Another Good App: VNSea
In my exploration of non-apple-sanctioned native apps for the iPhone, I want to just say something about VNSea, which is a VNC/Remote desktop client. But before talking about this app, here’s a little info about other methods. I have used VNC-style apps on many platforms. Some are excellent, most are o.k and a few are well…crap. On OSX you have the official ARD (Apple Remote Desktop) client, which is a ‘professional’ level application, with a ‘professional’ level price to match. You also now have built into Leopard (10.5) a stripped down version of ARD called ‘Screen Sharing’. This actually is a true VNC client, rather than the proprietary ARD protocol. In Windows you have also an official Microsoft Remote Desktop, plus you can add VNC access if you like. So that’s the main desktop apps. Most work really well (ARD has improved dramatically over the years) for remote access.
On the mobile side of things it’s a little different. Firstly you have the very-real problem of how to fit a e.g 1400×768 size screen onto a smartphone size screen, while still making it usable. Of course, if a VNC app on a smartphone scales the desktop screen to fit, it’s entirely unusable. This is where the implementation of navigation in a VNC.app becomes important. On the Symbian S60v3 smartphone platform, there are a few developers of VNC/remote access apps. I had a few installed on my Nokia E61. They all worked, to a degree. But none of them felt comfortable, probably due to the fact that to navigate around the screen required using the 5-way joystick. So I VERY rarely used the apps. If ever. Plus, there were other limiting factors: the speed, or redraw of the screen was excruciatingly slow. And with no ‘standard’ VPN in the phones (PPTP/L2TP) you could only use remote access when you were within the internal network anyway…so of course I just then used my Powerbook. So no access ‘on the go’ or in an emergency.
Now with the iPhone (jailbroken) and VNSea.app I finally have a truly usable admin tool for all the servers/client machines I have to look after. The biggest reason this application completely destroys the competition is navigation. Specifically the practical use of multitouch. This is where navigating becomes a joy, rather than a hindrance. VNSea allows pinch/zoom instant scaling of the remote desktop screen. It’s really instant. There is almost no redraw time, so it actually is FASTER than my desktop ARD/VNC clients! This is where the iPhone can show it’s dominance over other smartphones: real-world ‘smartphone-level’ tasks. Multitouch is used so heavily in VNSea, and used so logically (pinch to zoom, two fingers to drag screen, double tap to grab window/launch application) when compared to all the other implementations of VNC on other platforms. Plus using the built-in VPN of the iPhone means I can have secure, fast access to any of my clients machines, from anywhere. Even over Edge it is entirely usable, with a minimal difference in speed to WiFi. In this case, the iPhone is ‘smarter’ than other so-called ‘smartphones’, and ironically a better choice for a System Administrator than other devices.
Of course, VNSea.app is not perfect (what is?): I wish that you could name the machines separate to using the login name (as a result, I have a load of machines called ‘administrator’, with no way to quickly see what machine is what). This is another ‘must have’ application for me. I sincerely hope that this app survives the SDK transition, or that Apple actually releases a true ARD for iPhone client. I would pay money for either implementation in a heartbeat, it’s that good.