Not Just For Hackers
To the average computer using, the idea of remotely controlling a computer from another PC probably brings up visions of hackers, scammers, and hijacked credit cards. The feared Trojan Horse operates on this principle. When it infects a computer, it creates a backdoor through which another party can secretly access a PC from another location, potentially causing all sorts of problems.
But controlling a computer remotely can also be very beneficial. Imagine, for example, that you’re on the road. You want to grab some photos of a presentation you’ll need to do later in the day, but you realize you only stored them on your desktop. Normally, you’d be in trouble. But if you’ve left your desktop online and equipped for remote control, you can access that computer and send the photos to your laptop.
Intrigued? You should be. Remote control of a PC is a great way to ensure that owning multiple computers does not leave your data stranded on one PC. There are numerous ways to remote control a PC, but this particular article will focus on using Virtual Network Computing via a program called Tight VNC. I prefer this program to other options because it will run on nearly any Windows based PC and is relatively easy to use.
What You Need
First, you’ll need two computers which are connected to the Internet. What this means is that in order for this to work, you will need both computers to be both turned on and connected to the Internet. This seems obvious, but it is an important limitation to remember. Having the ability to remote control your desktop will do you no good if you accidentally switched off your home PC before leaving for your business trip.
Once you’ve fulfilled that basic requirement, you’ll need download Tight VNC. This can be done from Tight VNC’s website. It is free software, available for any version of Windows XP or Vista. Technically, you only need to download the full install to the computer you will be remote controlling. There is also a "Viewer" executable, which can be downloaded to the computer from which you will be accessing the remote PC.
Lastly, you’ll need to know the IP address of the PC you are going to remote control. Be sure to write down this information or keep it somewhere that is easy to access.
Install Tight VNC Server
On the computer you wish to access remotely, download and install the Tight VNC Server. When you launch the server, you will be given a user properties screen.
There are a few options that are important here. On the Server tab, make sure that Accept Socket Connections is checked, and that you have a password set that you can remember. Under When Last Client Disconnects, make sure Do Nothing is selected, unless you want your remotely controlled computer to shut down after you’ve severed a remote connection. Also make sure that Enable File Transfers and Remove Desktop Wallpaper are checked.
On the Display Tab, you’ll have the option to limit what parts of your PC can be remote controlled. Keep this at Full Desktop normally, unless you intend to have multiple users accessing the remote PC, and you want to limit their access to certain areas of the computer.
On the administration tab, make sure Disable Empty Passwords is checked, in order to increase security. You can also adjust how you want the server to handle multiple connections. Refuse Concurrent Connections is acceptable in most cases, unless you for some reason want multiple users to remotely log into your computer at the same time, in which case Automatic Shared Sessions can be checked.
Install And Use Tight VNC Viewer
Connecting to the Tight VNC server is easy. All you need to know is the IP address and the password. When launching Tight VNC Viewer, you’ll be greeted with a New TightVNC Connection window. This is where you put in the IP address. The Tight VNC Viewer then will attempt to connect to that IP address, and if successful, you’ll be asked for the password.
Once connected, you will see the desktop of the remotely controlled computer in a window. You will need to scroll in order to view the entire desktop if the computer with the Tight VNC Viewer runs at a lower resolution then the PC with the Tight VNC Server. For the most part, the window displaying the remote computer works as you’d expect, although many Windows shortcuts may not work.
Note that as mentioned earlier, you can download Tight VNC Viewer as a stand-alone executable. The advantage of this is that you don’t need to install the program. This means you can load it onto your USB thumb drive, and then access a remote computer from any PC into which you can plug your thumb drive.
Bypassing A Firewall
The largest potential problem you will run into when trying to use Tight VNC is a router with a firewall. These are common today. Such a device will block the traffic attempting to access your remote PC unless you tell it not to.
Doing so is easy, but will require consulting your router’s manual. All routers have software in them which will allow you to adjust the firewall settings, creating exceptions for some traffic. Tight VNC traffic comes through on port 5900, so leave that open. If you have a personal firewall on the remote PC, you’ll also need to make sure that firewall will accept traffic through port 5900.
The standard configuration of both the Tight VNC Server and the Tight VNC Viewer will work well in 99% of instances. They are set up for a typical user who wants to access a remote PC using the standard port, who does not want multiple connections, and who is using a high-bandwidth connection. If this sounds like you, then the steps listed her will work perfectly in nearly all situations. However, if you are a more advanced user, you need to access through a low-bandwidth connection, or you want to make sure that security is as tight as possible, then Tight VNC’s documentation can help you configure the more advanced features.