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Google Hangouts adds remote desktop support (plus.google.com)
185 points by dkhenry on June 26, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

Am I the only one who prefers regular gchat to google hangouts? It's super difficult to figure out who on my contact list is online or not. I also mistake old msgs as new ones because of the lack of time-stamps. Maybe I'm missing a check-box or something that could fix all this but I gave up and switched back to gchat almost immediately.

I complained about this for a while, but then I saw someone use Hangouts on mobile. I suddenly realized why Google designed it this way. Of course the designers noticed that it was hard to determine who was offline and who was online. In fact, that's the whole point.

Google is incrementally eliminating the distinction between the online and offline world. Pretty soon, the concept of offline won't exist anymore -- everyone will be thought of as online all the time.

But there's no place for old-style instant messaging in this mental model. So they're moving away from it. But they can't make this change all at once, so they're doing it slowly. When the distinction goes away, Hangouts will be just like SMS. If you think about it, Apple already beat them to this with iMessage, and Google is playing catch-up. But instead of launching a new product, Google is just extending their existing IM ecosystem to take over the SMS space.

In fact, they will be integrating SMS "soon": http://www.engadget.com/2013/05/16/google-hangouts-sms-integ...

And yet GVoice probably still won't support MMS, it'll be forced to the hangouts protocol and you'd be screwed if you want to send an MMS to a non-Android phone.

That seems like a good idea but I only use gchat on my PC, for my phone it's text messages. I don't like it when someone assumes that I'm on my PC and starts to have a conversation with me as when I'm on the go I'm not able to have a serious chat. At least with txt msgs both parties know that you may not respond in time and that you may be brief with your responses.

So do you suppose that is why you can't be invisible when using the iOS Hangouts app?

Yes, I used gchat for its instant-messaging purposes, which is essentially what the app is all about. Hangouts pretty much got rid of anything instant about it (online/offline, away indicator, status messages, etc.). I eagerly looked forward to Hangouts and installed it the day Google announced it only to switch back to Talk an hour or two later.

I suppose I wouldn't care if I didn't have gchat on 100% of the time I'm on a desktop but I dread the day Hangouts replaces Talk.

I see timestamps under messages in both the web and Android client.

I definitely prefer the look of Hangouts. I don't see much difference between it and GTalk utility-wise.

You're right I messed up, the time-stamps are there I just didn't notice them right away as they are faded and underneath the message.

> I don't see much difference between it and GTalk utility-wise.

You see online/idle/offline/mobile/mobile-idle icons and status messages in hangouts?

There is a green bar below the user's picture when they're online.

Just switched back to check this out. I see the green bar under only one of my friends but the rest that are online or away don't have this. Do they also have to have hangouts enabled for me to see that?

Also, I understand that they are trying to make things minimal and look cool but it's not something that's very intuitive or noticeable. I thought it might have meant that I have a chat window open with that person.

How is hangouts minimal ? In old gchat you have lines of text - very efficient and natural. In new hangouts you have a lot of empty space, graphics and overall about 4x less text in the same amount of space. It's huge UI fail in my opinion. Fortunately there is still an option to switch back.

That's only online at a PC, I believe. If folks are on a phone, they won't have a green bar.

Only in the web interface, that feature is entirely missing from the Hangouts app that replaced the Google Talk app on Android.

As it is currently, Hangouts is not a real time communications service. It's a messaging service. Unfortunately for the Hangout team, Gmail is the superior messaging service.

The real shame is that Google already had a fantastic offering and they killed something beautiful: an integrated product that included a real time communication client (gchat), a messaging service (gmail), and a group/community based social network (g+).

The worst thing about the new Google Hangouts is that it doesn't expose the phone numbers associated with some of the Google Contacts. So in order to make a phone call, I'd have to recall the number and type it in the search bar. Typing the name in the search bar won't reveal that person's phone number either. This is more intuitively done in the old Google Chat which has a phone button which reveals the numbers. So sometimes I can call and sometimes I can chat with the same person. And searching the name reveals number(s) as well.

This is why I suspect they've drug their feet on Google Voice integration. They want to make that seamless. You want to call [Person] and you shouldn't have to even think about whether it's over Hangouts or PTSN.

That's what Google Voice will give them. You call them from the Hangouts app and they pass it through Google Voice if they're not signed into any Hangout machines. It roughly works this way already for existing GV users.

Calls incoming to my Google Voice number already ring in Hangouts for me - I actually use that any time I have to do phone conferencing now, since I can just use my computer headset rather than futzing with a phone headset.

Oh god, I love it. My computer even rings a good second or two before my phone so I can hit Pause on my keyboard (Spotify pauses) and then click "Answer". I've got a usb headset with decent speaker-drivers so I can listen to music while I work and switch between Lync/Hangout calls easily.

That's actually good. But the issue I was highlighting was about making calls. Not that Hangouts cannot make a phone call - it's just that I don't want to remember all the numbers of my contacts.

Can anyone comment on how a browser plugin gets access to the desktop? (even if hangouts doesn't do it, there's a remote desktop plugin)

I'm a curmudgeon, but it seems like it's like designing a washing machine attachment that serves as a home security system and pasta maker.

Are there OS or X11 permissions that can restrict userland apps from deviating far from their original use case?

The browser is a native app and can use native apis to access screensharing desktop apis. It can then proxy these via some browser plugin api making those available to browser plugins.

Not X11, any app can see or manipulate any other apps screen buffer. It is one reason Wayland is nice.

If your system has MAC you can restrict its file access, but in general you have library support for this stuff built in.

It is also why in most cases it is a PITA to stream 3d rendered screens. Opengl / directX don't provide easy ways like X11 to look at a completed framebuffer and store / broadcast it.

In OpenGL this is fairly easy using FBO's - http://www.songho.ca/opengl/gl_fbo.html . I have never used DirectX but I would be surprised if it did not allow you to read the framebuffer.

It does. That is how a lot of bots and other cheats are made.

Wayland doesn't provide meaningful security for that case. It's true that there's no protocol support for arbitrary buffer access, but if you're running as the same user (as is the case here) it's comparatively trivial to dup the drm file descriptor and remap the buffers. You may need to be able to guess (or just probe for) the handles though, I'm not sure.

Wayland alone might not, but MAC can limit access to file descriptors

Actually there is a pointer lock api that allows apps to control user's mouse. And it can be added as a permission in chrome manifest. They only need the screen and mouse control. Which essentially means control entire machine.

Edit: never mind, I was thinking of chrome app, not the local plugin that we install for voice and video.

NPAPI plugins, ActiveX controls, etc. are just native libraries that are loaded into the browser's process. So, they can do anything that any other native application can do.

The best remote desktop software I have used is - http://www.join.me

Just have the other person click 'Share', wait a bit for it to load, then have them copy and paste their share URL. It works right in the browser and is free.

If Google Hangouts make this easier for me to fix my mother's laptop I'm all for it!

http://www.screenleap.com/ is similar. It's a Java applet, works on Linux/Windows/Mac.

Dang it, I'd been looking for something just like this very recently, and my Google-fu had failed me.

Man I wish I'd been able to find this.

Been using it for about a year, its amazing. The way it is going the free version may be sunset fairly soon.

And Google continues killing off niche application vendors... WalMart of the Internet.

Screen sharing is a Skype feature. If having a broadly available free tool with deep-pocketed corporate support was going to kill off that "niche", then it's surely been dead for years already. This is just Google achieving feature parity with the existing players.

I mean, I'm as much a cynic as anyone, but I swear that these days it seems like Google can't catch a break on this site.

I thought Skype offers only screen sharing, but doesn't allow to control other person's desktop. I might be wrong though.

Skype has screen share but the quality pales in comparison to RDP/Teamviewer

I doubt this analogy is perfect. Location/upkeep/convenience are different in the software world, and one of the big problems with Walmart is that they underpay their workers. And whereas mass produced X and artisan X might be different, I don't see any advantage of artisan desktop sharing.

Maybe there is something to soaking up a market (RSS) then dropping it (though it seems the ball is being somewhat picked up there), But, maybe unlike walmart?, there is little reason to believe that was malicious. People (Kevin Rose, for example) were making fun of RSS being super dead in 2011. I am no expert, but I doubt it is a google plus play as much as a twitter defeat. Note: I personally love RSS, but if I was not a tech news junkie, it might be of little use to me.

If you want to carry on the analogy, Google has a debit card that only works at Google and unlike Walmart it won't accept competitors coupons and all the stuff sold in store isn't sold anywhere else. You also can't take it apart, and only people with Google debit cards can see any of it when it leaves the store.

Hangouts is becoming a nightmare of a proprietary locked in mess that is destroying decades of progress in FOSS space towards open standards for communication. They are killing Jingle and XMPP by depreciating Talk, and they are now killing VNC. They may not have played nice together, and they may be painfully outdated, but it isn't an excuse to take your toys from the community sandbox, go home, and build yourself a space rocket in your back yard and fence it off, because very few people will pay to get in your back yard and will stay in the sandbox with Tonka Trucks.

"They are killing Jingle and XMPP by depreciating Talk..."

As of two or three weeks ago, the Hangouts videoconferencing code used WebRTC, Jingle, and a variety of video and audio codecs (among which one could find Opus.).

If you run the software on a *nix system, you can verify my claims by checking the contents of /tmp/gtalkplugin.log while you're in a video call with someone. Note that that file seems to be flushed to disk at irregular intervals, and that it is removed after the call is terminated.

My point is more even if they continue to use Jingle on the backend they defeat the point of Jabber by putting the auth servers in a proprietary backend. The whole point of XMPP was to stop making messaging / communication formats that don't play in the same sandbox and can't interopt. I can't contact someone in a hangout (via chat or voice) with anything but a hangout.

> and they are now killing VNC

Um, no. This feature substitutes for one small VNC use case -- a use case already largely controlled by commercial products like TeamViewer and Copilot anyway.

VNC has much broader uses than this.

Good points.. however I don't thing they're killing off VNC. VNC, I believe, has a pretty narrow user base. Google's addition of remote desktop control will be doing more harm to small companies and their apps like FogCreek's Copilot.

I wasn't looking for a perfect analogy. Simply put that like WalMart killing off mom & pop shops, Google / Microsoft / Amazon are doing the same thing to niche application vendors who do one thing well to make a simple living.

Do you expect them to stop innovating just to avoid stepping on someone else? This development actually makes a lot of sense for Hangouts, and I'm glad they did it.

There is still room for others, especially in the spheres where using Google products is not an option.

Ok Google, now do this using the webRTC data channel instead of a plugin (using Vidyo's H.264/SVC)

webRTC is going to be really exciting in the next year or so. Google is pushing it, but it'd be great to see them actually using it. I was hoping New Hangouts would be on webRTC, but it is still a bit early.

Hangouts currently seems to use WebRTC behind the scenes. See my comment here for more details: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5949188

This is great news! After instant-upload/auto-backup got my parents hooked on G+, now I can easily provide them with tech support! Solid user conversion practice imo.

When are they going to publish their protocol, or return support for XMPP federation? Users should avoid them until they do either of those.

Maybe when users actually avoid them, which means users need an alternative, eg Jitsi which has had desktop sharing a couple years.

ATM XMPP federation is still up and running. If enough people approach the Messaging folks at Google with coherent, well-reasoned reasons for leaving it up (and perhaps securing it with TLS!), then it might get left up for good.

Sorry, but the new Hangouts does not support federation. The old GTalk network, though, does. If a message comes into the latter from non-Google servers, they only show up in connected XMPP clients, not on Android or GMail after upgrading to Hangouts. If the intended recipient does not use a 3rd party XMPP client and has fully upgraded, he will never see the message!

For outbound traffic some odd stuff is going on. Presence from all Hangouts endpoints still propagates to GTalk and thus federates. Messages can also be sent. But again, that's one way and replies are not delivered to Hangouts. Additionally, XMPP iq-type requests to Hangouts endpoints are not responded to, violating the core XMPP spec.

Slightly off topic, but does anyone else experience poor audio echo in Hangout video conferences?

At work we would kill to replace Skype with Hangouts, but with the same computers and the same microphones, everyone in Hangouts constantly hears themselves, while Skype reduces hearing yourself to a very rare event.

I've only ever had this issue when someone on the hangout uses speakers instead of headphones and forgets to mute.

Apparently old news, but I didn't know about it and it looks pretty useful. Another point towards steering my parents towards a Chromebook. Though, almost ironically, the lack of Skype support (on the ARM-based ones, unsure about x86) is one of the negative points.

Now the NSA can watch your screen! </sarcasm>

That's valid. Remote desktop opens up some interesting attack vectors, whether used by the NSA or just some hacker with malicious intent. There's nothing I can see about security mitigations...

I have to be logged in to my Google account to use it.

Did I mention that I use two-factor authentication?

Show me another Remote Desktop software that enforces two-factor authentication.

We use RDP + TS gateway over VPN which you have to auth your remote key before you can connect.

That's 4 factor :)

How many times do you enter in the same credentials throughout the logging process?

There are four entirely different credentials.

Pain to remember, but it's definitely secure.

Doesn't one key-logger on the client computer reveal all of the passwords?

That's one-factor authentication.

Two-factor means you need two things, not just the passwords, but for instance also a device.

You mentioned a remote key, so yes, it sounds like you have two-factor. But not four.

I have a signify key as well so yes it is minimally two-factor.

Fair point about the keylogger. I didn't consider that - it's not my network to worry about :)

"valid" aside from the fact that there's no way in this world or the next that all of that video and remote desktop traffic is going though Google's servers.

So the traffic won't have 'direct access' to Google's servers? That's reassuring :)

So, two users behind a proper NAT or firewall won't be able to use this feature?

Yeah that's not a general solution, that's just exploiting problems in particular NAT implementations.

Skype did just fine with it.

Incorrect. Skype relays media via other users when two users cannot directly connect. So if you and I are behind proper NATs, and no negotiation works, then we agree on a nearby (super?)node that is accessible, and relay media through there.

Hole punching _can_ work, but again, it's exploiting implementation quirks in NAT devices and isn't a general solution (though it might do pretty well).

The only standard way (AFAIK) to open up NAT is via UPNP, which the client software (and NAT device) needs to support. The client then talks to the NAT device and tells it to port forward. It seems pretty common nowaday, and is more elegant and secure than the hacky "poke around and see what works" implementations.


Note the date, things are very different now.

I need to go RTFA, so please forgive if it is already in there, but I hope this means there will be some progress to enabling remote assistance / remote control of a Chrome device a like a Chromebook. Two years that issue has been open with hundreds of users complaining and no word. :/

Will this require Chrome Remote Desktop and or Hangouts extension to work?

ancient "news" by now. The site is called hacker _NEWS_ :)

_NEWS_ to me ;)

It's 2013. Are we supposed to be amazed by this?

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