A Java-based Terminal Services client solution

These days, thin is in. Microsoft has integrated Terminal Services into every Windows 2000 Server and Win2K Advanced Server (Win2K AS) system, so Win2K is officially a multiuser OS. However, multiuser support is a fairly new addition to Windows. In fact, Windows' multiuser support is the natural evolution of UNIX's implementation. Whereas traditional Telnet sessions to UNIX systems connect you to a command-line shell, remote access to Win2K or Windows NT systems gives you a scaled-down version of the Windows desktop. Therefore, as long as you have a generous amount of network bandwidth, you can run just about any application remotely.

Until now, client access software for Terminal Services has been cut-and-dried: You use Microsoft's Terminal Services client in Windows environments and Citrix MetaFrame for cross-platform access. HOB's HOBLink JWT 2.1 offers a third solution—a terminal-server client solution written entirely in Java.

Java is platform-independent, so HOBLink JWT runs on just about every platform in use today. (Pure Java applets will run in any environment as long as you have a Java Virtual Machine—VM—to interpret calls.) For example, you can load the product onto Mac OS, UNIX, and even handheld PC (H/PC—e.g., Hewlett-Packard's HP Jornada) clients, then work with Win32 applications running on the Win2K server.

You can install HOBLink JWT as a local application on each client machine, or you can install it on a central Web server. I run a fairly eccentric mix of OSs in my environment, so I opted for the server installation. To make HOBLink JWT work with my Microsoft IIS setup, I simply pointed the server at the CD-ROM's HTML file. Because the software is essentially a large-scale Java applet, everything else is preconfigured.

HOBLink JWT uses TCP/IP as its network protocol and supports both Microsoft RDP 5.0 and Citrix ICA as communication protocols. Therefore, you can easily integrate the software into your existing Terminal Services or MetaFrame architecture.

The client machines on which I tested HOBLink JWT run a mix of Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), OpenBSD, and Linux-Mandrake. The Windows Me system uses Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.5 as its Java VM, whereas the Linux box uses Netscape Communicator 4.5's Java VM. To shake things up a bit, I used HOB's Java VM to install HOBLink JWT locally on OpenBSD. On the server side, I used Win2K Server with Terminal Services running in Administrator mode (which limits the system to two concurrent logons from users who have administrative privileges). For those who haven't upgraded to Win2K yet, HOBLink JWT also works with NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (WTS).

After installation was completed, I ran the easy-to-use Configuration utility to modify the way clients access my terminal server. Configuration lets you—among other things—determine which applications you want to load on connection, choose a display resolution, map local I/O ports to support local printing, and modify desktop properties, as Figure 1 shows. (You can use HOBLink JWT as an embedded applet, as an independent window, or in full-screen mode.) You can save the resulting configuration file as a text file for local usage or as an HTML file for use with a Web browser.

From the Linux machine, I launched Netscape and connected to the HOBLink JWT page on my IIS machine. Netscape loaded the applet and prompted me to enter the server's IP address and the port to make the connection on. Because I use Linux-Mandrake on a daily basis, I set HOBLink JWT to save my account information. As a result, the client would automatically log on to the server after establishing a connection. As you see in Figure 2, working with Win2K over a HOBLink JWT connection is similar to using the system locally.

Using the OpenBSD machine, I launched a HOBLink JWT process. I used K Desktop Environment (KDE) as my window manager. The process loaded a Java VM in X Windows and brought up a configuration dialog box. After I entered the connection settings, I clicked Connect and logged on to the Win2K server. From a performance standpoint, working with Win2K over a 100Mbps link with HOBLink JWT is on a par with using Terminal Services or MetaFrame. However, I noticed a hint of typing latency.

Accessing my Win2K terminal server from Windows Me was a snap. The only difference between running HOBLink JWT on Windows Me and running it from the two UNIX boxes was that the applet loaded a bit faster on Windows Me. You could probably attribute the difference to Microsoft's more efficient Java VM. However, network bandwidth is a larger factor in performance.

By default, HOBLink JWT supports Terminal Services RC4 encryption at three levels. At the lowest setting, HOBLink JWT supports 40-bit encryption from the client to the server. The medium level provides 40-bit bidirectional encryption. At HOBLink JWT's highest level of security, you can enable 128-bit bidirectional encryption. For additional security, HOB offers HOBLink Secure, a superset of HOBLink JWT that supports the 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) 3.0 protocol.

If you have a purely Windows-based environment, justifying a third-party terminal-server client solution is difficult because Microsoft's client software works so well. Like HOBLink JWT, Microsoft's new Terminal Services Advanced Client (TSAC) lets you access your terminal servers from a Web browser that supports ActiveX controls (i.e., IE). And remember that on top of HOBLink JWT's purchase price, you'll need to buy Terminal Services client licenses from Microsoft.

If you require cross-platform remote access to a Win2K server, HOBLink JWT is an excellent solution that is considerably less expensive than a full-blown MetaFrame environment. The product's server-based, clientless architecture lets you easily connect your users to a Win2K terminal server.

HOBLink JWT 2.1
Contact: HOB * 732-650-2300 or 800-399-0990
Web: http://www.hobsoft.com
Price: $143 per user; volume licensing available
Decision Summary:
Pros: Java-based architecture permits operation on any platform that supports a Java Virtual Machine; licenses are inexpensive; requires no additional server components; runs clientless through a Web browser
Cons: Worthwhile only in cross-platform environments