You know how it goes. A user calls you with a problem on her PC and needs you to fix it now. You’re nowhere near the machine, nor are you near your administration workstation or a laptop. You’ve got your trusty PocketPC handy, but you’re not running Terminal Services. Now what?

To be prepared for such a situation, you should install VNC on the remote computer and put a copy of the VNC Viewer on your PocketPC. Let’s take a look at how it works.

VNC? On my PocketPC?
VNC is a great remote control utility that allows you to do just about anything on a remote computer’s desktop, as if you were at the machine itself. Not only is it powerful, it’s also free. As if those benefits weren’t enough, because it’s open source software, VNC is available on platforms other than Windows, including your PocketPC.

You can run VNC on PocketPC devices running Windows CE 3.0 and later. If you have a PocketPC 2002 device, you have a Terminal Services Client that allows you to remotely control computers. Although the Terminal Services Client essentially does the same thing as VNC, it’s not without it’s limitations. Primarily, the Terminal Services Client will allow you to access only remote computers that are running Terminal Services. That limits you to Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Professional, or Windows XP Professional clients. Even if that’s all you’re running at your organization, Terminal Services adds extra system requirements to those machines that can cause them to run slower. VNC’s cross-platform support and smaller footprint solves such problems.

Where PocketPC 2002 devices all run the same CPU, PocketPC and Windows CE 3.0 devices run different CPUs, making it harder to find software that runs on them. Fortunately, VNC supports every major Windows CE CPU including:

For this article, I’ll be running VNC on a Jornada 545 running Windows CE 3.0 on a Hitachi SH3 processor.

Obtaining and installing the software
You can obtain the VNC Viewer for your Pocket PC by clicking the CPU type of your Pocket PC above. The viewer itself is very small, so it won’t take very long to download. Save it to a temporary location on your administration workstation that’s docked to your Pocket PC.

Unlike most Pocket PC software, the VNC Viewer doesn’t contain a Setup program that integrates with ActiveSync. Instead, all you get is the raw VNCVIEWER.EXE file. Don’t panic. The VNC Viewer is so simple to install that you don’t need a Setup program.

Double-click My Computer on the workstation that’s docked with the Pocket PC and open Mobile Device. Double-click My Pocket PC and open the Program Files folder. Create a new folder called VNC and go into it. Finally, just drag the VNCVIEWER.EXE file from the download directory on your workstation to the VNC folder on your PocketPC.

Running VNC
Before you start using VNC on your PocketPC, you must run the VNC Server on the remote workstation or server that you want to access. Also, make sure you have a functional network card in your PocketPC. For the greatest flexibility, you’ll want a wireless network card of some sort.

To start VNC, start File Explorer on your PocketPC and navigate to the VNC folder you created above. Tap VNCVIEWER.EXE. The first thing you’ll see is the Connection Details dialog box. There’s only one field to enter data, but it’s not labeled. Enter the name or TCP/IP address of the remote server you want to access followed by a colon (:) and session number. For example, on my test server, I entered godot:0. Click OK to initiate the session. When the session connects, you’ll see the remote server appear as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Here’s Windows 2000 Server as viewed from my PocketPC.

After your PocketPC first connects to the remote computer, you can immediately see one of the main drawbacks of remotely accessing computers using your PocketPC: The Pocket PC can display a maximum of 240 x 320 pixels. Even if the remote computer is only running 640 x 480, you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling to work your way around the remote computer’s screen.

Across the top of the screen, you’ll see three drop-down menus: Connection, Keys, and About. The Connection menu allows you to manage the connection between your PocketPC and the remote computer. Connection Menu choices include:

  • New establishes a new connection with a remote computer.
  • Options allows you to control aspects of the remote connection, including the type of encoding to use and how to manage color-depth differences between your PocketPC and the remote computer.
  • Info displays information about the connection including the name of the remote system, TCP/IP port, remote resolution, and color depth.
  • Close terminates your connection to the remote system.

The Keys menu allows you to emulate special workstation keyboard commands such as [Ctrl][Alt][Del] and [Alt][Esc]. Finally, the About menu displays information about the version of VNC you’re running.

Not perfect, but useful
VNC for the PocketPC isn’t perfect by any means. The versions for earlier models of the Pocket PC are officially labeled beta versions. I noticed on my Jornada and my test network that the menus and dialog boxes sometimes didn’t display properly. However, when the final connection was made, everything worked fine. Once you get used to the quirks of the program and the amount of scrolling you have to do, you’ll find VNC for the PocketPC to be a great tool to use when you need to access remote computers but aren’t near a laptop or your administration workstation.