Windows users might dismiss Apple’s new ultra-light, ultra-sleek iPad as just another frivolous toy for Mac heads.
But add remote-computing software and services, and the iPad’s combination of light weight and nicely sized screen makes Apple’s pad a dandy Windows terminal.
I’m writing this story on my iPad, using Microsoft Word for Windows 2007 that’s actually running on my home-office desktop PC. I’ve pulled off this stunt thanks to the handful of remote computing apps designed to work with iPad (and iPhone). Yes, I can have my Apple cake and Windows, too.
Even Adobe Flash, which Steve Jobs declared persona non grata on iPads and iPhones, now has a place on the iPad screen. Flash videos don’t run well (due to the slow screen refresh rates typical of remote-control software), but they do run. Even with a strong Wi-Fi signal, Flash videos were choppy at best.
The ingredients for this Windows/iPad trick are a PC that’s left on, remote-control software on the iPad and PC, and a good Wi-Fi or 3G connection.
To see just how effectively Windows runs on an iPad, I put a trio of iPad-compatible, remote-computing applications — LogMeIn, Wyse Technology’s Pocket Cloud, and iTeleport for iPad — through their paces. All of these products are a bit more expensive (U.S. $15 to $30) than your usual 99-cent iPad app — but for business use, that’s still cheap.
Remote computing has been around for decades, of course, but its move to mobile devices is a recent phenomenon enabled by the relatively large screens and the Internet connections of smartphones. Possible, yes — but not necessarily practical.
The iPad, with its 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display, 1024-by-768-pixel resolution, and high-performance processor, meets the requirements for practical remote computing. And this story, mostly written from the iPad, is proof that it works. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. Remote-computing apps and an excellent screen let the iPad work as your mobile business workstation — in this case, writing this story in Word for Windows.
Ignite simple and cheap remote computing
The U.S. $30 LogMeIn Ignition for iPhone/iPad (info page) will connect to any number of PCs or Macs on which you’ve installed a small, and free, enabling application. (Ignition also works on the iTouch.)
Installing Ignition was brain-dead simple — I was banging out the notes for this story, using Word for Windows, in about five minutes. There are no firewall or router settings to work through, and my remote-control sessions were protected with 256-bit SSL encryption.
Using the iPad and my digital writing tablet took a bit of adaptation. I started out with the device’s internal software keyboard but later attached Apple’s external Bluetooth keyboard. (At this time, the iPad does not have native support for Apple’s Bluetooth mouse, but a Google search lists a bunch of iPad–mouse hacks.)
Navigating the Windows screen on the iPad took more adjustment. To move the Windows cursor, you drag your finger across the iPad display. Once the cursor is positioned, a tap or double-tap anywhere on the iPad display works in lieu of the usual Windows click/double-click. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2. LogMeIn Ignition includes a handy “hints” list for navigating around Windows with the iPad touch screen.
Ignition adjusts the PC display to fit on the iPad (which can make Windows apps and documents look uncomfortably small), but the simple iPad two-finger pinch zooms objects larger or smaller, as needed. Other finger movements handle mouse right-clicks and scrolling. Alas, there seems to be no way to highlight a body of text to delete it, move it, or reformat it — which puts a crimp in your document editing.
LogMeIn handshakes your connection through its servers. The basic LogMeIn account is free, but for business applications, the $70 Pro account adds more PC-to-remote PC tasks such as remote-to-local printing and drag-and-drop file transfers. Since the iPad software does not support file transfers, the free account suffices quite well.
The not-so-easy business remote-access solution
Wyse Technology’s $15 PocketCloud for iPad (info page) connects with both PCs and Macs. To run PocketCloud on Macs, you need to have VMware virtualization software installed. To connect to PCs loaded with any current version of Windows (except the Home Editions), you need to download the free PocketCloud Windows Companion.
Setting up PocketCloud was far harder than setting up either of the other iPad remote-control systems I tested. Requiring IT-level knowledge of Windows PCs, set-up included a 30-minute phone call with Wyse tech support to get me up and running. It also included configuration changes to both Windows and my Wi-Fi router settings.
That came as no surprise to Wyse spokesperson Tim Smith, who replied to my e-mail query on this process.
- “The app was specifically designed for IT users and was priced a bit on the high side to discourage everyday consumers from using it. It does require a level of technical sophistication that most consumers don’t expect from an iPhone app.
“That being said, the IT users I’ve chatted with absolutely love the app. Because they are all on call 24/7, if nothing else, it frees them up from carrying a laptop with them at all times.”
The real kicker came when I signed off and returned to the PC. PocketCloud had reset and resized my Windows desktop, placing all the usual desktop icons out of order and in the center of the display. Another minor peeve: for security, the app will function only if the Windows user has a sign-on password. Since I work alone from my home office, I did not use one; now I have to sign on each time I boot Windows.
A word to the wise: if you are not IT, skip this app.
iTeleport offers audio and a better keyboard
iTeleport for iPad (info page) costs $25 and works in conjunction with the free PC- and Mac-based iTeleport Connect software. According to iTeleport, the company will release an updated version of the software the same day this story appears.
Once you’ve installed and run two small apps on the PC you want to access, iTeleport uses a Gmail account to make the iPad-PC connection. I was able to immediately open my Word document and continue writing what you’re reading here.
Screen refresh rates were close to instantaneous when using Word but flagged terribly when viewing Web-based Flash videos. Unlike the other apps, iTeleport does support audio playback.
As with the other two products, navigating Windows screens and documents requires a little learning time and some patience. iTeleport’s tech support consists of skimpy information on the iTeleport Web site and e-mail queries.
iTeleport has one useful feature not found on the other remote computing apps: an on-call virtual keyboard that includes the 12 function keys as well as the Windows key and some exceptionally handy shortcuts not found on the native iPad keyboard. (See Figure 3.) Unfortunately, press-and-hold key combinations such as ALT-F3 didn’t work. That makes using keyboard shortcuts in applications such as Office and Adobe PhotoShop a little harder.
Figure 3. iTeleport’s virtual keyboard sports function keys and a number of handy shortcut keys.
As with LogMeIn and PocketCloud, iTeleport remote access is possible only when you leave your PC on, although all three products can wake up a PC that’s in sleep mode. Of course, the PC half of the remote-connection software must also be kept active.
In addition to the 256-bit SSL encryption, each of these programs typically uses two layers of passwords for the iPad-PC connections. iTeleport adds a third level: a password for its VPN-like link.
Convenient and relatively easy remote computing is now possible, thanks to these apps. They don’t duplicate every PC function, but what you can do today may be enough to ditch that heavy laptop — or maybe even that lighter netbook.
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WS contributing editor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California, who has 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.