AquaConnect helps Macs, others share desktop apps

By Ryan Faas, Computerworld |  Hardware, AquaConnect, Servers

The reliance on VNC has its pros and cons. On the one hand, VNC is ubiquitous and makes AquaConnect completely client-agnostic. On the other hand, VNC doesn't provide the best performance compared with similar remote-access protocols, and it provides no real built-in security or encryption functionality. AquaConnect has licensed the RDP protocol from Microsoft for future releases. In fact, plans for the upcoming second-generation release will rely on RDP and the Unix X11 windowing environment instead of VNC, which should boost both security and performance.

In the meantime, some of the security concerns about VNC can be handled by tunneling the VNC connection through a secure connection such as a VPN or using SSH port-forwarding. Likewise, SSL can be used to secure a connection if security certificates are configured on the client and server. SSL, of course, requires that the VNC clients used to connect to the server support SSL.

Also missing in the current release is support for client hardware (such as a Mac's built-in iSight camera and local drives), for viewing video or listening to audio, and for complex OpenGL graphics. None of these issues is particularly surprising for an early-generation terminal server. In fact, given the potential bandwidth usage of things like audio, video or complex graphics, one might prefer to avoid offering them from a terminal server altogether.

Likewise, limiting client devices from interacting with a server could be viewed as a good thing from an overall security perspective (though the lack of access to local files and printers could equally be viewed as a downside).

Installing AquaConnect
Like Mac OS X Server itself, AquaConnect can be installed on a wide variety of Apple hardware. Essentially any machine that meets the Tiger Server system requirements will be able to run AquaConnect. The company does recommend a base RAM of 256MB for PowerPC hardware and 512MB for Intel hardware, as well as 128MB and 256MB per user session for Power PC and Intel servers, respectively.

The software is also optimized to take advantage of the hardware in Apple's Mac Pro and Intel's Xserve machines, which AquaConnect says results in higher performance for multiple user sessions on this hardware compared with other Apple hardware.

Like most installer applications, the process of installing AquaConnect is extremely simple. It can be done using either a graphical installer or a command-line tool. Internet access is required during installation to verify a license key against the company's license-key server.

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