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Virtual Network Computing
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What is VNC? - A practical introduction

VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing. It is, in essence, a remote display system which allows you to view a computing 'desktop' environment not only on the machine where it is running, but from anywhere on the Internet and from a wide variety of machine architectures.

Example screenshots using X desktops

The VNC system allows you to access the same desktop from a wide variety of platforms.

Many of us at ORL, for example, use a VNC viewer running on a PC on our desks to display our Unix environments which are running on a large server in the machine room downstairs.

What makes it different from other systems?

For this simple mode of operation, you could achieve a similar effect by installing an X server on your PC. The important factors which distinguish VNC from other remote display systems such as X are as follows:

  • No state is stored at the viewer. This means you can leave your desk, go to another machine, whether next door or several hundred miles away, reconnect to your desktop from there and finish the sentence you were typing. Even the cursor will be in the same place.
  • It is small and simple. The Win32 viewer, for example, is about 150K in size and can be run directly from a floppy. There is no installation needed.
  • It is truly platform-independent. A desktop running on a Linux machine may be displayed on a PC. Or a Solaris machine. Or any number of other architectures. The simplicity of the protocol makes it easy to port to new platforms. We have a Java viewer, which will run in any Java-capable browser. We have a Windows NT server, allowing you to view the desktop of a remote NT machine on any of these platforms using exactly the same viewer.  (The NT server has some limitations - see the documentation). We developed VNC to give us platform-independence after the success of our Teleporting system, which was purely X-based.
  • It is sharable. One desktop can be displayed and used by several viewers at once, allowing CSCW-style applications.
  • It is free! You can download it, use it, and redistribute it under the terms of the GNU Public Licence.

Where does the name come from?

The name originates from our development of very-thin-client ATM network computers. The Videotile was essentially an LCD display with a pen input and a fast ATM connection. Because the VNC viewer is a software-only version of our Videotile, and so provides 'workstations' which can be created or deleted at will, we named the system Virtual Network Computing.

Can I see what it looks like?

We have some screenshots of very simple VNC desktops running and being displayed on a variety of platforms.

More details can be found in the documentation

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