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(Multiplatform) REVIEW: RDM+ by SHAPE Services': a decent remote desktop access tool

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I’ve long been promising a full comparison, benchmark and (compared to alternative solutions) pros/cons list of SHAPE Services’ RDM+, a really decent, multiplatform remote desktop controlling / accessor solution. Now that they have a MASSIVE rebate, I dedicated some time for some thorough testing on no less than four different mobile platforms: Windows Mobile Pocket PC (with touch screens), Windows Mobile Smartphone (without touch screens), Symbian S60 (Nokia N95) and BlackBerry (BB 8800). Sorry for being four-platform again: a geek like me just loves toys and wants to play with all the major gadgets and major mobile operating systems available (not only Windows Mobile).

Note that SHAPE Services have another, purely Java-based (meaning there's NO native Windows Mobile client and you must use a MIDlet manager) remote access client, TSMobiles. I'll review it VERY soon.

Please note that this isn’t a full review, just a “list” of the pros and cons and my benchmark results and a complete comparison of the (in some respects, pretty different) implementations on the different platforms. You’ll want to read my previous Windows Mobile Remote Desktop Controller Bible to get more information on what for example the benchmark results stand for, what the different features really mean etc. Again, I will NOT explain anything in here already explained in the Bible. Read it to get a picture of what I’m referring to in the current article.

Note that the current, tested versions are as follows: 3.6.6 (Windows Mobile); 3.6.8 (Symbian / Java; BlackBerry). By the time you read this review (probably months or even years later), it may be heavily outdated. Of course, I’ll try to keep it up-to-date by constantly posting “UPDATE” sections at the bottom. Make sure you check them out. Also make sure you check out the links in this article: they link to a lot of screenshots.

1. Bandwidth usage benchmarks

Using exactly the same method as with the old benchmarks, with exactly the same set-up so that the bandwidth usage results can be directly compared:

(On Windows Mobile [on Blackberries, it's 24 bit], default) 8 bit color depth; measured twice

8k/970k (up/down)

6k/966k (up/down) (both quite good)

(exactly the same results with smooth scrolling – this is excellent)

1 bit color depth (that is, monochrome): 5k/556k (that is, almost half of the bandwidth required in the default, 8-bit mode)

24 bit color depth: 6k/1MB

Idling (without anything happening: no visible animations, cursor etc): 3k/10k a minute (excellent result – compare it to the very bad results of, say, GoToMyPC or, even worse, PPC Tablet)

Cursor blink test: 2k/11k a minute (again, excellent – compare this to the very bad results of I’m InTouch)

The transfer speed is excellent on Pocket PC’s via a Wi-Fi connection; I had no screen refresh problems even with 0.5s waiting between the page down events on a VGA (!) device, in Landscape mode, using 800*600 desktop resolution. The Java client running on the Nokia N95 was pretty fast, too. It’s only on (current) BlackBerries that you might encounter somewhat slower screen updates, it seems.

2. Pros

  1. Fully compatible with the MS Smartphone platform (and with Symbian / BlackBerry / the iPhone)
  2. Pretty good bandwidth usage (in no way so good as GotoMyPC though) – about in the same class as RDP 5, RemotelyAnywhere, LogMeIn and Tight VNC and much better than less-sophisticated clients like Z2Remote.
  3. absolutely no cursor blink or smooth scroll overhead
  4. very fast transfer of new screen contents, unlike with, say, I’m InTouch
  5. processes, services (with the same functionality as in the Windows XP admin tools – see THIS and THIS)!, windows list, system info, hardware info
  6. GUI-based remote system restart / logout / shutdown
  7. native console window with access to all tools like ipconfig (example screenshots: 1 2); copying the contents of this dialog to the clipboard works with the on-screen keyboard
  8. very cheap if you only plan to deploy it on one client machine
  9. no yearly fees, unlike with most of the commercial, Internet-based alternatives
  10. file up/download (still NOT available on BlackBerries) – screenshots: 1 2
  11. support for all special keys (both from menu and on-screen keyboard): 1 2 3 4
  12. support for all mouse buttons (but NO hardware button support – see below)
  13. doesn’t lock out the remote desktop user, unlike RDP-based solutions; it doesn’t force a forced screen resolution either
  14. multiple clients are allowed to access the desktop at the same time
  15. traffic meter (just to be on the safe side) with both “total” and “last session” meters
  16. connections (along with their password) are saved in an address book (screenshot HERE, also showing the main address book menu); no need to re-enter them
  17. message sending from server to (all) connected client(s) in a dedicated window; this will be shown in a dedicated message box on the client(s). Note that there’s a Send Text feature in the mobile client too (on all platforms); it, however, just sends the text in as pure text (no dedicated dialog box will be shown on the desktop). On non-Windows Mobile platforms, there's an additional way of sending messages which will be presented in a dialog window on the desktop.
  18. supports both Portrait and Landscape (switched on the OS level) – good news for for example Dell Axim x50v / x51v users suffering from the Landscape polarization issues of the low-quality screen
  19. a lot of predefined keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl-Alt-Del etc.) – screenshots: 1 2
  20. average memory usage (25M) on the desktop (screenshot showing this HERE) – there’re much worse titles in this respect (for example, the latest I’m InTouch version)
3. Cons
  1. no desktop PC client – BAD! In this respect, most of the alternatives are clearly better
  2. no copy/paste features (clipboard synchronization) at all (unlike most Windows Mobile alternatives) between the remote desktop and the local PPC – this is a major problem.

    Fortunately, there are still some ways of (not very sophisticated) ways of transferring clipboard / textual data between the desktop and the mobile: file transfer (bidirectional); Send as text
  3. upon file download, target folder selection uses a somewhat awkward WinCE file selector. On MS Smartphones, you can’t select the target folder at all (screenshot 1 2 3 - as you can see, on MS Smartphones, you can only save files to the root of your storage card. At least you can rename them to avoid name clashes...)
  4. it has a tendency of refusing to step into subdirectories on both Pocket PC’s and Smartphones in file system mode. Then, the entire client (!) needs to be restarted (simply reconnecting won’t work).
  5. if you spend too much time idling in a menu doing nothing, the connection will terminate
  6. no configurable hardware buttons (unlike in, say, PO Pocket Office) to be able to quickly issue, say, right clicks (to avoid having to either bring-up the context menu, click the R button on the on-screen special (hideable) keyboard (these both are shown in THIS screenshot)) on-screen. Fortunately, the Action button is overridden to send a left click.
  7. slowish file transfer (without any kind of compression / optimization with compressable content) on Pocket PC’s and MS Smartphones – but, at least, it’s present. (Interestingly, it is considerably (about two times) faster on the Symbian S60 / Java-based Nokia N95.)
  8. no full screen on Windows Moile Pocket PC’s and MS Smartphones: the lower menubar can’t be hidden (on Blackberries and Java phones like S60 devices, this isn’t a problem at all – there, it does use full screen); MS Smartphone screenshot
  9. no sound transfer (unlike RDM in WM6)
  10. D-pad is used to control the mouse even on touchscreen devices and can’t be reconfigured to emulate the desktop-side cursor keys. At least it offers a quick way of scrolling the window. Note that, on touschreen-less MS Smartphones, you can switch to the “Direct Input” mode; then, the D-pad will directly emulate the cursor keys on the desktop. This feature isn’t accessible in the Pocket PC version (dunno why - it should be!).
  11. The cursor block on built-in keyboards / thumbboards behaves exactly the same way as the D-pad. While one would, in most cases, except it can be used to emulate the desktop-side cursor keys, this isn’t the case – it can only be used to control the virtual mouse cursor on Pocket PC’s. On MS Smartphones, as has already been explained, if you switch to the “Direct Input” mode, you can use these cursor keys to directly control the cursor (just like with the D-pad) – but, again, not on the Pocket PC version.
  12. no “track the cursor” features (when a small-screen mobile client wants to track what the active user enters in, say, Word or Internet Explorer)
  13. no screen dragging with the stylus in zoomed-in mode on Pocket PC’s (D-pad- or on-screen arrow-based quick scrolling works OK though)
  14. no remote PIM (appointments, e-mails etc.) access, unlike with (the brand new, soon-to-be-reviewed version of) SoonR or I’m InTouch. The same stands for remote file search.
  15. can be expensive if you have more than one mobile clients – you’ll need to purchase a license for each of them
  16. no “Hovering cursor” operation – much as, by default, you can position the cursor anywhere on the screen without issuing any mouse clicks, the new position of the cursor will only be transferred to the client when you actually issue a click – this pretty much negates one of the advantages of the hovering. This is, of course, pretty much understandable if you take into account that on no-touchscreen MS Smartphones (but NOT on the Blackberry / Java versions, where you can switch to a strictly scrolling mode, without any cursor, when zoomed in) the D-pad is also used for positioning the cursor (in addition to scrolling); there it’s understandable if there’re no ways of hovering. On Pocket PC’s (where you’ll mostly use the touch screen to position your cursor), however, this behavior could be changed.
  17. no bitmap caching – upon zooming in/out or returning to a previous place (when scrolling around), the page will reload. This is painfully slow on for example the Blackberry (at least on T-Mobile’s connection using TCP/IP; over the same T-Mo subscription & connection, the Symbian S60 N95 was way faster)
  18. on the Pocket PC sending mouse button (left) clicks is somewhat slower than in most other clients becase you can’t configure the client to treat screen taps as left clicks. That is, the PPC client could be enhanced in that on natively touchscreen-enabled devices a screen tap (or double screentaps) could mean a left click). On all platforms (including the Pocket PC) the Action button is used for left clicks – on non-touchscreen models, this is perfectly OK.
  19. except for the screen blinking at the start/end of the session and the tray icon’s background changing to (not very noticeable) green, no REALLY obvious feedback on the remote desktop (unlike with, say, LogMeIn, with its clearly visible, protruding dialog box) of it being remote controlled.
4. Differences between the different OS versions

In the following section, I refer to the version offered for non-Pocket PC and non-BlackBerry, Java-capable smart phones (like the Symbian S60 series) as the “Java” version to avoid misunderstanding. The official literature calls them “standard” version, along with the Pocket PC one (as opposed to the BB version). Interestingly, the software retailers call the Java and the BB versions with the same name (“RDM+: Remote Desktop for Mobiles”), while they call the Windows Mobile version “RDM+: Remote Desktop for Windows Pocket PC”. Pretty much messed up naming convention, I’d say :D

  1. the Java and the BB version (as opposed to the PPC one) are able to send messages displayed as a dialog box (example HERE) from System manager / Send Message (screenshots: 1 2), not only Send text, which just inserts some text at the cursor
  2. the PPC / MS Smartphone version is able to send function keys and modifiers (F1…F12, Ctrl, Alt etc.); the PPC version even has an on-screen quick keyboard. The Java / BB version are only able to send over special characters, NOT function keys or modifier. Note that on BB and Java, there is only one menu key used (the left softkey on Java and the usual Menu button on BB ); in there, sending special characters are called “Send shortcut”.
  3. the BB version has two additional menu items: Text cursor on and, when zoomed in, Scroll mode. The latter makes it possible to scroll the viewport much faster than with the cursor displayed, should you quickly need to change scrolling directions. The Pocket PC version only has an on-screen arrow block to do this (I’d still prefer faster, hardware D-pad-based scrolling)
  4. the BB version doesn’t support file transfer (yet); however, it’s the only to allow for peeking into files on the desktop without transferring them. Fortunately, it downloads the files in chunks – only the actual (about 100-150 lines) viewport is downloaded at once. In Line mode, you can edit the lines in text files; it’s only then that you can copy any text from the desktop to the Blackberry clipboard.
  5. the Java version is much faster at downloading files (1:07 for a 450 kbyte file over HSDPA) than the WinMo one; my Pocket PC’s and Smartphones transferred files much slower. For example, downloading a 2.5M binary and a 1.5 textual file to the built-in storage took 5:35 and 6:08, respectively, over an, otherwise, very fast Wi-Fi connection on my HTC Universal; I got similar results with the Dell Axim x51v and the HTC s710 / Vox, both operated over (very fast) ActiveSync connections. Fortunately, there isn’t a measurable file transfer overhead, data usage-wise (but there’s no compression either).
4.1 Symbian S60 quick elaboration and screenshots

I’ve thoroughly tested the current (Java) version on my Nokia N95 too; it worked flawlessly and decidedly faster than the BlackBerry version (unfortunately, the BlackBerry is pretty slow to run third-party apps – hope this will be fixed in the new, 4.5 / 4.6 operating system version(s)). Some screenshots: Main menu, with the entire desktop in the background; file download 1 2 3; zoomed-in state; system manager. As can clearly be seen, it has pretty much the same features (and problems) as on the Pocket PC (except for the ones explained above). In addition, as it’s Java, you can’t hide the connection icon in the upper left corner (this is a major problem with running Opera Mini on S60 too).

5. Licensing / pricing

Your license is one handheld-only. Should you try to register it on more than once handheld, you’re presented an error message. Licenses, of course, are transferable, should you upgrade to a new device and stop using your old one.

The price of the client, as with SHAPE’s other products, isn’t particularly low, but I think it’s worth the price if the cons I’ve listed aren’t a problem. After all, you’ll hardly get a file transfer-capable, central-server based (meaning it can pass corporate firewalls, unlike, say, RDP or VNC) remote desktop access client / service for such a low price: don’t forget that LogMeIn Pro and similar, file transfer-capable services all cost about 50$ a year. They, on the other hand, don’t limit the number of handhelds you can install your client on– but, again, that’s only a problem if you have more than one handheld device you’d like to use to access your desktop.

6. Verdict

If you have a Windows Mobile device:

While this app has some clear drawbacks compared to some of the alternates (for example, no easy PIM/e-mail access, no (easy) clipboard synchronization between the remote desktop and the local PPC, can’t hide the lower menu bar, buttons can’t be overwritten etc.), it’s still a very decent program and is definitely worth checking out. Of course, you yourself will need to decide whether the above-listed cons are a major stumbling block for you. I, for one, have purchased a Pocket PC license (in addition to a Blackberry one) because of the file transfer support and the company’s very good support / upgrade policy / history.

If you have a Blackberry device:

much as you may find it a bit slow (“thanks” to the slow Java virtual machine built into the current versions of BlackBerries), I still recommend taking a look at this app. Note that the SHAPE Services folks promise file transfer capabilities soon. Up until then, you only have remote file viewing capabilities. Knowing their constant flow of updates (I’ve also purchased their IM+ for my BB and, in the last two months, there have been two updates already), I’m absolutely confident they will deliver file transfer to BB users too – this was, by the way, one of the main reasons I’ve shelled out 26 euros for the BB license.

If you have a Symbian S60 (or any compatible device with a decent Java environment) model:

I recommend this application – there’re very few decent remote controllers for the Symbian platform. This is a very nice one with most goodies (for example, file transfer) you can expect – even by Windows Mobile standards.

I really hope the developer implements the missing functionality: automatic and/or much easier clipboard synchronization, at least a desktop Windows client (preferably for free for existing customers) so that you can streamline the remote desktop controller apps on your remote desktop computer, should you also want to access it from regular desktop PC’s; bitmap caching when scrolling around; real full screen mode on Windows Mobile and, also under Windows Mobile, button redefining capablities.

Particularly now that you can get the client license for a 40% rebate (pretty good deal if you’re in the EU – outside the EU, not that good a deal, though), I really recommend that you give the trial version a try. I, myself, have voted with my wallet: I’ve purchased both the PPC and the BlackBerry versions (along with a SOTI Pocket Controller license – but that’s a story of another article).

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