typically do sitting in front of your home or office computer.

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