Technically this isn’t directly about amateur radio although there is a sort of radio connection.
As part of my involvement with the Martello Tower Group, I look after some equipment at two of our remote sites. We have a Linux server running our D-STAR repeater, a Windows 10 PC running our SSTV repeater and a Raspberry Pi as an ADS-B receiver. Up until recently, I used TeamViewer to connect to these computers because they’re linked to the internet via a cellular connection and therefore behind a CGNAT so port forwarding isn’t possible. It worked perfectly well until the following message appeared.
Clicking the More info button took me to the TeamViewer web site where I was able to complete a form explaining that we’re not using it commercially. The web site says that I should receive an answer within seven days but a search of the TeamViewer support forums produced a thread where people have been waiting over a month for a response and even if they accept the explanation, it’s not uncommon for it to get grumpy again and revert back to being time limited.
I don’t generally need to do much remote work for the two sites and I figured that I could probably manage to do what I needed in five minute sessions so I didn’t worry too much. However I was wrong as the “5 minutes” they claim is wrong. My sessions were being timed out after around thirty seconds which was barely enough time to log on and authenticate.
I looked into various different options to replace TeamViewer with and settled on VNC Connect which consists of two products, VNC Viewer and VNC Server. You install Server on the computer you want to control and Viewer on the computer you want to use to take control.
The process is quite straightforward – Head to the VNC site and create an account, install Server on the system you want to control and and log in using your account details. Install Viewer on your home computer and log in using your account details and the remote computer appears in your address book. This was easy enough on the Windows 10 PC but not quite so easy on the Raspberry Pi.
Generally when I set up a Pi, I build it using the ‘Lite’ version which doesn’t include various features, most noticeably the graphical user interface (GUI). I do everything on a Pi via the terminal rather than the GUI. In order to use VNC, there needs to be a GUI installed. Fortunately, it’s possible to add the GUI from the command line with the following commands:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt install raspberrypi-ui-mods -y
This was quite a large download at over 600Mb so I just started it going and left it running for a few hours. I have no idea how long it took to install but it was done when I checked later. I had to install VNC Server as well which I did with this command:
sudo apt-get install realvnc-vnc-server -y
Once that’s installed, I had to enable VNC via the Raspberry Pi configuration utility:
Choose option 5, Interfacing Options, then P3 VNC, select <Yes> to the question “Would you like the VNC Server to be enabled?” and then exit the configuration utility by selecting Finish.
Now enter the following command:
sudo nano /boot/config.txt
Scroll down to the two lines that start
Remove the # from the start of each line, press ctrl-x, hit the Y key and then return. This sets the screen resolution of the session when you connect. I changed mine to 1680 and 1050 respectively. Once you’ve saved the file, reboot your Pi.
Finally I used my laptop on the same network with VNC Viewer installed to connect to the GUI of the Pi, open VNC Server by clicking on the icon in the top bar, click the burger menu in the top right corner, select Licensing… and log on with the account you created earlier.
All that was left was to uninstall TeamViewer from the remote systems.
The free version of VNC Connect will allow connection to up to five computers and I can invite two other members of the group to the account as “team members” so they can access these computers as well.
Bearing in mind how straightforward this is to set up and after having read so many reports of how bad TeamViewer has become with regard to flagging non commercial use as commercial, I really can’t recommend VNC Connect highly enough as an alternative. I have no connection with VNC apart from being a satisfied user of their free service having moved there from TeamViewer.
You can find out more about VNC Connect here.