VNC over RDP

Jeffrey Larson

If you use Windows XP a bunch you have probably heard of Remote Desktop (Connection). This is Microsoft’s implementation of remote control software, they have built in right into the Windows Operating System. Microsoft has implemented the Remote Desktop Protocol by utilizing their Terminal Services within the OS. What this means is that when a remote connection is established a new user session is created. This is pretty much how the Fast User Switching Feature of Windows XP works as well. Although it may seem handy to have a separate session to run programs and such, it means that you must open and close your commonly used programs (even those you like to keep running all the time) each time you connect. There is also the issue with license and Microsoft Windows. The EULA for Microsoft Windows includes a clause that states something about only being able to use one session at a time. There is actually a limit in the Remote Desktop software that will Log off the current user (actually in front of the computer) if a remote user connects.

VNC — which stands for Virtual Network Computing — is a technology similar to Microsoft’s Remote Desktop. VNC was originally developed by AT&T but is now open source. This solution allows the you to view the screen and control the keyboard/mouse input remotely as well. Modern implementations of VNC use hooks to capture the video that is displayed on the screen, this data is then compressed and sent out on the network to the attached client. This means that whatever is on the screen is shown to you remotely, none of this logging off users and creating new sessions. So if I have a program I run all day and like to check on the status of it, I can log in to my computer using VNC from anywhere, and check on it, without shutting down or restarting the program.

My current VNC flavour of choice is UltraVNC. UltraVNC gives me a stable remote desktop connection with a bunch of added features: optional encryption, file transfer, chat, connection optimization (compression/speed) and more. UltraVNC is currently at version 1.0.0. It is one fine piece of software. There are a couple of other cool add-ons that can work with UltraVNC too: NAT-to-NAT, Repeater, and SingleClick. I have played around with SingleClick (SC) which allows me to provide online technical support to those who I have distributed the software (the image thumbnail shows how this tech support software looks). You can read more about the others on the UltraVNC website. An added bonus from UltraVNC is the fact that the user authentication system can be integrated into Windows such that you can use the Windows users and passwords for authentication… smooth!

The one thing that UltraVNC doesn’t provide that Windows XP’s Remote Desktop does, is remote audio. I find this to be an almost useless feature anyway. I don’t really see the lack of this feature as a detriment to the UltraVNC product.

I’ve trialled products like Radmin and PcAnywhere but was unsatisfied. I think UltraVNC is the best solution for your money… oh did I mention that it’s completely FREE? I love open source freeware!


19 Responses to “VNC over RDP”

  • Derek Field Says:

    Jeff, maybe I misread what you were saying but I think you can leave your applications running when you use Remote Desktop. I check my home computer from work off and on all day using Remote Desktop and I never close any programs. I can disconnect and connect again countless times and I leave media player, outlook, and msn messenger running on my remote pc constantly.

    I also think that the remote audio feature optional with ‘Remote Desktop’ is great because it allows me to listen to my licensed computer specific .wma files since they’re being played on my machine. With VNC, if you select to play an audio file, does it just play on your speakers at home? I know that napster allows you to download your songs onto 3 computers anyway, but using remote desktop works as well. Video’s don’t stream in quite quick enough for a smooth picture so I normally copy&paste or use my ftp to get any large files I want.

    I’ve also fooled around with various VNC programs and I like the web java applet features they have. That’s an excellent idea if you can’t install the client software on whoever’s pc you’re using. A bad thing about Remote Desktop is that it’s only offered in the professional edition of Windows XP. Another thing that’s nice about VNC is that it’s easy to change the listening port for each computer behind the router so you can check out multiple computers at work or something using the one IP address like xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx:????. With Remote Desktop you have to actually change the listening port in the registry from the default 3389 to whatever.

    Can you change the remote screen saver with UltraVNC? You can’t with Remote Desktop. VNC does a much better job when you’re using a dual monitor display setup because you can just push on the border to move farther right or left. Remote Desktop must have been designed limited to a single monitor because I’m often having trouble finding windows that open on the other monitor. I’m still experimenting with both but I love having my home and office outlooks on my two monitors in front of me at the same time.

    Woah, my comment is getting long! Anyway, computers are sweet! Thanks for your blog article. I always enjoy reading and learning your opinions and ideas on computer things. You have tons of knowledge buddy! Correct me if I was wrong about anything.

  • Jeffrey Larson Says:

    Thanks for your comment Derek.

    In regards to your “leaving application open” while using Remote Desktop, I should clarify what I meant. You are right, if you log in remotely, run some programs, disconnect, and reconnect remotely again later, those program (from your remote session) will still be running. However, if you log into your computer using the main console (as in, not remotely) and run programs, if you’d like to check on the status of those program running on the console’s session, it is not possible.

    I hear what you’re saying about the wma licenses. Digital Right Management is a problem, not because there aren’t solution out there that work, but because the solutions are not effective. Would you go the local music store and buy a CD if you knew you could only play it on 3 different CD players? Home stereo, car stereo, portable CD player, that’s 3, so what If I get a new stereo? This could be a posting on its own so I’ll move on.

    You make a good point on configuration of listening ports. An add-on for UltraVNC which I mentioned was Repeater. It allows you to access multiple computer with VNC Servers in your LAN remotely, and you only need to forward 1 port.

    Dual monitor support is often overlooked unfortunately. I use my home computer as a media center attached to my TV in the living room and the display is actually consider a secondary monitor. When I log into my computer remotely using UltraVNC, I can choose to view the whole display (both monitors) or just my primary computer console. If the computer you are using to connect from remotely has a high enough resolution, or in fact has a dual monitor set up, you can have both remote monitors showing at once.

  • Chris Says:

    Hey I am brand new to VNC and have tried playing a bit but cant seem to get it. It would be awesome if you had free time to write a tutorial or send me an email laying out the basics to setting it up. I have downloaded ULTRAVNC. I can access my computer through http on my LAN but can not access it outside. Any help please!
    chrisaragon@hotmail.com

  • Daz Says:

    Hi,

    I can’t get UltraVNC to see my other monitor. I use my laptop to connect to my PC but only see the main screen (right hand). I cant get to the left one. I have ried pushing, clicking, etc.

  • Daz Says:

    Had a play and got it working!

  • David Rimovsky Says:

    What did you do to get dual monitors to work with UltraVNC? I have had no luck. I am using a single monitor and remoting to a dual monitor system.

  • David Rimovsky Says:

    Nevermind. Figured it out.

  • Boris Says:

    Hey! How did you do it??? It doesn´t work for me! I have no idea what else to try. realVNC just shows both next to each other which was the best solution. ultravnc is still better but it´s kind of annoying…
    Boris

  • John Says:

    Hey, guys. Check iShadow Desktop (beta dowloads at ishadow.com). Supports RDP, VNC and Citrix ICA. Can run 50+ sessions from one console. Designed to support multiple monitors.

  • Winmail Says:

    Have you guys checked out http://www.vncscan.com yet? It’s right up the alley because it centers on UltraVNC. It makes it super easy to push install UltraVNC and it even connects to RDP (terminal services).

  • cj Says:

    RDP only logs out a session if you connect with different credentials. If you use the same credentials as the already running session, you will connect to it, not create a new session. So if you same credentials as the console session, you can connect and disconnect as much as you want. All it does is lock the console. If they log back in, it boots the RDP connection and vice versa.

  • Jose Says:

    You can always connect to your “console” session by launching remote desktop connection with the following command-line:

    mstsc /console

  • Derek Says:

    OK – two people in a row posted that they wanted to know how to set ultravnc up so they could view dual monitors and then the very next post was that they had figured it out. Nice for them, not for us. :-) Could someone please enlighten those of us who haven’t figured it out yet?

  • Derek Says:

    how did it work for you?

  • Nelson Sproul Says:

    It is in fact possible to use RDP to connect to a console session, though this isn’t the default behavior. To do so, edit your rdp file directly (e.g., using wordpad), and add the following line:

    connect to console:i:1

  • Dave Says:

    At the top of the UltraVNC window is a button called ‘Select Full Desktop’. This can be used to toggle between monitors on the server system. The first time you click it it does nothing – but click again and it toggles between displays. Sadly it doesn’t appear that you can show the different displays in 2 viewer windows – they both toggle at the same time.

    Hope this helps someone else.

    Dave

  • Jonathan Says:

    Thanks! Your comment was very helpful and solved my problem. I got here via google search for “vnc dual desktop”.

  • tom wall Says:

    I am interested in the possible latency of VNC , UNC etc over ethernet and TCP ip. Does VNC score better in terms of compaction , bandwidth required and latency ?/

  • LS Says:

    Hi,
    Does anyone know if VNC offers something like Remote Desktop? Where you can access multiple machines with just one click like in Remote Desktops. I can’t seem to find this anywhere. I just want to be able to connect to several machines while I’m connected to a VPN. I want to open an application like Remote Desktops – say we call it VNC Desktops – see all my pre-configured machines that I want to connect to on the left side – click on an icon pertaining to a machine I’ve configured with the credentials, and just like that, I’m connected in the window on the right. Where can I find this – I can’t even find a picture of the application called UltraVNC, as I thought it might be able to do that. Help anyone????

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