I love it when “Dancing with the Stars” comes on. It means that I can retreat to the Peterson experimental lab for at least an hour of uninterrupted messing about. Last night, I messed about with Chrome Remote Desktop Beta. This extension appeared over the weekend and I’ve been chomping at the bit to play around with it. It needs the ability to have a couple of computers up and connected to a network and the ability to see a couple of screens at once. So, the lab was hard at it where from the experimental chair I had my netbook running Ubuntu and my Windows 7 machine ready with Chrome loaded and the extension running. My Macbook Pro wasn’t part of the serious testing or the blogging because it crashed again on me so was in my computer doghouse.
Ontario Educators have the luxury of the Ministry licensed NetSupport School application that can be installed on any school computer network. It has some terrific features like the ability to power on/ power off entire clusters of computers, monitor computer screens, have a student screen displayed by the teacher on a data projector for the class to see, lock down any websites you don’t want students accessing, and so much more. It’s terrific as a tool for classroom management but it’s real education value comes from remote access to assist a student or to have a student screen shared with the entire class.
Its limitation is that it will only run under Windows. That’s not a bad problem to deal with but in a classroom where there’s more than Windows computers, like in a Bring Your Own Technology classroom with students bringing in their own laptop or netbooks, it just isn’t feasible. What happens should you end up with Chromebooks in the classroom? If we’re talking about moving so much to the web, could an alternative solution that lives in the browser be viable?
It was with this mindset that I set about looking at the Remote Desktop program. It’s a 20MB download that plugs into your Google Chrome browser. So, I installed it Ubuntu, Windows, and OS X. You fire the application up on the host and press the button to “Share This Computer” (1).
This process generates an access code. After all, you don’t want just anyone connecting to your computer.
Walk over to the computer that will be accessing that computer, fire up the application and elect to access a shared computer (2). You’ll have to enter the access code on THAT computer to grant access and you’re good to go. On the second computer, you’ll see the screen of the first computer. With that mouse or trackpad, you control the first computer. Dizzy yet? I’m here in the lab and I should be watching the one computer but there’s something compelling about being on the second computer at the control.
Here, you can see the Ubuntu desktop (1024×578) displaying the desktop of my Windows computer. Just for effect, I’ve used the resize utility and so the Windows desktop (1600×900) is squeezed a bit to fit. But, it does a nice enough job. In reality, you’re more likely to leave the resolution as is and just do a bit of scrolling. Or, ideally, have both screens the same resolution or some other combination that makes sense for you.
Here is a uncompressed view of my Seesmic Desktop at the time. It was quite readable in the original resolution. (This image is shrunk to fit into the blog constraints).
However, I was able to use my netbook to start this blog post on my Windows computer using LiveWriter. I was able to access the start menu and run a number of different Windows applications and view them on my Ubuntu netbook screen. I was able to move and resize windows, use the right mouse button on the netbook to activate that function on the laptop, type text, and do many of the things that I wanted to do. In a classroom, I could then conceivably access another machine and display content for a class on a data projector. All of this in the browser on different operating systems.
At times, there was a bit of a lag between the time that I typed on the one computer and it appeared on the other but it was in no way a show stopper.
For an initial beta of the software, I was nicely impressed. I could see this being a workable solution in a scenario where you have a mixture of computers or operating systems but the constant for them all being the Chrome browser. I like it – the promise is that this is the first release. Who knows what more is on the way? If Chromebooks are going to be functional in a classroom, the developers can learn by looking at existing products and seeing if those features will work in a browser operating system.