Strategic screen sharing

Why don't screen-sharing systems focus on doing one thing well?

There's one thing I wish screen-sharing systems would do well: screen sharing. I watch a lot of demos projected to my computer. It's always a struggle, both for the presenter and for me. Windows or Mac? IE or Firefox? Who has the latest version of the client? Who's the host? Which application is shared? Can you see my screen?

While we answer these questions, the first five or 10 minutes of the meeting swirl down the drain. I've used every screen-sharing system and, from this perspective, they're roughly the same. None performs its basic function simply and well. All are determined to add whiteboards, chat, and filing systems. In principle these are useful features but in practice, for most people most of the time, they're just not usable.

Consider, for example, the importation of documents into a shared workspace. It sounds great, but working together on a shared document is a slippery concept. We might share control of the document's native application. We might use a generic viewer/editor. Or we might just scribble annotations on a picture of the document.

Which of these possible scenarios is actually available depends on the combination of applications, file formats, operating systems, and screen-sharing techniques in use. Even in an enterprise environment, where some of these variables can be controlled, this matrix confounds almost everyone. Across enterprise borders it's even worse. But when collaboration can't cross those borders, it tends to devolve into corporate navel-gazing.

Why don't screen-sharing systems focus on doing one thing well? It's partly because the simple, single-purpose tools that helped make Unix great haven't been fashionable for a long time. But nowadays, feature bloat isn't just the competitive arms race it once was; it's also a tacit endorsement of continuous partial attention as a bedrock principle of the simulated workplace. We must always be presented with the maximum number of invitations to multitask.

The irony, of course, is that the intellectual work that powers the so-called knowledge economy depends critically on our ability to enter and sustain periods of focused concentration. These flow states are hard to attain, and all too easily disrupted.

Back in July I discussed WriteRoom, a distraction-free writing tool. Inspired by that example, I simplified my Macintosh and Windows desktops. I can't quantify the benefit of this new habit, but the fact that I've stuck with it suggests there is one.

A distraction-free screen-sharing system would likewise slash clutter. Suppose you send me an invitation link by e-mail. I click the link and my screen-sharing client starts up. What else, in addition to the screen that you're sharing, should I be seeing?

Here's a radical idea: nothing else. I have rarely used any of the peripheral features, and have never depended on them. All that really matters is that I see the screen that's being pushed to me at the best available resolution and highest possible frame rate.

As the host of the session, what else in addition to the screen you're sharing should you see? Again: nothing else. The reality is that when you're presenting, you've got your hands full just managing what's on your own desktop, or in the application window that you're projecting.

I've raised this issue in every screen-sharing session I've recently attended. Everyone agrees. When somebody builds the WriteRoom of screen sharing, the world will beat a path to its door.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Udell

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?