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Virtual Network Computing (VNC): Making Remote Desktop Sharing Possible

Virtual network computing
Virtual network computing (VNC) software makes remote control of a computer possible.
Credit: Pressmaster | Shutterstock

Virtual network computing (VNC) is a type of software that makes remote control of a computer possible. It allows a user to view the desktop display of another computer remotely from their computer, and control the computer over the network. IT professionals use VNC to fix computer issues, and other users can remotely access their own computers while on the road.

How VNC works

Remote desktop sharing is accomplished through a common client/server model. The client, or VNC viewer, is installed on a local computer and then connects to the network via a server component, which is installed on a remote computer. In a typical VNC session, all keystrokes and mouse clicks are registered as if the client were actually performing tasks on the end-user machine.

The server transmits a duplicate display of the remote computer to the client and likewise transmits commands from the client to the remote computer. The connection between the two can be done on an open or closed network, or even from different networks entirely. VNC software is platform-independent and compatible with many different operating systems, though some networking adjustments may be required to allow a connection from a remote client.

Uses of VNC

The most common and well-known use of VNC is in conjunction with technical support. If a user’s computer is having problems, technical support connects to the computer remotely to troubleshoot the issue, whether the technician is across the cubicle or in another country.

That use by itself is huge in the business world, but additional scenarios exist in which remote desktop software proves its worth:

  • VNC allows professionals to access files on their work computer from home or any other setting. If you forget important business documents or a PowerPoint presentation for a sales meeting, you can remotely access the computer and retrieve the files.
  • System administrators, IT support and help desks often rely on this software for a variety of desktop support functions. Using VNC, administrators can take control of an employee’s computer to install software and software updates, remove viruses and assist in other types of computer support.
  • Teachers use VNC in reverse, sending out their computer’s display to the computers of all students so they can view what is happening at the teacher’s computer.

The downsides of VNC

Virtual network computing technology carries some downsides, particularly security risks. The transmission between server and client can potentially be intercepted and give access to malicious users. Most VNC software carries strong encryption protocols, but whenever you remotely access a computer outside of a network, it creates security risks.

In addition to security, performance can become a problem depending on Internet speeds. VNC software is only as fast as the slowest available Internet connection. If you’re encountering a slow connection, running programs remotely will likewise prove slow.

VNC software

Windows and Apple computers both come with preinstalled remote desktop software that requires only the IP address of the remote computer. However, the IP addresses of most computers tend to change sporadically depending on the Internet service provider, which creates the need for a static IP to be assigned to remote computers for regular access.

Our sister site, TopTenReviews, has reviewed remote desktop software products and recommends Netviewer Support, GoToAssist and LogMeIn Rescue, among others.