Remote Desktop vs. Desktop Functionality on a Tablet

Access your desktop remotely, or remotely work on your desktop

Access your desktop remotely, or remotely work on your desktop

Everyone has different ideas about what a tablet PC should do. Some users prefer to use it for entertainment and email. I, on the other hand, want my tablets to do pretty much everything I use a computer for. Understandably, we all have a different perspective on just how much functionality a tablet needs to be useful.

So, the idea of remote support and remote access is interesting to me. Citrix in particular is a popular name in this field, providing a range of tools like GoToMyPC (recently released for the iPad) to log into your PC remotely from a tablet. It’s not the first remote access app for the iOS. LogMeIn and TeamViewer are both available for iOS and Android, but Citrix has always been a favorite of mine due to their expanded multi-user options and their ability to provide support across multiple platforms.

This isn’t a review of GoToMyPC, though. Instead I want to talk about whether tools like this should be necessary. For sure, there are situations when this could be useful. Screen sharing during meetings is great and I can think of a dozen ways that a front facing camera, video chat, and a screen sharing application would be useful on a tablet.

But, if we keep connecting to our desktops instead of supporting new applications and developers producing app solutions, will we ever truly be able to take our entire workstation on the road with us? I talked about input devices the other day and with the right setup, a tablet PC offers a number of ways to enter data with less hunting and pecking and far more productivity such as Bluetooth keyboards, active digitizing pens and handwriting recognition. Similarly, the number of cloud tools like Box.net, Dropbox, and Soonr offer easy access to remote files and collaboration tools for multi-user editing. There are even inexpensive office-based applications like Quick Office or Documents to Go that allow you to edit a Microsoft Office and Google Docs files.

I’m not necessarily against the idea of a remote desktop. The convenience of it is fantastic, especially for those who go on the road a lot and want access to specific software or files that may not have made it into the cloud. And I can envision a solution that allows access to desktop applications and tools through a tablet ecosystem interface, possibly in the next iteration of Windows.

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But, tablet PCs are designed for mobility and efficiency and with each passing month, we’re seeing new ideas and new ways of integrating those primary goals into apps and hardware alike. To me, the real age of the tablet will dawn when we no longer need software like GoToMyPC, but can do everything directly on our mobile devices.

What do you think? Do you use your tablet for productivity tasks and if so, where do you draw the line between tablet and desktop for different tasks? Was iPad2′s faster processor a game changer, or should iPad2 should have been more aptly named iPad1.1? (I think so)

  

Comments

  1. Randy Spangler says

    From a business use case, there will ALWAYS be apps that are based solely on networks and PCs. Line of Business apps come to mind as well as programs that access large, shared files on corporate LANs. I think there is a better way to access these apps than traditional GoToMyPC methods.

    Using Terminal Services (RDS) or some new, clever Windows 7 mods, you could connect via RemoteApp. This technology allows you to virtualize a single, running application on the host and see the program running on the remote device as if it was local. It is pretty cool and we have started using this technology for some of our clients on their remote PCs.

    The downside is that setting this sort of thing up is complicated and getting the Gateway Services installed to handle multiple endpoints cannot be done by your average A+ or GeeksOnCall tech.

    Microsoft has shown how Small Business Server can simplify Remote Desktop configuration. If they decided it was in their best interest to do something similar with RDS-RA, it would be a HUGE step forward in mobile computing.

    As we move quickly toward nearly universal acceptance of the new mobile platforms I am sure Microsoft is trying to figure out where it leaves their traditional golden geese of Windows desktop, Microsoft Office and Servers. If Microsoft would embrace the remote connectivity needs and lead the way with great (and secure) solutions, I think it would cement their hold on the enterprise for many more years to come.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

      @Randy: Thanks for the great comment mate. I like your ideas and can totally agree the level of geekiness to make this sort of technology mainstream need to come down a notch. Either that or someone needs to package it up as a sexier more marketable solution. (Like Apple does with their stuff ironically). Microsoft has great resources behind it (other than just money) and will though energy at this sort of thing – I’m just hoping they don’t take much longer! :-)

  2. GoodThings2Life says

    I have Remote Desktop on my EVO that I use, oh, probably weekly at least to access my systems at work while I’m away from my desktop or tablet (typically lunch or dinner). It truly is a fantastic tool, and I can’t see a day in which I don’t need the tool. Even now on my desktop and tablet, I don’t have access to the tools I always need, and sometimes it’s just faster to do certain tasks directly from my servers.

    But aside from that, I am a “local” kinda guy. I don’t want to remote to another system to get work done. I don’t want a sub-par system with limitations. I WANT a system that gives me 100% of the tools I need, or at least as close to it as possible. That’s precisely why I still insist on a Windows Tablet PC instead of anything else.

    In my view, if I can do it on my Windows PC, I should be able to do it anywhere else. For example, I hate Adobe Flash, but I also recognize it’s a requirement for the web because of its presence everywhere on the web. If I can’t view a site that I need to visit, the device is worthless to me.

    People here keep saying, “It’s not the specs, it’s the experience!” They’re right. But for many over the past 30 years, the best experience has been functionality over form. Now that trend is changing, and I’m not opposed to to getting better forms at all, I just want them to maintain function as well. I don’t want the form to dictate what functions I can or cannot do.

    Then again, as a tech guy, I can properly make a distinction between work tech and consumer tech.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

      @GoodThings: Great comment mate! Like you I spent my years dedicated to local – bit however I am considering my primary tablet (as my desktop) which will always be 12″ ~ 15″ device (to fit all the good specs inside). This will often mean I’ll leave it at a hotel, home or office and pick up my Tablet and roam. In this case roaming back into my primary machine, from my secondary device, sounds real nice! :-)

  3. GenghisKhent says

    I use remote desktop mostly for remote tech support of other users’ desktops, not to use my desktop computer remotely. Though sometimes accessing my desktop remotely comes in handy. Not all of the apps on my desktop are on my tablet, sometimes for licensing reasons, sometimes because the tablet, unlike the desktop, isn’t always connected to the mother ship network. Genghis

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

      Hey Genghis: Thanks for the chat mate. I think this form of computing will start to be more popular as we roam and want access to multiple apps (and licenses as you stated) while on the road. It’s always been popular for tech support (RDP type hunting) but if you look at the iPad2 (iPad1.1 really) and see what they’ve done with Apple TV, I think it’s a step in the right direction (as a concept) but I’d like to see it translate to more apps and more ecosystems now. Thanks mate!

  4. David Howard says

    I have had an iPad 3G since it came out and use it three different ways (I also teach a class for execs on this):
    1. As a stand alone device mainly for data consumption and simple data creation: use apps like Safari, Email, SoundNote, DocsToGo (or the iWork apps for iPad), and TaskTaskHD (a task manager that syncs with Exchange).
    2. As a more connected device with local content creation: all the same as #1 + add SugarSync (I Prefer it over DropBox for the flexibility in folder use), more use of DocsToGo or iWork, the A1 Perfect Browser (to emulate desktop browsers so some corp web apps can be run).
    3. As a connected device to a Remote Desktop

    For #3 I actually built a Windows 2008 R2 Server and installed MS office, Visio, Project, and FireFix 4 Beta. In the Firefox app I sync my bookmarks and passwords to other machines using LastPass and xMarks. I also sync all files using SugarSync. I also have a MacBookPro and Fujitsu T2010 Tablet PC which have file, shortcuts, and password syncing all set up. This environment lets me use any machine to work either locally or remotely. I am never more than few clicks or taps away from what I need to do, or even continue doing what I started somewhere else.

    But to Hugo’s point – SHOULD I do this? Not sure, but as long as I still need to use Visio, Project, and certain websites in particular I will. One other reason I connect from the iPad – checking shared calendars in Outlook, which I cannot do on the iPad.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

      @David: Love the comment mate! It sort of relates well to Randy’s comment above, i.e. this sort of hacking and chopping to get this to work is often expensive and geeky. I love what you’ve done though and would like it if you shared a link with us to your stuff (website, twitter, etc.) as I think there is merit there. Like you I have setup a SharePoint server which allows me access to Ofice Apps remotely and documents. I am also playing with Docs for FaceBook. All these tehnologies is making roaming easier. Thanks for the great comment mate.

  5. Anonymous says

    My Tablet PC is mainly a pen and paper replacement. It’s my workhorse while I’m at school-that much is certain. It’ll do any general purpose task with aplomb.

    But all of them are sorely lacking in graphics performance. The few with dedicated graphics have low-end GPUs. For that, they will never, ever have a shot at replacing my custom-built desktop, even with most of it being three-year-old hardware. I need a machine for playing and eventually making games. (It also makes a nice network file server with all the 3.5″ hard drive bays.)

    Unfortunately, current Remote Desktop solutions aren’t cutting it. StreamMyGame came the closest, but that apparently broke when I started using Win7 on both client and server. I’m waiting for an alternative I heard about a few months ago to start going into closed beta, at the very least. (No, it’s not OnLive. That makes me dependent on their infrastructure. I do not want that. I just want responsive access to my desktop at home.)

  6. Anonymous says

    I really enjoy using my TPC with RDP at work over my network. Not only is it faster over N wifi, with RDP connection but in the event of losing the wifi connection I don’t have to worry about corrupting a file that I was using as it remains open on the server!

  7. Jiles_rose says

    I think this article has the right idea – to turn people’s attention to the issue of whether remote desktop software is actually something that individual consumers SHOULD be needed. Because in a business setting where you need to run many thin clients in one building, RDS from companies like proxy networks (http://www.proxynetworks.com) is good. But for personal systems, it seems to make more sense to just be able to have your desktop wirelessly connect to your laptop or home system (to some degree at least) without 3rd party software.

  8. Evgeniy xxx says

    You may also want to try free Ammyy Admin
    http://www.ammyy.com

    It doesn’t require installation or specific config. It works behind gateways NAT without port mapping as well as within one LAN.

    Good alternative though!

  9. Allan roger says

    You can even try RHUB remote support appliances. It works from behind firewalls and hence provides better security. A very good alternative.

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