Monday, January 3, 2011

Multiple Computers: Remote Desktop Connection, Input Director, TeamViewer

In a previous post, I looked at various ways to control two computers with one keyboard, and for mixing monitors among computers, without using a KVM switch.  I came away thinking that I should start with the Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) option in Windows 7 (not available in Home editions).  I had lots of questions about the best way to combine two computers for maximum efficiency without too much complexity.

As I revisited RDC, I now wondered whether it offered the best solution for my purposes.  RDC would apparently give me just what its name implied:  a way to connect to the desktop on one computer while working at another.  In a home network setting, I would be looking at the same physical display unit(s) as I switched my attention between the two computers located under the desk.  It was tempting that RDC came built-in with Windows 7.  I was not entirely sure what its "continuous resolution" feature was about, but it sounded interesting.

To get a clearer understanding of RDC, I looked at some YouTube video demonstrations.  The ones I looked at were more in the nature of tutorials on how to set up RDC, as distinct from what it was like to use it.  They were still informative.  I hadn't fully registered that I could use RDC in Windows XP, in case I wanted to do that.

The basic idea seemed to be that, in RDC, I would choose to be working in computer A, or perhaps in computer B; and whichever I chose would be the one I would see onscreen.  If I chose to work in computer A, I would see the computer A desktop.  So then hopefully I could rig up multiple monitors to show a big spread of what was happening on computer A, and I could switch and have those monitors show a big spread of what was happening on computer B.

A video of Input Director clarified things somewhat.  Input Director had preliminarily seemed, to me, to be the leading alternative to RDC.  The difference that I found striking was that Input Director would let me move from one computer's dedicated monitor to the next, just by moving my mouse, and the keyboard would tag along.  So computer A would have its own monitor(s), and computer B would have its own separate monitor(s).  The other nice feature of Input Director that emerged in that video was that you could copy text in one computer and paste it into the other.  Unlike RDC, where the computers could be halfway around the world from each other, the computers in Input Director would be more or less next to each other, connected by a router (in e.g., a home network), so that the user could view their respective displays.

As I was browsing around, I found a discussion containing enthusiastic endorsements of TeamViewer.  I had actually used that in a tech support call a few months earlier, when someone basically used it to take control of my computer and make changes so that the item in question would work.  So I wound up watching a video about TeamViewer too.  It seemed to be similar in concept to RDC, though at this point I was thinking TeamViewer might be a better-quality option than RDC, and was available across multiple operating systems.

For purposes of tinkering and initial investigation, then, it was a choice between Input Director and TeamViewer.  There was no question the latter was vastly more widely spread around the world.  For me it was mainly a question of which features I wanted or needed most.  If I always wanted to see displays that would show me what was happening on two or more distinct computers, then it had to be Input Director (or, someday, maybe Synergy).  If I wanted to focus both (or all) of the available monitors on one computer, then it would be TeamViewer.

There seemed to be a way to use both.  I could start with two separate computers at my desk.  Events on computer A would appear on display A; events on computer B would appear on display B.  In that setup, Input Director would let me switch the focus of the keyboard between computers, as I moved the mouse back and forth between displays.  Then, that situation could be changed.  I could equip display B with a KVM switch.  As long as I left display B connected with computer B, the situation would be as just described.  But if I pressed the button to change the focus of display B so that it would be covering computer A, now I would have a dual-monitor presentation of events on computer A.  Finally, if I had TeamViewer running on computer A, then I could use it to provide a dual-screen view of computer B as well.  In other words, by using the KVM switch I would free display B from having to follow along to whatever computer TeamViewer was focused on.  The switch would make it possible to *not* do multi-monitor work, in which case Input Director would be useful.  This approach would let me switch display styles to match the nature of the task and my preferred work style, without needing the cost and desk space required for a third display.

Whether the reality would match the theory was another question.  But this was the scenario I would explore further in a subsequent post.


brad hogg

Yeah, TeamViewer is good. But when security comes into consideration, I only trust RHUB remote support servers, It works from behind the company's firewall, instead of outside of it.