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Macworld - As I walk the vast expanses of this Macworld Oregon Branch Office (otherwise known as my home), there are times when it's useful to see what's happening on a given machine--did my never-ending iPhone backup process end? Did the backup of the mini generate any errors? Is that file upload to the server done yet? Answering these questions used to require me sitting in front of one of the Macs in the house--using screen sharing, I could then connect to the machine in question and see what it was doing.
Now, with the App Store, though, all I need is a first-generation iPhone with the 2.0 software and MochaSoft's Mocha VNC (or the free Mocha VNC Lite version). Mocha VNC allows you to connect to machines running OS X, Windows, and Linux using the industry-standard virtual network computing desktop sharing system. There are built-in VNC servers in OS X 10.4 and 10.5, so you can connect to your Macs with a minimal amount of work.
There are some limits with Mocha VNC--it only supports a single monitor on the remote system, and the maximum resolution of that monitor is 1,680-by-1,200. You can, however, zoom in and out on the screen as you would with a web page, and display the remote screen in portrait or landscape mode simply by turning your iPhone or iPod touch. Buttons along the bottom of the screen provide access to features such as the on-screen keyboard, Mocha VNC's menus, a right mouse button, and a button to control what happens when you drag a finger across the screen--one mode moves the remote mouse pointer, the other just scrolls around on your zoomed-in display.
There aren't many differences between the free and paid version of Mocha VNC, but the differences that exist are significant. The biggest limitation in the free version is that the only provided keyboard is the standard iPhone virtual keyboard--so no function keys, and no other special keys. (There are onscreen buttons for Control and Command, but not Option.) While this works OK for controlling Macs, you really need Control-Alt-Delete to work with Windows boxes, because otherwise you can't login.
The full version has a second keyboard that contains all the function keys, the Windows key, page navigation keys, and two special Windows meta-keys: Control-Alt-Delete and Alt-F4. (There's still no on-screen Option key, however.) With the paid version, you also get a dedicated on-screen right-mouse button, and support for macros (recorded bits of text you can send to the remote host with a couple of taps).
I found the speed of Mocha VNC to be decent on my home's wireless network. The initial screen draw on a larger screen took some time, but updates were relatively quick, and typing worked at a decent, but not great, speed. However, because there's no real keyboard or mouse, you won't want to tackle any complex projects with your iPhone or iPod touch--it's just too hard to work the buttons for the virtual keyboard and mouse. Instead, Mocha VNC is best used as a monitoring tool, or to do something fast and simple on the networked machine, such as starting a download or running Software Update.