I love VNC. I’ve been using VNC for years. Back when I was working at the University of Essex as the Chaplaincy Assistant I used VNC pretty much every day to use my computer. These days I don’t use it quite so often, but it still has its uses.
For those not in-the-know, VNC is basically a screen sharing protocol. When I was ChapAss I would load up my VNC program, tap in the IP address of my computer at home, and VNC would show me my own desktop and allow me to use the computer as if I was physically sat in front of it. The benefit for me at that point was that I could use all the programs I was familiar with (which were far better than the ones the uni computers provided) and keep all my files in one place. It worked really well, apart from when my computer crashed – then it meant phoning the house to see if anyone was in who could restart the computer.
Now, working from home, I have no need of VNC in quite the same way. However, I do have two computers and only one monitor, so it still comes in handy sometimes. My Mac is my main computer, on which I do pretty much everything. But I also have a PC dual-booting XP and Ubuntu, mainly for testing purposes – it’s good to know that my web sites work on ‘normal’ computers too. And Linux. So rather than connecting a keyboard, mouse and monitor to my PC, taking up valuable space on my desktop, I VNC into the machine when I want to use it, using both computers from one monitor and set of controls.
Of course, there is one small problem that needs to be overcome for this to work properly, and the root of that problem is that traditionally Mac mice have only one button. With only one mouse button, how do you right click on an operating system that depends on it?
So far I’ve been using JollysFastVNC, which is a pretty good VNC client for the Mac. Right-clicking on the Mac operating system is usually accomplished by holding down the CTRL key and clicking, and JollysFastVNC translates that to a right-click nicely. So all is well. Until, just recently, an update to JFV meant that I couldn’t hibernate Windows any more.
I use hibernation quite a lot on XP, and I have to admit I miss that on the Mac. To hibernate, one holds down shift while pressing the Sleep button in the shutdown box. That worked fine until recently, when the Shift key stopped being sent from JFV. Not good. Right-clicks still worked, but shift was just being ignored.
Thankfully, Leopard actually provides its own VNC client in the form of its Screen Sharing accessory. I say accessory because it’s not in the main Applications folder, but hidden away somewhere that’s not exactly easy to come by. The idea is that you initiate Screen Sharing from the Finder, and Leopard goes off and finds the Screen Sharing app for you. But of course that only works if the PC in question is showing up on the network. Which mine isn’t. Silly PC. Thankfully I can enter the IP address of the computer and go in directly, though that does require me to remember the IP address. And I can choose to keep the Screen Sharing app in the dock so I don’t have to go looking for it each time.
In actual fact the Screen Sharing app is pretty decent. It’s faster than JFV, the mouse is more responsive, and the screen refreshes more intelligently. All in all, a fantastic piece of kit, and one that is set to replace JollysFastVNC outright. Except for one small niggle. Screen Sharing doesn’t know what to do with right-clicks. Holding down CTRL and clicking sends a CTRL-left-click to the other computer, which isn’t exactly what I want. Solution? Plug a two-button mouse into my Mac.
Now, to Mac purists, this is undoubtedly blasphemy. Macs have always had single button mice. It’s what’s always set them apart. After all, why have two or three mouse buttons when you can do everything with one? Still, Apple developers appreciated that not everyone was a purist, so has kindly provided support for pretty much any USB mouse, regardless of the number of buttons. So, out came my PC’s mouse, with two buttons and a scroll wheel (that’s one thing I have missed). Firing up Screen Sharing showed that the right click was being correctly sent via VNC as a right-click, as you’d expect. And right-clicks in Leopard are interpretted as right-clicks, or what would have been produced by CTRL-clicking before. My only problem now is getting used to having two buttons – I’m finding myself right-clicking by accident, because I’m so used to pressing the whole front of the mouse down.
So, it looks like I’m going to have to retrain my hand to use a two-button mouse again. It still feels wrong, somehow, like trying to ride a motorcycle with 6 wheels. I may have to look into getting a MightyMouse, maybe that will feel more appropriate.