UltraVNC

As part of this recent freelance gig, one of the browser requirements was IE5.0 (yeah, that old). And, as luck would have it, my desktop machine at work had IE6 — you would think that IT would have left an older version of IE on there for me, knowing I’m a web developer ;).

In any case, during the early stages of coding, I had to ask around for an IE5.0 machine so that I could test my code. And, the IT guy (yeah, they have just one IT guy) found a Win2k laptop that still had IE5.0 on it. So, he loaned that to me and I set it atop the three-drawer cabinet next to my desk.

The laptop had WiFi, which meant that I didn’t have to bother finding a network cable, though I did plug in the power since I’d be using it for a few days. Normal IE-frustrations aside, the setup wasn’t too bad. But, it became cumbersome over time to have to use the trackpad and its laptop-sized keyboard.

So, even though the laptop was right next to me, and almost within reach anyway, I decided to install VNC on there — VNC is a GPLed client/server app that allows remote control of a PC over a network connection (the remote PC’s desktop just appears as a window on the client’s screen). And, even though I’d be using VNC for a Windows-to-Windows connection, there’re versions available for other operating systems such as Linux and (I think) Mac OS.

I was already familiar with one of the VNC forks, TightVNC — it’s actually backwards-compatible with VNC but it includes a new compression algorithm for a more responsive remote desktop. And, I was about to install TightVNC on the two machines when I ran across UltraVNC (yet another fork). The distinction with UltraVNC is that it includes a “Video Hook Driver” for Win2k/XP which “dramatically improves performances and reduces CPU activity over LAN connections”.

Since they’re all free anyway, I decided to see if UltraVNC’s video hook driver really made a difference. And, sure enough, it did — accessing the laptop via my desktop machine was just about realtime and even JavaScript rollovers appeared almost instantly. So, with the help of UltraVNC, I was make use of the laptop’s IE5.0 installation while still using my desktop’s full-sized keyboard and mouse :).

The only downside with UltraVNC is that it’s only available for Windows at the moment. Howver, since it’s designed to be backwards compatible with regular VNC, that’s not much of a problem. But, in my case, Windows support was all I needed at the time, and it worked out really well.

Though I recall that there may have been some flavor of VNC available for Mac OS, I can’t seem to find it at the moment (at the VNC site or elsewhere). If I could find an OSX (or even OS9) version of VNC, then I’d be able to setup a VNC server on one of the Macs at the office, and could do all my browser testing from my desk :).

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