Revisiting RDP, discovering ReactOS, and finding Mindjet

Gibbs take a second look at Microsoft's RDP client, considers a replacement for Windows XP, and delves into "Mind Mapping"

A few weeks ago I wrote about Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and noted that "Microsoft's RDP client, Remote Desktop Connection Client 2.1 doesn't support OS X 10.7 or later." ... an observation to which I added, "Meh."

Reader Keith Rinaldo wrote to tell me, "I can confirm that Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client 2.1 works perfectly fine on OS X 10.7. I have been using RDP 2.1 since I installed OS X 10.7.0, through all iterations up to my current OS X 10.7.3 (awaiting a reboot to install 10.7.4) and RDP Client 2.1.1."

I checked this out and, indeed, Keith is correct; RDP 2.1.1 does indeed work, but how foolish of me to believe Microsoft because on its Web site it warns: "Note Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac (version 2.1.1) is not intended for use with Mac OS X v10.7 (Lion) or later." Pretty much the same thing is written twice more on the download page.

Reader Keith Rinaldo's OS X 10.7 desktop running Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client 2.1 which Microsoft says doesn't work

I usually believe vendors when they say something doesn't work (but often I don't believe the opposite), but maybe I should rethink that rule. Even so, now that I've compared Microsoft's OS X RDP client to the free, open source (FOSS) alternative I wrote about, CoRD, I much prefer the latter -- it produces a better looking rendition of the remote desktop. Your mileage may vary.

Another followup is for something I wrote about in my Backspin column, the scheduled demise of Microsoft's support for Windows XP and Office 2003 on April 9, 2014.

I suggested that because XP and Office 2003 are still useful and relevant to so many people, Microsoft should do the right thing and release the source code to both as open source, and a lively discussion in the online article's comment section ensued.

One of the comments highlighted a FOSS project that could make it irrelevant whether or not Microsoft makes the code available, ReactOS, an operating system "based on the design of Windows XP/2003."

Interesting, but the story gets better: "Written completely from scratch, [ReactOS] aims to follow the Windows-NT architecture designed by Microsoft from the hardware level right through to the application level. This is not a Linux based system, and shares none of the unix architecture."

The developers explain that the main goal "is to provide an operating system which is binary compatible with Windows. This will allow your Windows applications and drivers to run as they would on your Windows system."

Nice. The developers continue to get us excited by saying, "Additionally, the look and feel of the Windows operating system is used, such that people accustomed to the familiar user interface of Windows would find using ReactOS straightforward. The ultimate goal of ReactOS is to allow you to remove Windows and install ReactOS without the end user noticing the change."

ReactOS "Royale" theme

Woo-hoo! And I really like one of the slogans the developers use: "Change your OS, not your software!"

The developers do, however, warn: "Please bear in mind that ReactOS 0.3.14 is still in alpha stage, meaning it is not feature-complete and is not recommended for everyday use."

There are lots of potentially huge improvements that ReactOS could deliver compared to XP including an applications manager that's reminiscent of the Apple App Store or the Android Market.

The problem is that ReactOS development has been in progress for 14 years! This is, in part, because it has been a FOSS project and hasn't had the economic drivers that a commercial project would involve, but also because creating an operating system from scratch that can flawlessly support Windows applications is not an undertaking for the faint of heart.

Luckily, it looks like the ReactOS developers are stepping things up because they recently started a fundraising campaign so they can hire dedicated programming staff and have, in just under one month, raised €4,410 of a target €30,000.

Now, some people have queried why XP or a replacement for it would be of any use given that the IT industry is always evolving to more powerful platforms and applications. The answer is simple: There are thousands of applications that were written for XP that are still used by tens of thousands of people and, if there's platform support for this "ancient" software, these users could be easily getting significant value out of their Windows XP software for another 10 years.

Maybe we should all chip in to see what can be done ... and it only needs one or two really rich guys to make it happen really fast. Wouldn't that be an interesting experiment?

I'll quote one of the Backspin readers, Greenman, who commented on the online column: "Reactos is the germ of a fantastic idea, but to become a legitimate global alternative to XP after M$ pulls the plug on it, Reactos must garner the support of the most credible computer security community members and the financial backing of the right secure computing business interests. I say this because the global computing ecosystem needs competing top-level alternatives for user communites to choose from, each with a different set of strategic approaches. We already have Linux offering an open source approach to extensions of the Unix OS model and Apple's OSX's closed source approach to the Unix OS model. M$ is withdrawing it's support for its legacy closed source NT 5 OS model in favor of a more bloated & less backward compatible NT6 OS model embodied by Win7 & beyond. For organizations and individuals with substantial investments in XP-compatible computing systems, what is needed before the plug is pulled on XP is both an open source binary compatible replacement and a closed source ultra high security replacement."

So, if ReactOS were to reach production quality, would you be excited? Would it extend your existing investment?

To close out this thrilling installment of Gearhead how about a recent release of a product I last reviewed nine (count 'em, nine!) years ago: Mindjet MindManager.

MindManager is an implementation of a methodology called "mind mapping" -- it's a visual way of collecting your thoughts about a topic so that you capture as much breadth and depth of the intrinsic and related ideas.

Mindjet for iPad

Mind maps were invented in the 1970s by Tony Buzan, who went on to build a business around the technique (read more).

Buzan realized that trying to organize thinking in a linear fashion (such as a list of notes) is not as effective as a free-form web of associations and that text is not as effective as a picture in aiding recall of an idea (the old "a picture is worth a thousand words" idea).

With mind mapping, you begin with your central idea, say, building a better mousetrap. Starting in the middle of a blank sheet of paper you draw a bubble with "Better Mousetrap" in it. Then you draw more bubbles linked by lines to that central bubble, each bubble a connected idea such as "Technology," "Manufacturing," "Marketing," "Sales" and "Support."

Then you focus on each of the secondary bubbles and surround them with tertiary ideas and so on. Sometimes you'll find two or more ideas (or nodes) on different branches that are somehow related so you can connect them with a line. These diagrams can, when you feel you've exhausted all of the chains of ideas and cross-links, be used as the basis for things like document outlines and lists.

Mind mapping is a great technique for exploring things like product and system architectures, planning projects, and capturing and developing ideas. Check out Buzan's how-to story.

While the core MindManager product for Windows and OS X has evolved really impressively the new tool that caught my eye are the free mobile versions of MindJet for iOS.

I've used the mobile versions on all of the platforms and while you can browse a map on a smartphone it's a much more satisfactory experience on a tablet. Moreover, when it comes to creating and editing mind maps tablets are the only way to go.

What makes the mobile versions of Mindjet so compelling is that the whole finger-driven dragging and dropping metaphor makes building and editing mind maps very easy ... arguably far easier than using a mouse.

When you've developed a mind map that you want to share you can email it directly from the app and the message will contain the map in a text form as well as having the map attached in Mindjet's proprietary format and also as a graphic in a PDF file.

Mindjet's mobile apps get a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

Gibbs' mind is mobile in Ventura, Calif. Connect your thoughts to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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