Fun Times with Remote Desktop

The iPad has been making a splash in the gadget world, and I’ve been strongly tempted more than once to go ahead and purchase one.  For now, though, I’ve been able to resist, and I am hoping to hold out for a Notion Ink Adam.  Pixel Qi screen, Rotatable Camera capable of recording HD, HDMI out, Android with Multitouch?  I’m sold.  But this post isn’t about that.  It’s about one of the reasons I want a tablet so bad:  Being able to use it while teaching.

Currently there are a few tablets that are available for use in the classroom.  The problem is “Tablet” is used in a bit of a different sense.  The tablet I have available to me is the Airliner from Smartboard.  This piece of hardware is truly a piece of crap.  Half the time it won’t connect to the computer, and when it does connect, the software fails to function correctly.  There is a better way to handle this type of functionality, and I think I’ve found one.

One issue with using a tablet like this is usability.  You’re controlling the computer through the tablet, but you can’t look at it.  It would be better if you could get a copy of the screen on the tablet itself.  Well, with these new tablet computers, it’s possible to do that.  You just need to setup a VNC server on the computer you want to connect to, and a VNC client on the tablet.

Well, I had the opportunity to borrow one of our faculty member’s iPads and go ahead and try this out.  There’s a lot of idiocy in this institution about network security and such, but I was able to finagle (to use a technical term) the server installation such that I didn’t have to go through IT to enable this functionality.  However, the iPad was having trouble connecting.  So I decided to use another computer in to test the connection.

I didn’t have a VNC client on any of the student machines available, but I did have one on my desktop computer upstairs. So I logged into one of the student machines, and used the Microsoft Remote desktop software to connect to my workstation.  Then I was able to use the VNC client on my workstation to remote into the instructor machine at the front of the classroom.  Everything worked perfectly.

Then I had a thought.  We run a piece of software called iTalc that enables us to view the screen of any of the students computers.  This piece of software is amazing, and I use it constantly while teaching, for diagnosing student problems, letting students demo different things from their computer, and proctoring tests, among other things.

So I opened up iTalc to open up the screen of the student’s computer I was on.

The circle was complete.  I was remoting in a complete circle using three different pieces of technology on three different computers.  I got a nice looking mirror effect on my computer, but I was also able to close it all down easily.  Here’s the final picture:

  1. Student Machine -> My Workstation (using RDP)
  2. My Workstation -> Instructor Machine (using VNC)
  3. Instructor machine -> Student Machine (using iTalc)
  4. The student machine was already connected to my Workstation.

Just a bit of fun.  Unfortunate the wireless bandwidth around here is so crappy the iPad was practically useless as a VNC client.  I’m going to have to figure out something else.

Apple Needs a Channel 9

I’m an Apple fanboy.  I own a Macbook Pro, an iPod, an iPhone, and I’ve spent countless dollars in the iTunes store.  Sure there are a few things I really can’t stand, like the lack of control over my iPhone, but it’s manageable.  Overall, I’m pleased.  There is a distinct improvement in the quality of software when moving from a PC to a Mac, and that has been the biggest thing driving my praise.

However, I’ve been noticing a trend from Apple.  They treat their independent developers worse than microsoft does.  There is a very low barrier of entry into writing software for microsoft.  There are countless articles, podcasts, and videos available to help someone get started, but also help all levels of developer.  With Apple, it’s extremely difficult.  I’ve been on the lookout for even a book that helps someone get started in development on Leopard.  There are reference books available, and books that are targeted at earlier versions of OS X, but nothing recent.

But what brought on this most specific rant?  This posting from macworld, announcing that the videos from WWDC (the apple developers conference) had been made available on iTunes U.  That sounds awesome, and I headed over to check it out immediately.  Unfortunately, these videos are free, but only to those developers that have paid $3500+ to become an apple “premier” developer.  Compare this to say the availablility of all the Lang.NET 2008 conference videos for free. You don’t have to sign up for anything.  The videos are listed in a clean interface and you can just scroll and download.  Things can’t get much better than that when it comes to developer videos.

Come on, Apple!  Get with it!