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Wednesday, January 13, 2010
iPhonetunes review: RDM+ Remote Desktop for Mac OS and Windows
iPhonetunes review: RDM+ Remote Desktop for Mac OS and Windows

Recently, Shape Services asked us to take a look at their remote desktop client offering: RDM+.  Having already run through a comparison of two of the major players in the iPhone remote desktop client arena, I was up to give it a run through. Spoiler alert: my poor co-reviewers missed out on a great app. smile

iPhone apps | RDM+iPhone apps | RDM+

Depending on your needs, one of the other apps reviewed earlier might still be a better fit for you.  But, RDM+ brings to the table an option the others can’t: the ability to control your PC when you’re not at home. The other offerings in the field all work over a local Wi-Fi connection, meaning your iPhone and computer need to be on the same network to work.  If you’re out and about, that’s obviously not possible.  If your machine is behind a firewall at home using NAT, it’s almost impossible.  Sure, you could open ports on the firewall allowing you to access it, but you need to be very sure of what you’re doing to ensure you don’t open yourself up to significant security risks.

RDM+ takes a different approach requiring you to install their agent on the PC you want to control (the agent is available if you’re a PC or a Mac).  This agent allows their service to circumvent anything in between your iPhone and your computer allowing you to control it as long as you have some kind of access to the Internet. The communication runs through Shape’s servers and channels where it is heavily encrypted.  This does introduce a drawback in that you’re dependant on their service remaining up, but I’m sure they work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

To get started, purchase RDM+ from the App Store. The price, currently $19.99, is a one-time fee that will cover the cost of the service. You then install the agent, which will assign your computer a unique ID that you then put into the client to connect (you can install the agent on as many machines as you want).  The process is quick and painless. One thing that might be an issue is that it also installs what they call a “video hook driver”. If you’re not an admin on the box you’re installing, it might not work.  If you’ve used VNC, you’re familiar with this. It’s an add-on to your video card driver that allows the remote driver to cache some of the screen to make screen paints happen faster. If a portion of the screen doesn’t change, why resend it?

iPhone apps | RDM+iPhone apps | RDM+

Tin hat types at this point are flipping their shiny lids right now.
I can’t say I blame them, you’re offering desktop access to a machine on your network and have to provide login information and such. This really isn’t for tin hat types, though.  And, anyway, there are ways to make this even more secure if you’re really worried about it (hint: think a virtual machine that’s just for using this service…)

So, how well does it work? My short answer is “very well”.  Even over 3G, the performance is acceptable enough if you need to get in and do some quick task. Are you going to be using this to do a lot, though? No. You won’t be using this to browse the web. If I click on the Start button on my machine, for example, it takes up to 10 seconds for it to show on the screen of my iPhone. Clicking “All Programs” takes an equal amount of time to respond.  Just getting an application to launch can take 30-45 seconds, and each screen change takes just as long.

Since I’m a know-it-all, I’ll provide my suggestions on how to improve the product (In my defense, I’m a Citrix Xenapp admin for my day job. I’ve got a lot of experience making apps run smoothly over low bandwidth…) Fortunately, it’s a short list: give more configurability in the display options. For example, the other apps of this type offer you the ability to reduce the color depth used or even resize the screen to a smaller resolution.  Each of these can dramatically decrease the amount of bandwidth needed to make RDP flow smoothly. The only option provided by the vendor is to disable the wallpaper on the desktop.  Useful, but reducing color depth will got a lot further since the wallpaper will typically be covered by the app you’re running.

One last mention is their unique solution to mouse clicks.  With the remote desktop apps, I found myself very frequently zooming in on an area to click since the objects on screen are very small. I’d scroll over, zoom in, click, zoom out, move somewhere else on the screen, zoom in, click…RDM+ has a novel approach: the mouse pointer doesn’t move, you move the screen under it. Then, tap anywhere on the screen to register a mouse click where the pointer is. If you want to right or double-click, simply tap and hold and it brings up a menu with different options. At first I was annoying, but very quickly I found this way of doing it a whole lot faster and smoother.

The short is: if you want to be able to easily and securely connect to your PC from wherever you are in the world, RDM+ gives you the option to do so. It works great, performance is acceptable and it’s easy to use. If Shapes offers more configuration options to decrease the display and increase performance, it’ll be a killer app.

Features - 3.5
Appearance - 5.0
Usability - 4.0
Value - 4.5
Overall: 4.25 stars out of 5

NOTE: SHAPE Services provided a licensed copy of “RDM+ Remote Desktop for Mac OS and Windows” for this review.

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