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Remote control for virtualized desktops

Sysadmin blog I have spent the past month using Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) as often as possible in my role as a systems administrator. I have worked on my Blackberry 8350i, my HTC Desire and an iPad, using native apps as well as working within a remote environment, to perform tasks ranging from writing articles to managing servers. Using RDP, VNC and Teamviewer I have worked with MS Office apps, dealt with point-of-sales software and various forms of middleware, and configured entire fleets of servers using VSphere SSH and Webmin.

On the network side, I was astonished at how much I could get done over 2G. It seems even Edge can deliver just about usable connectivity for remote desktop work. 3G connectivity was fantastic. Where I could get an EV-DO or HSDPA connection, the remote desktop response was snappy and completely workable.

Working over Wi-Fi oddly proved to be a far more frustrating experience than using 3G. While Wi-Fi is certainly faster, 3G is dedicated spectrum. In pretty much all of western Canada at least, if you have a 3G link then it won’t suddenly turn into a pumpkin. Wi-Fi on the other hand is overcrowded to the point of worthlessness in our cities. There are too many people with cordless phones that wreak havoc on the 2.4GHz spectrum everywhere within a 1,200m radius.

At first, I thought my Blackberry 8350i was simply too slow to handle most of the things I was throwing at it, but a simple switch to Wi-Fi proved me wrong. This Blackberry model is fairly old and compared with my Desire it is fantastically underpowered. Despite this, it still has enough oomph when using Wi-Fi to get the job done, although the screen is too small and the trackball too clumsy for browsing the web or remotely acccessing a PC. If, however, you are seeking a device largely for text-input, this is still the next best thing to a real computer.

As for the HTC Desire, I love it. Its primary purpose has been as an MID and it has been brilliant using Wyse’s PocketCloud application. In essence it is an RDP, VNC and VMWare View client and so good that it has to be used to be believed. There is a neat little touch pointer doohickey which entails a bit of a learning curve, but once you master it your tiny little smartphone becomes a functional window into your normal work environment.

While I managed to get a surprising amount done on this device, using it for text input for any length of time was frustrating. Any more than 600 words and my manual dexterity starts to be worn down by the constrained keyboard. The lack of integrated spell check in most applications has also been a drawback. But as a smartphone app platform as well as a touch-tablet RDP interface to my VM it has served me well. I can now honestly say that I can get all of my critical work done using nothing more than my Desire.

The iPad isn’t the ideal device for me, but it is close. The form factor of ten inches is just the right size. A few weeks of using the iPad have convinced me that a ten-inch Android pad will be fantastic. The first one to happen along with a 1,333x768 or better screen is one I will snap up to replace my next planned laptop refresh.

I can’t tell you which MID will be right for you, as each person will have different requirements, but what I can tell you is that while a good laptop will still be more efficient at virtually every task, MIDs have quietly become “good enough”. It’s time to get ready for this new category of devices. If they aren’t already, MIDs are going to be staples of most corporate environments. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

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