The Power of iChat: Sharing with Yourself and Collaborators

by Jessica Lu on November 12, 2010

iChat is for more than just instant messaging. Collaboration with colleagues remotely is easy as pie with iChat’s support for voice-chatting or video-chatting simultaneously between 4 people. Additionally, one of the most powerful features of iChat is screen sharing. You can share your screen with a collaborator to show figures, have them help you edit some code, or even pass files back and forth.

Additionally, if you have a desktop and a laptop, then you can setup a second account for your desktop and screen share with yourself. The protocol is VNC with the same optimizations as Apple Remote Desktop and the speed is faster than all the other free Mac VNC clients. There is one step that you have to take to be able to setup auto-acceptance of screen sharing between your two computers. Rather than ssh’ing into my work machine from home, I now routinely use iChat screen sharing as it is far faster to manipulate images in ds9 through VNC than through ssh and X11.

I should mention that Skype is an excellent alternative for Mac-Windows-Linux mixed environments; however, I am not sure if it has the multi-user video chat capability and screen sharing. What are your favorite collaboration tools?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Erin November 12, 2010 at 8:43 am

You can actually share a screen in Skype! The share screen option hides under the call menu in Skype. You can either pick a window/app, or you can share the whole screen.

I’m still working on taking the advisor over to the Apple dark side, but skype will have to do for now.

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2 Eric G. Barron November 12, 2010 at 8:53 am

Skype does have screen sharing and Skype 5 (still in beta for Macs, don’t know status for Linux) has multi-video chat.

I would like to see more people push virtual solutions for collaboration. I know there are instances when people physically travel for meetings, proposal reviews, instrument design discussions that could be done with tele-or-videocons, a version control system and/or screen-sharing, and a little preparation ahead of time. Physical travel is ridiculously cost-inefficient and should only be done when there are no effective alternatives. Sadly, I think there is some resistance in the community to looking at alternatives to travel due in part to the idea that travel that is paid for out of someone else’s pocket is viewed as a job perk.

Also, nice tip on using iChat in place of other VNC clients. I’m a bit surprised that it’s faster than other clients. I’m definitely going to try it

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3 David November 13, 2010 at 1:50 am

Eric, I feel a similar way about observing on ground-based telescopes. It’s crazy to travel halfway around the world (often literally) just to sit there and run the telescope using a computer. Some people are actually using custom hardware configurations they set up themselves, but the vast majority of observation is with instruments that are there and put in place by onsite technicians. Yes, Hawaii, Chile, etc. can be fun to visit, and there is something special about being on the mountains, but it shouldn’t be the default. (It isn’t everywhere, but still is a lot of places…)

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4 Jane Rigby November 24, 2010 at 8:10 am

Skype has a nice “Share screen selection” feature, so you can pore over a single window with a collaborator. Especially nice if you have a big desktop monitor, and your collaborator is peering at a laptop screen.

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5 Jane Rigby November 24, 2010 at 8:11 am

Jess, sharing your own desktop from your laptop is a very interesting idea — I’ll try it out, thanks!

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6 Jane Rigby November 24, 2010 at 8:15 am

I’d like to see videoconferencing replace phone for telecons. Unfortunately, too many institutions bought into pricy videoteleconferincing systems that sit idle in the corner of conference rooms, because no one knows how to use them. Everyone still uses speakerphones or polycoms.

It seems to me that commercial phone-in systems have a few advantages: it’s a toll-free call (so billing is handled separately; it’s easy to do (call #, enter code, state your name). Maybe one goal of chat programs would be to get them to this level of simplicity, so our colleagues would use them?

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