Java-Based RDP Clients vs. ICA Clients

Last time, I said that as welcome as Windows 2000's (Win2K's) terminal services capabilities are, they won't blow the third-party terminal services market out of the water. I mentioned that the RDP clients for non-Windows platforms aren't yet as good as the ICA clients for the same platforms— which, of course, begs the question: How is it that non-Windows RDP clients aren't up to ICA standards? I'd like to answer this question in greater detail, looking at the Java and Linux-based RDP clients I've used.

Let's start with the Java client, the better of the two. HOB Electronics offers a Java-based RDP client that you can test online or download at the company's Web site. I've tried the client online and installed the downloadable version on my Windows NT 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (TSE) servers.

The Java client isn't bad. For starters, it's easy to set up. After you download the 3.47MB installation file and run it on your computer (that 3.47MB file includes Java Virtual Machine—JVM; you can choose a much smaller installation file if you already have a JVM), a short wizard asks you where you want to store files and icons. After you choose whether you want to install the client for individual use or install it on a Web server for client download, you're done—no reboot required. To connect to a terminal server, you must supply the name or IP address of the server (you can't browse for it) and the size of the window you'd like to display the terminal session in. (Because you're typing in numbers, you can make some curiously proportioned windows.)

The Connection-Manager messages are pretty clear; in fact, the Java client typically displays more clearly worded messages than does the Windows RDP client. And, you have the option of either supplying the username and password to the client or logging on from the Windows NT interface in the terminal session; it doesn't matter which option you choose because you can't save the connection. HOB's RDP client is equivalent to the Windows Terminal Services Client application, not to the Client Connection Manager.

Despite the fact that it's easy to get up and running with the Java client, it lags behind the Windows RDP client in some features and is more expensive. The version you can test online is slow, even over a DSL connection. You can't use the client you install locally to display single applications in terminal sessions—the client can display only complete desktops. There's no browse function, so you must know the name or IP address of the server you want to connect to. And, although the press release on the HOB Web site says "Additionally HOBLink JWT supports Windows 2000 servers," this statement is misleading. You can indeed use the client to connect to Win2K servers, but the client provides only RDP4 capabilities (which TSE uses), not RDP5 (which, in Win2K, increases functionality of native terminal services). According to HOB, an RDP5 version of the Java client is due out sometime in the second quarter of 2000. I found that the HOB Java client is slow when displaying glyphs (characters), although it performed better than the Windows RDP client when displaying bitmaps. Finally, at a suggested retail price of US$1600 for 10 clients, the Java client is expensive when you combine it with the other terminal services licensing costs. The cost is less than the per-user licensing cost of using MetaFrame, with its free ICA clients, but MetaFrame offers more than just client independence, which is all you get with the JWT. I'm not suggesting that HOB give its client away, but at the retail price, getting non-Windows RDP support with this client will more than double the cost of connecting to a terminal server.

HOB's Java client is new—the company only announced the product in the US in December 1999. It'll be interesting to see how the second (and truly Win2K-compatible) version measures up. However, for now, HOB's Java client looks like an expensive way to access a Windows terminal server without providing some features you really need to make Windows terminal services useful. Instead of using the current version of the Java client, I'd hold out for ICA connectivity with non-Windows clients—the benefits of TSE alone don't justify the increased cost of supporting non-Windows clients.

I'll talk about Linux RDP performance next time, basing my discussion on the Linux RDP client you can find in a Linux-based Windows terminal. (If you know where I can find a Linux RDP client I can download, let me know—I haven't been able to find one anywhere.)

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