VNC – with Mac and PC.

Here at work, my desktop machine is one of these ugly windows laptops they have the heart to call “designed”. Currently my monitor is also connected to one of these stylish MacMinis we have. As the Mac is used by my workmates, too, this wasn’t always the case and it will not last forever. Still, I want to have access to the machine when I need to check something without having to reroute the monitor cable and without having to have two keyboards at my desk.

In System Preferences ➔ Sharing, there is the option “Screen Sharing” that, among other things, starts a VNC server. Unfortunately, this server requires a version of the VNC protocol that was supported by only one VNC client I tested: TightVNC. This client, on the other hand, was not able to handle the keyboard mapping correctly. All other clients I tried were unable to connect to Apple’s VNC server.

Luckily, one of the best known VNC servers is free: Vine Server (OSXvnc). Download it and copy the application bundle to your harddisk, e.g. /Applications or, as I did /Library/Application Support. If you did not do so before, deactivate Apple’s Screen Sharing now. Then double click the Vine This will start a more cooperative VNC server. The drawback is that you will loose your connection as soon as you use fast user switching, log out (or quit the application for any other reason). Vine Server provides a easy to activate option to allow you to use it even when not logged in: To make things a little bit easier, click the “Stop Server” button at the lower left of Vine Server’s main window. Then open the application’s preferences (Cmd-,) and activate the “Startup” tab. From there click the “System Server …” button. The dialog window shown, allows you to set a password needed to connect to the server (set it!) and there is a button “Start System Server”. Click this button, enter a system administrator’s username and password, and you’re done. You can now quit the Vine Server application.

On the windows side, I ended up with the free version of RealVNC viewer. This client is small, simple to use and it got the keyboard encoding right, which means that the windows-key is Mac’s option key, Alt is Mac’s Command and all keys including german umlauts work as a charm.

I was using TightVNC and Vine Server for a long time but never figured out how to get the keyboard mapping right. Today I invested the time to find an alternative and RealVNC really pleases me.

[Update] Make sure that Vine Server’s “Keyboard Events” setting (“Device” tab) is set to “User Session Events”.