Remote collaboration has become an essential part of the modern technology enterprise, but without the right tools it can be a real pain.

When coding, troubleshooting, teaching someone a graphical application—or anything else you do—it seems so much easier if you and your partners are looking at the same thing side by side. Posting log traces to trouble tickets, emailing diffs, instant messaging command syntax … it gets really cumbersome and slow. My own team uses Skytap SmartClient, which greatly facilitates our work when our team is not under one roof.

SmartClient runs inside any modern generation browser and gives numerous users a simultaneous view into a cloud-hosted machine’s desktop (or shell) within the same shared login session. When you use a graphical application, invoke a command—e.g., edit a file, view a log—your coworkers see what you are doing right as you do it, and vice versa. If you prefer, you can sit back, let them drive, and enjoy the view. This feature has been enormously valuable to my team when we help each other fix a service, debug code, or whatever else needs to get done. I get the instant message that something is wrong, open SmartClient to the machine having trouble, and my teammate sees everything I do right as it is happening. I see exactly what s/he is doing as well. There is no effort in handing over the reins; all SmartClient users can type or mouse. Sometimes, however, you want to collaborate with a view-only partner—you do not want to hand over the reins, and SmartClient supports that as well. You can publish a no-write view of the machine session to passive collaboration participants.

Even when everybody is in the same office, SmartClient can ease collaboration. Each person can view the shared machine’s desktop or shell at any resolution s/he prefers, right in front of the screen (and not standing two deep behind someone’s chair). That may seem like a small point, but to me it is significant. I have very poor eyes, and when someone with better vision “shows” me how to do something in a tiny terminal two bodies away, I have to stop, push people aside, and get my face up to the screen to see what is happening. That is a cumbersome pain; some things I can follow faster on SmartClient. Also, everybody gets his or her preferred keyboard and mouse, which is another thing I appreciate because I mouse with my left hand. Which keyboard layout do you use? US, German, Spanish, Dvorak? Do you want a split, ergonomic, or regular keyboard? Do you like to point with a mouse, trackball, or touchpad? A team can collaborate, and everybody gets his or her favorite flavor of input device.

One of the most unique features of SmartClient is that it functions when the shared cloud-hosted machine has no network connection (or no operating system). You can help your teammate in another state install an operating system, a network interface, or troubleshoot when networking has gone awry. Remember showing off your no hands biking in your driveway? You called out, “Look Mom! No Hands!” SmartClient is like that, “Look Boss! No NIC!” You can also simultaneously work on the remote machine when it boots into BIOS.

For graphically-intensive work, such as video editing, SmartClient may not be snappy enough for satisfactory remote collaboration. But for most any graphical application, and certainly for any console usage, it is remarkable how well you can team up from afar using this application. I no longer worry about my goals for the day slipping away when I read the instant message that asks, “The new service won’t work on my machine. Can you help?” ​

VIDEO: Accessing Skytap VMs with SmartClient