Today’s the day! As Craig (our fearless leader) announced a couple of weeks ago, we have now made a beta of Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac, version 2, available. You can download it from Mactopia (scroll down to get to the RDC v2 beta, it’s listed under ‘other products’).
For me, RDC is one of those little apps that nicely fits a need. In my office, I have a Windows XP box that lives under my desk. I don’t have a monitor hooked up to it. Its primary reasons for existence involve booking travel through the corporate travel agent and filling out expense reports. I only access it through Remote Desktop Connection.
RDC v1 is a great little app. It saves me from having to have an extra monitor sit on my desk. But it’s not a perfect little app. Like a lot of software, it was originally developed by someone on the team to scratch their own itch, and … well, it shows. It’s perfect for the original developer’s own use, but it’s not perfect in other situations. One of the issues with RDC v1 is discoverability. I’ve long since lost count of the number of feature requests that we’ve had for allowing the resize of the RDC screen. That feature has always been there, you just had to know where to go to find it.
We decided that it was time to update RDC. There were several reasons behind this decision, including a new Remote Desktop Protocol, the need to be able to connect to Vista, and the OS X switch to the Intel architecture. Instead of updating the existing code, we decided to re-develop RDC v2 from the ground up using the latest Remote Desktop Protocol. At WWDC 2006, we announced that we would update RDC, and we’ve had a team working on it ever since.
One of the major differences in RDC v2 is that we’ve completely redone the UI. I did a usability study of RDC v1 that revealed several issues. Users had a hard time getting everything set up on their Mac as well as on their Windows machine. Users couldn’t figure out how to share files between their two computers, and some didn’t believe that it was possible at all. People didn’t realise that there was online help available for it, and often didn’t even install it. For RDC v2, we wanted to address these UX issues and make RDC a more Mac-like app. Our new UI isn’t hugely obvious when you first look at the application — the UI has always been quite minimal, and we’ve retained that in RDC v2. RDC v1 uses a disclosure triangle to show you the connection options. In RDC v2, to be a better Mac citizen, we’ve moved these options to a standard Preferences menu. This should improve the discoverability of many of the features that we’ve always had built in, such as being able to view your Mac’s hard drive when you’re connected to your Windows computer.
Another UI change is that we now support dynamic screen resizing. In RDC v1, you couldn’t change your screen size while connected to a Windows computer. Now you can, and you can enter full-screen mode during a session too. I love this because I use RDC on my laptop. When I’m in my office, I hook my MacBook Pro up to a big 23-inch external monitor. Using RDC on that is different than using it on my MBP’s screen, and now I can switch between them dynamically.
One feature request that we have received frequently was the support of multiple sessions in RDC. System administrators want this feature because they often need to connect to many machines at once. Users of RDC v1 who want this feature can probably name a couple of workarounds, but they were all pretty messy. RDC v2 supports this natively. You can connect to multiple Windows machines by saving connection settings for all of the Windows machines that you want to connect to. Then, you can simply launch those saved connections from the Finder.
My favourite new functionality in RDC v2 is a security feature. In RDC v1, you could share files with your Windows box, but you had to open up your whole hard drive to the Windows box. This never really concerned me — after all, my Windows machine is in my office and I’m the only person who has access to it. But it meant that I had to dig through the whole file system to get the file that I wanted. Now in RDC v2, I can choose what I share with my Windows machine: nothing, the whole hard drive, or a specific folder. I’ve been using internal builds of RDC v2 for a few months. I’ve found that, when I need to transfer a file from my Mac to my Windows machine (or vice versa), I just share the Mac folder where the file lives. Then when I browse my Mac’s files from the Windows box, I just see the one folder which is exactly where I need to be. It’s a very small thing, but it saves me a bit of time.
This is a beta, which means that we’re not quite done yet. We’ve still got some issues to iron out. We want to release it to you so that you can give us feedback about it. To send feedback about the RDC beta, use Microsoft Connect. Several members of our team, including myself, will be reading your feedback to make improvements to it before its final release.