Comparing Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC
Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC
Virtual Network Computing (VNC) is one of the pioneers of the remote desktop technology, so let’s have a comparison of Microsoft’s famous tool, Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC to grasp a better understanding of VNC.
Windows has a component called Remote Desktop Services (RDS), which enables users to have a remote desktop experience. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a proprietary protocol created by Microsoft that is used in RDS client components such as Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) and Windows Remote Assistance.
VNC is an open-source remote desktop and screen sharing software that uses the Remote Frame Buffer protocol (RFB) to access and take control of a distant system.
History of Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC
Remote Desktop Service, originally known as Terminal Server was first introduced in Windows NT Server 4.0 Terminal Server Edition which was released in 1998. It was renamed to Remote Desktop Service Windows Server 2008 R2 in 2009. Similarly, Remote Desktop Connection, as RDS’s client tool, was formerly called Microsoft Terminal Services Client.
RDS is an implementation of a thin client by Microsoft, in which, the client system can see the server side’s user interfaces and also send input to the server - where software execution happens.
Remote Frame Buffer (RFB) was developed in the late 1990s, at the Olivetti Research Laboratory (ORL) as a remote display technology for Videotile that was basically a thin client, connected via an ATM connection.
Soon after, the same lab developed VNC and as an open-source software, its implementation was released. Consequently, the RFB specification was published online, as well, and caused RFB to become more popular. The ORL was closed in 2002, but some key people from VNC and RFB joined together to start RealVNC Ltd. and continued to develop VNC.
Today, over two decades after the release of the first version of VNC, several more variants of the VNC, such as PocketVNC, RealVNC, TigerVNC, TightVNC, TurboVNC and UltraVNC have come into existence from the original open-source code.
Cross-platform compatibility in Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC
Unlike many other remote desktop protocols, the VNC’s protocol is completely independent of the operating system, windowing system, and applications. So VNC is one of the most cross-compatible remote desktop tools, in the world. Moreover, with many variants of VNC available out there, you can find VNC client and server applications for any desktop or mobile platform, including Java.
VNC was developed as a free software package, under the GNU General Public License. Many other variants of VNC, such as UltraVNC and TightVNC are free, as well, but some others require purchasing a license.
Remote Desktop Connection is pre-installed on all versions of the Windows operating system, since Windows XP. However, Windows Home Edition cannot operate as a remote desktop server, i.e. you are not able to remotely connect to a system with Windows Home, but you can use it as a remote desktop client to connect to distant computers.
There are also official RDC clients available for macOS, FreeBSD, Linux, Windows Phone, Android and iPhone.
In general, one can say that cross-platform wise, VNC and its forks are the winner in Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC Race head-to-head.
Security in Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC
The primary VNC does not have much to offer when it comes to security. For example, due to weaknesses in the password encryption process in the original RFB, the passwords can be sniffed from the network.
Then again, developers of some modern implementations of VNC, such as RealVNC, have worked on the security issues to make their products more secure. For example, VNCConnect by RealVNC uses 256-bit AES session encryption and offers Multi-factor authentication as well as granular access control to improve security.
But security vulnerabilities are not uncommon in the modern VNC variants, either. For instance, in 2019, tests performed on four popular open-source implementations of VNC, including LibVNC, UltraVNC, TightVNC and TurboVNC revealed 37 security flaws, many of which went unnoticed for about two decades. These 37 new memory corruption vulnerabilities included 22 vulnerabilities in UltraVNC, 10 in LibVNC, 4 in TightVNC, and one in TurboVNC.
The researchers emphasized that the said security issues could lead to malfunctions and denial of service (DoS) attacks, but more advanced attackers can even exploit the bugs to introduce their malware to the target and carry out remote code execution (RCE) attacks. This is just like taking remote control of the victim’s system by the attacker.
On the other hand, although constantly getting analyzed and improved by top Microsoft security experts, Remote Desktop Connection could still put its users at potential security risks. Statements released by the FBI in 2018 and the NSA in 2019 that warned people about the possible exploitation of Remote Desktop Connection and the RDP port are just a reminder of how serious the issue has been with this widely-used remote desktop software. For example, Brute Force Attack is one of the easiest ways to access a network through Remote Desktop Connection. Of course, there are always simple protective measures you can take to prevent Brute Force Attack and many other security attacks.
So basically, like many other remote desktop tools, when using either Remote Desktop Connection or VNC, you have to be extra vigilant and make sure to take necessary security measures, like setting up a reliable firewall, on your system.
Features and properties of Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC
When comparing different features and properties in Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC, you should always keep in mind that although the original VNC does not have many capabilities, there are many modern VNC forks which support a very wide range of features. Anyway, here are a few comparing points for Remote Desktop Connection vs VNC:
- Both VNC and Remote Desktop Connection use direct peer-to-peer communication to provide remote access.
- VNC uses a lot of bandwidth to transfer desktop images from the remote computer. So, Remote Desktop Connection is usually much faster than VNC, especially in places with low bandwidth.
- The RFB protocol is pixel-based, therefore, it is less efficient than protocols like RDP, which have a better understanding of the underlying graphic layout.
- Unlike Remote Desktop Connection, the original VNC does not support file transfer. But, many modern VNC variants such as TightVNC and UltraVNC do.
- Both software packages support unattended access. It allows accessing a remote host computer without requiring anyone to sit behind it.
- While using Remote Desktop Connection, the user sitting at the remote computer cannot see or control their own computer, but the client who is now connected to the remote computer can see and take control of everything, just like their own desktop. So, while Remote Desktop Connection’s screen blanking can be useful for some users for security reasons, VNC looks like a better choice for remote assistance. It is noteworthy that some modern implementations of VNC like VNC Connect support screen blanking. Also, don’t forget that Microsoft Remote Desktop Services has another default RDP-based software called Windows Remote Assistance that is designed for remote support and shares the screen for both sides, just like VNC.
It sounds like the most important advantage of VNC is being open source and very cross-compatible. It also has many modern variants with lots of different features, which allows you to choose the most proper remote desktop tool for your own needs. On the other hand, Remote Desktop Connection is believed to be much faster and efficient. But it does not support as many platforms as VNC does.
Anyway, whatever tool you choose, just remember that without a security-conscious user, no remote desktop software is ever safe.