There are several facets to the usability aspect of the client. First up is the interface for establishing the connection to the server. To score points for usability, the client has to offer the right number of features to define the connection without inundating the user with a sea of toggles and checkboxes.
Also, the client’s role doesn’t end when the connection is established. The post-connection interface plays a crucial role in helping you interact with the remote desktop. In this article, we’ll only rate applications based on the accessibility of post-connection features. The fact that some applications offer more controls than others, once the connection has been established, will be compared in a separate section.
We’ll break this slide down into mini-reviews of the interface and user experience, starting with…
You’ll have to define a new connection before connecting with the RealVNC client by manually entering the IP address of your VNC server. You can then either use the default settings or tweak them from the New Connection window. The General and Options tabs list common parameters while the Expert tab lets experienced campaigners modify the default values of various parameters. You can access these options during an active connection either by using the hidden menu at the top of the connection window or by pressing the F8 key.
By default, the RealVNC client also saves screenshots for connections. During an active connection the client also gives you the option to transfer files to and from the remote server and exchange instant messages. However, these options will only work when connected to a RealVNC server.
Before you can establish a connection, Remmina asks you to create a profile to define parameters for the connection. At the very least, you’ll have to select a protocol from a drop-down list and enter the server’s IP address. Optionally, you can define other parameters that vary depending on the protocol being used, e.g. for VNC connections, you can optionally choose the colour depth and quality of the connection as well as encryption. You also get checkboxes to toggle some quick settings like starting a simple View Only session and disabling encryption etc.
Remmina has an intuitive tabbed interface that enables you to manage multiple remote desktop sessions from a single window. There are a bunch of buttons for common tasks such as switching to full-screen mode or to the scaled mode in case the remote desktop doesn’t fit.
TigerVNC has a rather straightforward interface. However, unlike some of the other clients in this feature, it lacks the ability to automatically sniff VNC servers on the network and you’ll have to manually enter the IP address of the remote VNC server to establish a connection. While the default options work for most users, various connection parameters can be customised.
Besides the options to choose the encoding, colour and compression levels for the connection, you can also elect to only view the remote computer screen. Furthermore, TigerVNC enables you to share the clipboard with the remote VNC server and the application also makes it possible to choose the remote session screen size.
TightVNC is the only software in this feature to use a Java viewer. It also uses a simple textbox interface similar to TigerVNC’s. You’ll have to manually enter the IP address of the remote VNC server since the client cannot detect VNC servers running on the network. Again, you can either connect with the default option or customise any of the available settings. However, TightVNC lists all of the available options in one window unlike TigerVNC’s tabbed interface.
The differences between the two continue once a connection has been established: While TigerVNC uses a hidden menu, the TightVNC viewer lists a row of buttons at the top of the interface, and you can use these to customise any of the parameters for the connections – as well as sending various special keys to the remote VNC server.
Vinagre has a minimal interface that’s very much like Remmina. However, there aren’t nearly as many advanced options behind Remmina’s simple GUI. To connect all you need to do is pick a protocol from the pull-down list and enter the IP address of the remote VNC server. What makes Vinagre more intuitive and user friendly than Remmina is the very helpful Find button that hunts for active servers on the local network.
Also much like Remmina, you get optional checkboxes to start a full-screen session, a view-only or a scaled window. You also have the ability to select a colour depth from 24-bit true colour to 3-bit ultra-low colour, plus you can also enable JPEG compression if you have the resources to bear the processing overhead. On the downside, you can’t change the quality settings of an active connection.