One of the dilemmas one has to face when getting a new machine (your author has a shiny new G4 on the way) is what to do with your old machine. Sure, you could put it in the attic or give it away, but an older Mac can serve as a great Linux box, or firewall, or even file server. But you may not have the room for a monitor for each computer. If only you could control another computer from your desktop...
Our own Dave Hamilton mentioned VNC in a recent Ask Dave column, so we thought we'd take a look. VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing. As the name hints, the package provides a virtual desktop for another computer on the network. The cool part is that the official package is available not only for Mac, but also UNIX and Windows. Plus, due to the magic of open source, there are efforts to port the package to over 30 other environments. Imagine controlling your Mac from a Palm...
There are two parts to the package, the Viewer and the Server. Installation of the server is a snap thanks to the included AppleScript application.
Server Configuration Control Panels
Once the server is installed, you'll need to configure it. At the very least, you need to give a name to the machine's desktop, and assign a password. This password will be requested by any other VNC user attempting to access your desktop. You may want to consider other security measures, such as a firewall, especially if you place a machine on the Internet.
You can now run the Viewer (Mac or otherwise) to connect to another desktop.
Enter the Name or Address of the Remote Computer
Once you are connected, you'll see an exact replica of the remote computer's desktop. You can proceed to point and click your away around, just as if you were at the keyboard and mouse of the remote machine.
The Remote Computer, Just As If You Were There
If you take a peek at the remote machine's screen, you'll notice that you are really controlling the remote desktop. This opens up the possibilities of limited collaboration. We were able to open up a Notepad document, and have both the local and remote users able to enter text into it. It could also be used to freak out nosy people that are near your computer.
VNC doesn't provide file copying services, which makes sense based on the variety of platforms the product works on. If you are using VNC, then you are already on a TCP/IP network, and can use the most appropriate protocol (FTP, AppleTalk over IP, etc.) for your environment. Other than this limitation, VNC is an excellent way to view and manipulate the desktop of just about any machine.
Have any other networking gadgets you'd like us to look at? Let John know via e-mail, or share it with the rest of us in the Mac Gadget Forum
Monday's Mac Gadget is here to help you with those cool things that we all just have to have on our Macs. Shareware, Freeware, Postcardware, Emailware, and even commercial apps, Monday's Mac Gadget is here to help you find and use the best of these programs.
John is a software engineer who works in the corporate R&D group of a Fortune 500 company, focusing on all aspects of communications technology. He has several degrees that claim he knows what he's doing when it comes to computers. After watching co-workers reinstall Windows, search for device drivers, and experience other horrors during the day, he's glad that he comes home to a Mac (compatible) computer. Have any comments, suggestions, or favorite Gadgets? Drop John a line at