Skip to main content

Live Fast, Crash Hard


Over the last few months, my friends and I are starting to find there's something very wrong in the state of Mac remote clients. I don't have a huge number of computers, but I have enough to make the use of VNC (the free screen-sharing system originally developed by Olivetti Labs at Cambridge) necessary. I used to have a mix of Macs and Windows systems, so some years ago I settled on VNC as the lowest common denominator method of connecting to one machine from another. VNC server runs as a native service on Windows, and there are mainstream clients which work well. On the Mac, it used to be that the canonical server was OSXvnc, now incorporated into Redstone's vine server. For a VNC viewer I used Chicken of the VNC. Chicken has a reputation for being very slow but very stable and my experience certainly bore this out.

Then came OS X 10.4 (Tiger) which exposed the Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) screen sharing service in the Sharing preference pane. ARD uses another version of the VNC code-base. I happily used this on the server end while continuing to use Chicken as a client. A while ago I started using Jolly's Fast VNC because it promised faster, snappier response from the far end. The promises were true, but I began to find that after a few minutes of using the Jolly Screen Client, the session would freeze. Restarting the client made no difference, nor did:

  • Stopping and starting the Apple Remote Desktop client on the server
  • Disabling and re-enabling the ethernet interface on the server
  • Unplugging and replugging the Cat5 cable on the server

Not only did it kill the workings of remote desktop access, it killed every ethernet service on the server too. It wasn't talking to the VNC client, but neither was it talking to any other IP host - by name or by IP address. Nor could I renew the server's DHCP-granted IP address, a process that uses broadcast IP datagrams. I couldn't even see the server's MAC address in a client's ARP table, showing that the whole ethernet infrastructure was dead in the water. The only thing that brought my Trappist server back to life was a complete restart. I never go to the bottom of the problem so I just gave up on Jolly's and went back to Chicken and the problems went away. Then came Leopard.

You probably know that Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" has a slick, Apple-written Screen Sharing app. When I upgraded most of my machines to Leopard, I got rid of my third party VNC solutions. I was happy for a good long time controlling my Mac Mini (our media machine) from my MacBook Pro, both running Leopard. Connection times were fast and performance was snappy. Then the same lockups started. I'd be using Screen Sharing over Bonjour (mDNS) to control iTunes and the screen would lock up, and network traffic on the Mini would fall to zero in both directions. As when I was using Jolly's a complete reboot of the server system was the only thing that cured the problem.

I can't find any reliable information on whether the Apple client uses the same codebase as the Jolly's client, but it's very odd that both clients offer identically brisk performance and have identically disastrous effects on the server machine. I hope the upcoming OS X 10.5.2 update brings a fix to this issue along with the many others it offers.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Folk Ergonomics: or, it all Fitts

When I was a poor civil servant (plus ├ža change) and part-time graduate student I longed to own a Mac. I’d read everything available about them, and nothing I read did anything to dissuade me. What I wanted, as well as the crisp, typographic display and the integration between the applications, was the windowing system. I already knew, somehow, that a Proper Computer™ would be able to show more than one program on the screen at once and let you move between them. Lacking the funds to buy the current model Apple was offering, a Mac SE, I made do with an Atari ST 520 STFM. This was a strange machine with a dual personality:a games machine with aspirations to being a workstation, and which used the non-broken version of Digital Research’s GEM windowing environment. This system had been shamelessly copied from the Mac interface, so much so that Apple sued Digital Research and got an injunction that prevented later versions of GEM (used on DOS machines, notably those from Amstrad) from us…

Getting It Done?

As someone who has worked at many jobs in which it is part of the job description to be interrupted incessantly, whilst at the same time having, as part of the same job, work that needs careful planning, reflection and sustained concentration to execute correctly, I've had many problems with the usual time-management approaches. Most of them seem to have been conceived in some middle-management Utopia back in the '50s, a place where everyone has an office with a door, the closure of which was sacrosanct; a time before email, pagers, cellphones and Blackberries; a society where "getting up in someone's face" was a social crime rather than a standard business strategy.

That said, you can't let your life be run by random events and dropping everything to work on whatever the customer who shouts the loudest wants. You need some sort of system, and I've found the system popularized by David Allen, which he calls by the arcane, obscure name of Getting Things Don…

Two lovely things

First, this widget for planning BART trips. It's a glorious piece of information design. Then the essay on the thinking behind it, Magic Ink. It's like Edward Tufte started writing code for the Mac.

Technorati Tags: , ,