RDC and Free PCs

Being on a Mac when producing sites I tend to focus initially on the Safari/Firefox combination. Both browsers reliably and competently render forward-thinking CSS and JavaScript production techniques (no memory leaks thankfully). Both behave as the spec suggests they should (in most cases—they are not infallible though).

Then comes the painful part. IE PC. (Preaching to the choir, I know.) Over the past year and a half I’ve fallen victim to a number of IE PC’s illogical shortcomings. I’ve learned to filter or negotiate CSS, to make sure an element hasLayout with the trusty old height: 1%; Holly Hack, to set floated elements to display: inline; preventing doubled margins (where would we be without Position is Everything?).

So I’ve got a pretty solid handle on hacking IE PC into submission. Being on a Mac the lingering tedium now is dealing with Virtual PC which enables me to test on multiple versions of IE, Opera and Firefox (and if I’m feeling saucy, early versions of Netscape). That is until the other day at work when I was finally forced to install Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection Client so I could use Groove to collaborate with coworkers. Remote Desktop Connection is pretty much Virtual PC—minus the Virtual. It uses a networked PC and doesn’t require the processing overhead on your Mac. Brilliant.

That same day, Keith posted about the free Mac mini he scored and mentioned something about a similar offer for a free desktop PC. Having just experienced the ease of testing on an actual PC (and not a sluggish, emulated one) from my Mac I decided to sign up and give it a shot. I had been meaning to try out one of those NetFlix-type rental services anyway so I signed up for the Blockbuster trial. There are a couple of different PCs to choose from, none of which come with a monitor—which is not a problem since I plan on connecting with RDC anyway. In fact, I’ll probably throw the beige box in a closet and be done with it.

This is an ideal arrangement and offer for the independent Mac freelancer who can’t justify the cost of a PC or Virtual PC and doesn’t want to wait for the recently announced MacIntel.

Next thing you know I’ll be pimping free iPod shuffles and pining for Apple schwag seen on Mike Industries.

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Author
Shaun Inman
Posted
June 15th, 2005 at 1:14 am
Categories
Apple
CSS
JavaScript
Web
Comments
052 (Now closed)

052 Comments

001

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found that to be by far the best way of testing in Windows, and I use the machine I had before switching to Mac with VNC for checking sites in other browsers.

Author
David Appleyard
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 12:35 am
002

I have an old PC with a wireless netcard sitting out in the garage for exactly that purpose.

Author
Tore
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 12:41 am
003

Too bad it doesn’t work with my Home Edition :( Guess I’ll have to buy an XP Pro license.

Author
benjamin Martijn
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 1:23 am
004

I was very close to putting my old Inspiron laptop (keyboard buggered, hard drive flaky) in the bin, until I hit upon this very solution. Now it sits under my desk with a wireless card in it, running IE and not much else.

Author
David M.
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 2:56 am
005

YES YES! I fall victim to the exact same problems. Just when I think I am done, the layout is complete, the design is smooth and fluent- IE PC almost always tosses a fork into the gear. I have an old IBM laptop for testing purposes. The worse part about it (besides trying to figure out IE PC hacks constantly) is that everytime I start the laptop up.. some new update is needed. Annoying.

Although I tend to check it anyway, I gave up with full tweakery for IE MAC. Personally, although ignorant I suppose, if anyone is still using IE MAC for browsing with other solutions like Firefox and Safari now available… well they derserve whatever mishaps they may encounter.

More than often, the best test I can run, is sending the link off to PC user friends and have them rip my work apart.

Author
Cpawl
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 3:38 am
006

Right. And don’t forget the Synergy option discussed here

Works like a charm if you dig dual monitor and don’t mind running the PC all the time.

Author
Lee Dale
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 4:56 am
007

I guess since Shaun’s doing it, I should advertise as well. If any of you guys want a free iPod (other than the one Mike Industries is giving away), please click here. (Editor’s Note: Nope, sorry John, the difference here is that I’m “advertising” on my own site.)

This is the only one Canadians and Brits can join to get the free iPods… might as well give it a try.

Author
John
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 5:44 am
008

Yeah, I don’t think you can remote into an XP Home system, but VNC works pretty well.

Author
Erik Simmler
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 6:36 am
009

Muito bom seu site, parabéns !

Author
Rafael
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 6:49 am
010

I’ve used Virtual PC just to realize that it’s really sluggish on my Powerbook. I also installed multiple IE versions and that worked fine for a while, then one day the older IE versions stopped working for no apparent reason. Then decided to give Browsercam a whirl and subscribed so I could use remote access to PC’s. It isn’t blazingly fast but it’s easy to use, and the screenshots are a nice bonus. It is interesting to see what happens when Intel macs come out, then you can probably just install Windows on your machine and test locally.

Author
Jaakko Knuutila
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 7:15 am
011

Do you consider other operating systems other than Windows and Mac? Even though people who use Linux, BSD, Solaris, etc. have Firefox, Mozilla, Konquerer, etc… there are some slight difference, and glitches that show up in X11 and XFree.

Hehe, or are those operating systems too geekish for your site? :P

Author
tom
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 8:35 am
012

First I used VNC with Chicken of the VNC to remote access my PC, then I switched to a switchbox (pun intended). Finally I just got tired of crowding my screen or having to switch back and forth, and a few days I moved my NEC monitor exclusively to the PC, replaced it on the Mac with an Apple display (oh such an improvement!) and now I’ve got exclusive setups.

Then I found this sweet little tool that lets me use my Mac keyboard and mouse to control the PC, no switch involved, with one key command. Once I get around to actually buying it (it’s like a ten minute demo ‘til you do), I think it’ll be useful.

Microsoft’s RDC tool is nice though - I’d be there if I didn’t have the extra monitor.

Author
Dave Lowe
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 9:00 am
013

Hmm not just mac and pc are your problems though.. Yes the majority of the net use’s IE but there are others that use neither windows or mac.. Do you have another pc running redhat or debian?

Author
Dave
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 1:14 pm
014

Dave Lowe -

Have you looked at synergy? Wonderful, wonderful app, acts as a virtual KVM that allows you to move your mouse from one desktop to another, as if they were running on a single multimonitor system. Works with linux, windows, OS X… Best of all, it’s free. I highly recommend it.

Author
Jonathan del Strother
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 3:03 pm
015

As skilled as you are with both design and coding Shaun…I am baffled. Not justify the cost of a PC. You just lost 10 nerd points.

Any geek can justify the cost of anything that comes with LED’s and some sort of processing capabilities.

Author
Ryan Latham
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 8:46 pm
016

That’s okay, I more than make those points up in design-nerd points for shunning “just another beige box.”

Author
Shaun Inman
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 9:16 pm
017

Yeah, I do it the other way round. VNC over to a Tiger box just to check out how things are panning out in Safari.

Hmmm $NZ269 for Tiger in order to be able to install latest version of the Saf’ - that’s one expensive browser.

Fortunately, soon I will be able to launch a session of OSX86 on my Vaio and be back to streamlined beauty.

I simply can’t justify the cost of a Mac anymore.

Author
ross
Posted
Jun 15th, 2005 11:49 pm
018

much as i despise IE on the pc, when designing websites, it should be the primary test suite. 90% of people still use windows for their internet experience, and 67% of then are using IE in one form or another.

Author
mesh
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 12:10 am
019

Ye olde v.IE - on Win XP - that’s a great link, thanks.

(Hacks? Conditionals!)

Author
miko
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 3:50 am
020

Sadly, I design ON a Windows machine (and test on the Mac) for the same reasons as Mesh and Ross. If 90% of my users are viewing the internet through one particular filter, I should design for that majority’s experience.

Author
helenjane
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 8:20 am
021

Jonathan: Synergy, eh? Free? I’m listening… Like the name too. (probably why I stuck with Chicken so long… just dug the absurdity of the name)

A buddy of mine just got a Dell monitor that has multiple inputs. It’s got picture-in-picture and side-by-side viewing. Now that would come in handy!

Author
Dave Lowe
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 9:32 am
022

I’ve been enjoying using Zend Studio on Gentoo Linux for a lot of PHP hackery. I’d been doing mostly Photoshop through WINE for visuals, but definitely the non-testability of IE is frustrating.

We actually get winXP virtual desktop accounts through my university, though, so this seems like an excellent testing mechanism. Good thought!

Author
Mike Purvis
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 10:06 am
023

I am the opposite. I have a windows system and would love to test out my sites on a Mac. Looks like I need to get myself a Mac Mini. :)

Author
Yannick L.
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 11:45 am
024

I have the same situation, Yannick. I’m purchasing a Mac Mini shortly.

Author
Adam Bouskila
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 12:44 pm
025

Frankly, I’m astonished that my name didn’t make an appearance in this post. I figured surely there would be a witty, sarcastic reference to my whoring of my readership for free crap. Thank you, Shaun, for coming down to my level. You’ve made me feel just a little better about myself today.

Author
Jeff Croft
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 2:27 pm
026

Unfortunately, I don’t have a Mac. I just started my web design business seriously a few weeks ago, and because I’m only 14 I don’t make as much money as other designers. Anyway, I have a PC right now, but plan on buying either a Mac Mini or a PowerMac G4 sometime in the near future. I really need a notebook

Author
Zeerus
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 5:17 pm
027

I use VNC to check in with Konqueror, Galeon and Mozilla, but I really need to get a Macintosh. I’ve been trying to convince my friend to let me set up an SSH tunnel to his Tiger box, but I bet that’s gonna take world series tickets, or good scotch, or something.

For now, in lieu of dropping a wad on a Mini, I periodically check my small-caps and em’s with Dan Vine’s Python/Safari Monster, iCapture.

He is a gentleman and a scholar for offering this service, and he just had a new baby. I really need to donate, as much as I clot up his server. :P

Author
hink
Posted
Jun 16th, 2005 8:50 pm
028

I think it’s funny you wrote about stashing the “beige box” in a closet, but on the page you linked to, not one of those PS were beige. Gonna have to update the lexicon. Maybe “black box”?

Author
Tony
Posted
Jun 17th, 2005 10:07 pm
029

I, unfortunately have not yet bought a Mac, which is still on my to do list, but being an open-source user I mainly design develop and deploy everything in Firefox first using my favorite tool called “Wampserver” and of course all of this is done on a M-soft machine. Once I work out all the bits and pieces that are left on Firefox I then tend to load IE and see how it looks (if some placements are off by a few pixels or by a sh*tload). If theres anything that I see that doesn’t go well I replace it and use a stylesheet switcher for the browsers. But overall i tend to not focus on IE when coding, even though the elite have already made the switch to FF or any other equivalent open source browser,I was use FF for the coding first and foremost ! Mehh at IE users !

Author
Denis
Posted
Jun 18th, 2005 1:55 pm
030

Someone already mentioned SiteVista. All the browser testing stuff, but also accessibility testing with screen readers etc. If anyone wants to try it out during the pre-launch phase, please get in touch.

Author
Paul Farnell
Posted
Jun 18th, 2005 11:59 pm
031

Why don’t y’all just support open source and go with Browsershots.

Author
Kelli
Posted
Jun 20th, 2005 7:43 am
032

SiteVista tests for accessibility ;-)

Author
Paul Farnell
Posted
Jun 21st, 2005 12:11 am
033

I have been using this method for quite a while, but there is still one minor problem with this setup: I can not have both IE5, IE5.5 and IE6 on the same system - resulting in that most of my sites only end up properly tested on all Mac-browsers, Windows-versions of Firefox and Opera, and only IE6.

Lucky for me, no one really noticed so far:)

Author
Řyvind Segrov
Posted
Jun 22nd, 2005 7:26 am
034

I can not have both IE5, IE5.5 and IE6 on the same system

Yes, you can.

Author
Shaun Inman
Posted
Jun 22nd, 2005 8:15 am
035

I design on a pc - my biggest headache is IE 5.2 for the mac..

Author
matt
Posted
Jun 22nd, 2005 9:05 am
036

Dave Lowe - great find with that KM sharing app. I’d tried Synergy before, but got fed up with losing the pointer on the other screen from where I wanted it! I much prefer having a keystroke to switch between systems…

Just off to pay for it now ;-)

Author
Seb
Posted
Jun 23rd, 2005 4:40 am
037

I design on Linux with Firefox as my primary browser choice. IE on windows is a headache, but nothing compared to IE on mac. Even with the same version of browser, the mac version seems to completely ignore 90% of the css, and what it does render…is incorrect. My biggest frustration has to be though…if people are on macs, why in the world are they using IE?!

Author
Joseph Crawford
Posted
Jun 23rd, 2005 5:03 am
038

I didn’t know people still designed for IE:Mac. I find that amazing, lol. I think at this point it’s pretty safe to give up that practice, especially considering OSX:Tiger doesn’t even bother to install it on your system.

As for the topic on hand, my girlfriend runs Windows and just cross-checks the sites to screenshots for me. It takes longer, but I really don’t have the patience necessary to set up a small network just for testing. On top of that she browses through and tells me where to fix things and whatnot, so it pans out (for me) in the end.

Author
Alan
Posted
Jun 24th, 2005 4:19 am
039

good.. place

Author
shocka
Posted
Jun 27th, 2005 9:53 pm
040

Unfortunately, VPC just isn’t up to the job of heavy testing with XP, unless you’re running a dual 2.7Ghz G5. If you’ve got serious work to do, you need a real PC sat next to your Mac. Ergh, okay, maybe sat out of the way, behind your Mac, where you can’t see it.

Author
Phil Sherry
Posted
Jun 28th, 2005 12:26 am
041

Is Remote Desktop Client for free? If not, are there any other similar free solutions?

Author
Jo
Posted
Jun 28th, 2005 1:10 am
042

See, now you really need to be approaching it from the other way…I just got my hands on a Mini (which fricking rocks), and I’ll use RDC to term serv into one of two win boxes I have running…which will soon become one with an install of VMWare on it.

Note: one win box (it will be Win2k3 Server) with VMWare on it.

If you want to be working on your mac and only your mac, this is kind of the ideal solution. I’ll have an install of Win2k3, XP Pro, 2k server, and at least two flavors of Linux (probably SuSE and maybe Knoppix, haven’t decided yet). You can use RDC to get into all the Windows platforms, and regular telnet or what not for Linux…you’ll never really have to leave your Mac, and you’ll have a full testing lab with two boxes.

Not bad, eh?

Author
Tom Trenka
Posted
Jun 29th, 2005 6:17 am
043
Author
hink
Posted
Jul 4th, 2005 8:43 am
044

Funny enough.. in our office we have two deigners whom are the only ones with macs. Virtual PC works absolutely poorly with Tiger OS not to mention it can’t connect to the windows domain. We looked at other virtual pc options but we finally opted for Windows 2000 server which allows three “remote desktop” connections at a time. (actually two remote, one physical) It was easier to setup than we thought and it works great. we use our domain logins and it works. Only problem is that we dont have the same version of IE as Windows XP. Not much of a problem though for us.

Oh and yes, Remote desktop Client is here

BTW Shaun. I have never used markdown or commented on a blog before, so my link may suck. sorry.

Author
Dave Gregory
Posted
Jul 6th, 2005 8:24 am
045

Man, your approach is not good at all + you are also commiting a serious logical mistake.

Web is about the mass… mass = pc and pc = IE (by default). Speaking in numbers, if 97% of the users have PCs… of whom some 80+% use IE then that’s the first thing you need to have on mind. That user group is your priority, when you make it work for them adjust the code for others. I find it a lot easier…

No matter how nicely designed site is, or how well is it coded (does this make any matter to the client?), remember, if it does not work on client’s computer you are in trouble.

In these days with all that CSS stuff, I see a lot more people worried about coding, writting “table less” websites”, etc… than doing something visually extraodinary, which is the most important thing…

Author
VSLX
Posted
Jul 11th, 2005 8:46 am
046

I would have to disagree VSLX. It is easier to get IE PC to display properly when you code to spec initially and then address its particular failures whereas it is virtually impossible to get Firefox and other standard compliant browsers to render code that plays to IE’s misinterpretation of the spec. Done correctly the end result is the same for the majority but this approach makes sure that your minority is not overlooked.

Author
Shaun Inman
Posted
Jul 11th, 2005 9:02 am
047

One thing to remember is that Windows will not antialias text over RDP.

Also, setting it up to enable 24-bit color connections is a little bit of a hassle (it involves an obscure and badly-named setting in the Computer Management drop-in)

So for testing things like Javascript and Box Model bugs, it’s great, but be cautioned that your pages will probably look like blocky 256-color crap.

Author
Joel Bernstein
Posted
Jul 11th, 2005 9:51 am
048

Correction: It’s in the Group Policy drop-in

Author
Joel Bernstein
Posted
Jul 11th, 2005 10:04 am
049

Very well, but the thing is, right before you start coding you should be aware of the limitations and most of problematic areas when comes to code handling in IE. I say, you can prevent doing a bunch of extra work…

And of course, you do need early PC testing…

Author
VSLX
Posted
Jul 12th, 2005 5:50 am
050

do you test on different versions of safari? i know that many of my relatives are still only on Mac OS X 10.2.x. i’m not sure if there’s an easy way to test on earlier versions short of having separate boot partitions for different versions of the OS…

Author
bunnyhero
Posted
Jul 16th, 2005 5:11 pm
051

If you only need windows system for debugging, you should try QemuX instead of VirtualPC

Author
olly
Posted
Aug 21st, 2005 1:20 am
052

I wrote the HTML source by hand, it could be displayed well in IE, but some CSS and table source of HTML couldn’t be displayed well in Firefox. Did anyone find this?

Author
Creford
Posted
Aug 28th, 2005 8:20 pm