RAW Computing

Control your PC from an iPad or Android tablet

It is possible to remotely control one computer from another computer or even from an Android tablet or phone or an iPad or iphone. You can access the remote computer as if you weer sat in front of it and what you see on the screen of the computer, tablet or phone is exactly what is on the remote computer.

This enables you to run software and perform tasks that are difficult or even impossible otherwise. For example, you could use remote access to run Windows software on an iPad or Android tablet. Of course, it doesn't exactly run on the device, it's really running on the remote computer, but the device displays the screen on the remote computer as if you were really there.

The key to performing this trick is VNC or Virtual Network Computing. It consists of a server and client. The server is the computer that you want to remotely access and the client is the computer or device that you use and is doing the accessing. The server blasts screen images across the local area network or even the internet to the client as fast as it can so the client's screen shows exactly what is appearing on the server's screen. The client transmits mouse movements and clicks back to the server. This enables you to run software as if you were using the remote computer.

There are several VNC applications and many of them are free. You usually get both the server and the client app, but if they both stick to the VNC standard it is possible to mix and match different servers and clients. TightVNC and UltraVNC run on Windows, go here for Linux and RealVNC works on the Apple Mac, Linux and Windows.

Install the VNC server

The first step is to install the VNC server software on the computer you want to control. TightVNC installs both a service and a server application and you can use one or the other. The service runs when Windows starts and makes the PC always available. It is useful if you ever have to reboot the remote computer because when it restarts you can reconnect. On the other hand, the server only needs to be run when you want to access the computer remotely. It's your choice.

TightVNCEither way, an icon is added to the right side of the taskbar (in the pop-up tray in Windows 7). Click it to open the settings window if you want to view the setup. You should need to change anything though. Perhaps the only thing you might want to experiment with is whether to hide or show the desktop wallpaper. Hiding the wallpaper and just showing a black screen speeds up screen refresh rates when you are accessing the computer from a mobile device elsewhere.

Notice the ports that it uses - 5900 and 5800 by default. To access your computer over the internet you might need to set up port forwarding in your router. Basically, when you try to access your computer you access the router and the router forwards the network traffic to your computer. There are many router models all with different menus, so if you need to set up port forwarding go to Port Forward. It's a bit heavy on adverts, but the information you need is there.

Accessing the server remotely over a local area network, wired or wireless, is easy. You just need to know the IP address of the computer running the server software. Click Start, enter cmd and then type ipconfig. It will be four numbers something like Remember them.

Run the viewer

To access the server computer from another computer you just need to run a viewer. I used TightVNC server and there is a Java Viewer available for it. The nice thing about this is that Java runs on Windows, OS X and Linux, so you can remotely connect to the server computer any any OS on any computer. Just unzip the Java Viewer, open the folder and double click the viewer, tightvnc-jviewer.jar.

Just enter the IP address of the remote PC with the VNC server and a window will open to display its desktop. You can use the computer just as if you were sat at it, running software and so on.

(If you want to access the computer over the internet you would need to enter the IP address given to you by your ISP. Type "what is my IP address" into Google. Type the number into the viewer and if port forwarding is set up on the router, it sends the request to the computer running VNC on your local network. This article may help.)


VNC servers that stick to standards can be accessed by any viewer that sticks to the same standards, so you don't need to use the viewer that comes with the server. For example, you can access a computer running TightVNC with an Android or iOS device with a VNC viewer app. on Android, for example, there is Android-VNC-Viewer, MultiVNC, Mocha VNC Lite, Jump Desktop Free, and others. Most of them are free at the Google Play Store and iOS apps in the Apple App Store, so search for VNC and download one to your phone or tablet and run it. Sometimes the configuration screens look complicated at first sight, but you can leave most things set to the default and just enter the IP address of the computer to access. In a second or two the remote computer's screen appears on the device.

There are two main problems with accessing a desktop PC remotely using a phone or tablet and the first is that the screen is too small. You will need to zoom in and out using pinch and spread finger movements and some apps automatically scroll, but with others you have to drag the screen around to view it all.

The second problem is that the tablet or phone has a touch interface and the computer expects mouse input. Different apps handle things in different ways, so you may be able to tap and drag a mouse around or simply tap where you want to click the mouse. There are often different modes and there are certainly different gestures, for example, to simulate left or right mouse clicks and so on.

Accessing a Windows PC remotely on an Android phone or tablet takes a bit of getting used to, but it can be useful on occasions. For example, you can access files, email them, print documents, run reports, perform maintenance tasks and so on, no matter where you are.

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