Scrivener v. iOS, Part 2 — Remote Desktop Sharing

20140122-140109.jpgA word about remote desktop software and services:

Supposedly this stuff is easy. Supposedly. I stumble over it occasionally, and tech doesn’t scare me or trip me up easily. The thing is, in order to set up a remote connection that shares your computer’s desktop to, well, anything, there are several layers of security and network obfuscation to placate. I believe that it is possible to set up something called “port forwarding” that will eliminate the need to use a third-party service to set up a remote desktop connection between mobile device and computer. (Help me out, here, please! Correct me if I’m wrong.) But if, like me, the words “port forwarding” mean little or nothing to you and you have no desire to learn more; if you have no idea how to implement it without all the hackers in the world glomming onto your poor unprotected computer, then you’ll need a connection service account. LogMeIn, until yesterday, provided these for personal use free. So far as I know, it was unique; but alas, no longer. Now you will pay for your connection service one way or another.

When you first set this up, I do suggest that you try remote connection from no further than the sofa across from your computer. Test your connection and make sure it works. There is nothing more frustrating than settling into a coffee shop, connecting to your computer at home–and nothing happens. Sometimes this happens anyway; your computer crashes, Starbucks’ WiFi is too slow, something. Why have it be a setting you could have corrected if you’d tested at home?

How it works is that first, really, comes the connection service account. You set this up, pay for it however, and then install an app on your iPad (or other device) called a desktop client, and another on the computer you want to access, called a desktop server. You may need to mess with your computer’s settings for desktop sharing and for sleeping or auto shutdown (bad when you want to connect remotely!) The connection service supplies instructions for this, some clear, some not so clear.

Once you have your server set up, you connect to your service account with the server app on your computer and leave your computer running while you travel to wherever. I suggest physically turning off your monitor rather than depend on screen savers/monitor sleeping; I’ve had connections refused because the screen saver was up or the monitor wouldn’t wake from sleep.

When you are at your remote location (your sofa for your first attempt) and have a decent internet connection, fire up your client app and log in to the connection service. The service should show a list with your home/office computer, the one with the server, displayed as available. Tap on that puppy, go through whatever security dance you’ve asked to have set up (depending on the service, you may set this up either at the service itself or on your computer or both) and voila! Welcome to Your Computer on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

Below is a list of what I’ve actually tried, along with my observations. This list is not exhaustive. Please note that if the service can stream sound/video to the iPad, many people, particularly gamers, find that to be a desirable feature. But for the purpose of using Scrivener remotely, I could hardly care less. It’s nice to be able to copy/paste between the computer and the mobile device, but I don’t consider it critical. Occastionally I do run into a website that uses Flash (which iOS does not yet support) and is unusable without it. Any remote app will let you use those sites by using a browser on your computer.

    • SplashTop:
    • Initial cost: $4.99 for the iOS app.
    • Annual upkeep: $16.99
    • Useful for Scrivener: Copy/Paste between PC and mobile.
    • Notes: Faster than LogMeIn ever was, and has sound/video streaming built-in if I ever want it. I like its user interface, which makes actions such as dragging objects easier than either of the other services I’ve tried. This is my new service.
    • LogMeIn:
    • Initial cost: $0.
    • Annual upkeep: $99
    • Useful for Scrivener: Copy/Paste between PC and mobile. File transfer features not really needed since I have DropBox.
    • Notes: I miss the way I could set the remote computer’s screen to be the size and color density I prefer. While LogMeIn doesn’t have SplashTop’s raw speed, its connection is more configurable.
    • Desktop Connect:
    • Initial cost:$14.99 for the iOS app.
    • Annual upkeep: $0.
    • Useful for Scrivener: Nothing in particular.
    • Notes: This is the oddball of the bunch. It’s the first I tried, two years ago–$15 looks good compared to $99/year. This company uses a little-known Google service to connect your devices instead of their own servers. Desktop Connect worked OK for a while, but the developer is slow to put out updates to work with system upgrades like iOS 6, iOS 7, or Mavericks. I tried it again after LogMeIn cut me off this week, but it is so slow in iOS 7 as to be unusable, and I have no confidence that an upgrade will arrive soon. Pity.

GoToMyPC deserves a mention even though I haven’t tried it. It is the grandpappy of all these services. It is well-reputed, has been around a while now, and consistently gets decent reviews in the App Store. If I could have gotten in for $22 or less, I’d have tried it before Splashtop.

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