Remote desktop software has been around for quite some time – 25 years or so. Naturally, the tech has had major improvements and new features over time: file transfer, local resource mapping, remote to local printing, clipboard synchronization, etc. What’s more important, it’s become easier to use: zero configuration (no need to open ports, etc.).
And it has become much faster: RDP, VNC and other protocols use different tricks to make your experience as smooth as possible. And broadband Internet access has become mainstream. All this has made remote desktop tools readily available to general public.
So, thinking about all that progress and current developments in the IT, what could a typical remote desktop tool of the future look like?
For years remote access has been the domain of sysadmins and power users. Telnet (official specs published in 1973) was the first protocol that enabled command execution on a remote machine. It was later replaced with SSH for security concerns.
SSH (available since ca. 1995) is the bread and butter of any sysadmin, as well as many developers and computer enthusiasts. As a Linux or Unix user, you were (and still are) pretty much happy with SSH.
For Windows, Terminal Services were available since Windows NT 4.0 (in ~1998) and included remote desktop streaming and control.
Basically, it was remote mouse and keyboard input that helped bring remote access tech to the masses. And so in the 90s such products as GoToAssist, GoToMyPC, Webex, Netop Remote Support, BeAnywhere hit the market. Still, those were more targeted for professional use.
It wasn’t until 2000s when broadband Internet access went mainstream. Then LogMeIn, Teamviewer and other products (including GoToAssist and GoToMyPC) became truly suited for everyone and globally popular.
Essential feature set
Let’s see what features are essential for everyday remote access needs.
My personal list:
- Desktop streaming – you control remote device through GUI, with mouse and keyboard or touch screen taps.
- Clipboard sync – you can copy and paste text across your local and remote device.
- File transfer – you can exchange files between devices.
- Zero configuration – you don’t need to open/forward ports, the software works through
- NAT and firewalls).
Authorization and authentication
In popular remote desktop tools you normally authorize via a secret password (6 to 9 digits). Often, an additional short password is offered for unattended access (remotePC, GoToAssist, DeskRoll). Also, 2 factor authentication is normally available for extra security.
2 FA as illustrated by Google
As we see, the must-have feature set is mostly about the ease of use and also about security. We’ll go from there and speculate what future remote desktop tools will be offering.
P.S. I know that RemoteFX is offering really exciting things like device GPU virtualization and USB redirection but they are rather niche. We can talk about them in a separate article.
Authorization and authentication
Password authentication has become a legacy method as passwords are becoming more complex and difficult to enter. We’ll be seeing new methods pretty soon and those will leverage biometric authentication:
- Fingerprints. Now fingerprints have become available not only on flagship devices. The tech is mature and easy to use.
- Retina. This tech has yet to prove itself in mobiles, so we’ll see how it fares in the coming years.
- Facial traits. iPhone X is the first mobile to have implemented this method.
But the above three methods are basically limited to mobiles. What about desktops/laptops?
It’s quite obvious: voice prints. They are possible with any device that has a microphone.
The process will be something like this. During the initial setup, you repeat a secret word multiple times and the system recognizes your voice. Then each time you want to authorize you say the word aloud. You get a short security code via SMS that you enter to login (2 factor authentication).
In a nutshell, the login process will become more secure and user friendly. However, I’d probably leave the good ol’ strong password as a failover method for logging in. By strong I mean really strong: 16+ characters.
Let’s now think about the ways to increase productivity, improve multitasking ability and make it even more user-friendly.
So, voice is a natural means for us humans to communicate and collaborate. As the tech becomes more powerful, voice control is becoming increasingly popular. This is partially due to mobiles replacing computers for work, communication and entertainment.
So, where would I like to see voice input in remote desktop tools, apart from authentication?
Voice-controlled intelligent assistants
I would love remote desktop tools to come with a voice-driven intelligent assistant:
- It would work with any OS, regardless of whether it’s voice-controlled out of the box.
- I should be able to operate specific (“find file”, “open application”) and more general (“make update”, “do a virus check”) voice commands.
- If the system requires additional details or there are doubts or big consequences ahead, then the system should ask for details or confirmations.
- If I’m supporting a computer user, then the system should be able to highlight elements on the screen that I’m referring the remote user to: applications, buttons and other controls.
Okay, here I may be running quite a few years ahead, but I’d like more advanced features like these:
- System should be able to recognize typical problems from a spoken description by the end user.
- System should offer problem solution and visually highlight appropriate elements on the screen.
Smart alerts and smart response
As a consumer, I’d love to respond to smart alerts immediately with voice, telling the system what to do when disk is full, CPU overheats, outgoing traffic is too intense, etc. The systems learns my typical course of action and then prompts what to do.
The new features that I mentioned are aimed at higher productivity or ease of use. This is achieved through biometric authentication hardware and software and the use of machine learning tech: voice recognition and intelligent assistants. For remote desktop tools, while achieving the above two objectives, new features will improve multitasking ability. Which means they are well-suited not only for casual users, but also professionals: call center operators and system administrators. So, maybe we will see these features first in professional RMM tools (remote monitoring and management) like Labtech or Kaseya. Then some of these features will find their into consumer products like Teamviewer or RemotePC.