With Lion, you can use screen sharing to connect to a "virtual display", meaning that you log in to a new session instead of 'hijacking' the currently active one.

Is there a Windows program that can make use of this feature and let me start and operate a remote session on a Mac?

7 Answers 7


I see some kind of ambiguity in answers here :-)

I'd suggest to tell technologies and underlying protocols apart.

VNC: uses RFB protocol.

Apple Screen Sharing [SS] (which is enabled by checking "Screen Sharing" in System Prefs): it is a vanilla VNC plus some Apple-specific extensions, e.g. pasteboard auto synchronization, display selection, screen locking, encryption, drag & drop and file transfer in latest servers. Another thing it has is the Apple-specific "codec", which is easy to recognize by JPEG-like artifacts. It also includes new authentication types (by username and password and by requesting permission from remote user) and the very feature you're discussing - Session Select, which allows you to log in as active user or to create invisible ("virtual") user session.

Apple Remote Desktop [ARD] ("Remote Management" in System Prefs): uses Apple Screen Sharing as a base for the screen sharing and another very different protocol (name it ARD protocol for instance) for computer management things, like performing spotlight searches, running shell commands, sending messages, transferring files and so on.

@zneak asked for a client that supports Session Select feature. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, even Mac OS X clients rarely support Apple Screen Sharing features. These are: first, Apple’s built-in Screen Sharing client; next goes Remotix for Mac, which seems to support almost all of SS features including Session Select; JollysFastVNC which supports Apple authentication, display selection and screen locking, and Screens for Mac that supports only Apple authentication.

As for Windows, all I could find was already mentioned here Remotix for Windows, though it was marked as beta for a long time.

Probably all these things are obvious for some of you, but I spent a good couple of hours sorting it out. Hope this post will save some time to someone :-)

  • Thanks for the Remotix link. I was looking for a solution that supports both compression and multi-user login (i.e. concurrent sessions). RealVNC client along with SS works fine over a local network, but is unusable over the Internet because of the lack of support for compression. Remotix works very well - it's not as performant as TeamViewer, but a deal breaker nonetheless because of concurrent login support.
    – Hippo
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 3:57

Since RDC requires windows to be running, that's a non-starter unless you are running BootCamp or virtualization and don't care to see the OS X windows.

One big advantage of RDC / Terminal Services was the ability to log in a user that wasn't using the main screen. With Lion, this is now an option out of the box.

Do note that on Lion, Remote Management behaves differently than Screen Sharing. Enabling screen sharing seems to offer the most vanilla VNC-compatible stack. RealVNC seems to be the best client for working with 10.5 through 10.7, but I'm not often on windows lately.

Do also read up on Are the changes to Lion's screen sharing documented anywhere publicly? for a discussion of the Lion specific changes. Especially Apple's latest ARD release notes.

A third party VNC viewer will always be connected to the login window. If the login window is not on the display, a new login window is started that is not shown on the display. The screen sharing user can then log in with any valid account on that computer.

It shows the intent that all VNC clients will get a login screen - and not hijack the current session (if there is a current non-login screen session)

  • It's not about finding a client that works; it's about finding a client that supports the virtual screen thing.
    – zneak
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 3:50
  • @zneak, so you're saying you would like to find a "virtual screen thing" that doesn't work, is that correct?
    – l'L'l
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 11:50
  • BTW - RealVNC is technically "screen sharing", and merely the cute name Apple uses for VNC (Virtual Network Computing). It's actually called RFB (Remote Framebuffer) and does let you "share" the session without "hi-jacking". For a complete comparison of VNC clients (virtual screen thingys) I suggest you visit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_remote_desktop_software
    – l'L'l
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 11:53
  • There are two issues - one the protocol the client uses to ask for data. In this case, I'm presuming zneak wants VNC and not Apple's RDC (which is probably still VNC at the core). The second is whether the "sharing" computer spawns a second loginwindow process and shows the remote something that's not on the screen. That's the new part for Lion - the ability to have a remote login different than the physical screen.
    – bmike
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 13:54
  • 1
    @ioi, "so you're saying you would like to find a "virtual screen thing" that doesn't work, is that correct?" You probably already know that this is not correct. In case you have never used screen sharing with Lion, when you connect, you get this window right after the login prompt. I would like a Windows client for the Mac OS remote desktop service that supports this capability.
    – zneak
    Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 21:21

I think screen sharing in Lion is still based on the VNC protocol, so any VNC client should work.

There is a fairly comprehensive table on Wikipedia of VNC software, you can probably find a free Windows client that you can test this on.

Edit: Based on the comments Screen Sharing looks to have changed quite a bit since the last version (where it was more or less vanilla VNC), so I'm changing this answer to a community wiki where we can all put up suggestions.

  • I couldn't get the first VNC client I tried to work right, so this is certainly not true.
    – zneak
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 17:49
  • Also, this feature is not a standard VNC feature. It'll take more than a standard VNC client to get it.
    – zneak
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 18:06
  • I thought VNC makes use of the current session on the box rather than logging in separately and starting a new one?
    – immutabl
    Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 8:10

I just found a very cool solution. It isn't perfect, but was very easy to set up and works for windows, mac and linux. Google has released a remote desktop sharing client that is in beta. It litereally took seconds to setup and I'm off running. Give it a shot. Here's the link to the article.

  • 1
    Nice answer! After a day of frustration with the various VNC debacles, the Chrome plugin is working 100x better. Very little lag, no drops (yet)! I love it! Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 23:37
  • And will it let me run a virtual display? It's very cool that Google makes remote desktop software, but if it doesn't have that feature, it doesn't exactly solve the problem.
    – zneak
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 23:33

I have been furiously "googling" for the last hour and have finally found a solution.

I have a Windows 7 PC in a corporate environment and need to be able to connect to a Mac running OSX 10.8.2.

When using all other VNC methods, I would get prompted for a Mac username and password to get access to the box. This is very secure, but it doesn't help me to offer remote assistance to a colleague as I do not see there screen, I see my own loaded profile.

The solution is to use this software: http://www.nulana.com/remotix-windows

It has OSX authentication built in. Upon connection you get the option of logging on as yourself or viewing the users screen.

  • Glad to see that there exists at least one client able to do it. I'm leaving the question open, in case someone comes up with a free solution.
    – zneak
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 15:30
  • Remotix impressed me with several features. Specially dear to me, it provided better, but far from perfect, international support. However, it makes accented chars unavailable in the machine where the viewer is running on (i.e. viewer started, no working dead keys in any other app in the computer)
    – xverges
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 14:55

I believe the initial question speaks of Mac emulation on a Windows box. Maybe an SSH connection could then spawn a Mac screen independent of the actual Mac screen so the box could be used remotely and locally at the same time. I do this currently with my Linux box.

A good option to try would be NoMachine. I also use this with my Linux box and will give it a try on Mac soon.

  • That's a lot of speculation. I didn't mean to talk about emulation anywhere, and in all of my Mac years, I have never come across a command that can spawn another graphical session.
    – zneak
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 23:34
  • For a quick update... NoMachine is not compatible and will not work. My attempts to use VNC clients works, but due to the screen resolution being so high on the iMac, scrolling becomes very tedious. I am connecting to iMac from a Linux box and desire a workable screen on my linux box without interrupting someone using the iMac at the time. Logmein is the best option I've found so far, but it has some compatibility issues. Still searching for the best setup...
    – knipknup
    Commented Jan 7, 2012 at 17:31

I was trying to figure out how to connect to my Macbook using "Screen sharing" from my windows PC. I was suffering the same problems as discussed here: any windows VNC client just shows a "gray" screen with no way to get to the actual screen.

After some digging on the internet, tried {tight!real!any}VNC client, I figure out how to actually PASS THE LOGIN screen: JUST TYPE YOUR USERNAME and PASSWORD Bum, the screen comes magically on the remote viewer!!!

Caveats: you must set a vnc password in the Screen Sharing preference panel: - click on computer setting -select "VNC viewers may control screen with password" => insert the password

It then allows you to connect to the VNC server on your Lion PC. Once the "gray" screen is shown, type your username and pwd...

Hope this helps.

  • 1
    Do you separate the username and password with anything, like a tab, or just usernamepassword?
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 15:27

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