Undoubtedly the first time you used a real-time collaborative web tool like Google Docs, you were wowed. I definitely was, and the way it lets multiple users make changes to the same document at the same time even when they’re halfway around the world from each other keeps me using it to this day. The only problem is that it’s limited to a few Google tools, and is only for Google users. You can’t just flip a switch and use Google Docs’ collaboration in Photoshop or whatever app you’re using.
Enter Screenhero, an app designed to bring real-time collaboration to any app, or website, or anything for that matter. And it actually really works, though not perhaps quite as smoothly as Docs sharing. Here’s why it’s worth checking out.
Screenhero is still in beta, but it’s a public beta so it’s open to all. The best part of its beta status is that it’s also completely free for now, so you can pop over to Screenhero.com to download the app for nil. You won’t find it in the App Store, though.
Screenhero is available for Mac and Windows and cross-platform collaboration is fully supported. Even though this is Mac.Appstorm you can still invite your Windows friends too. Is it a viable way to run Mac apps on your Windows computer or Windows on your Mac? Probably not, and I’ll cover why below.
Using the App
Fire up Screenhero and you’ll land on a window that immediately recognizable if you’ve used a communication tool like iChat, Google Talk, or Skype. Basically, it’s a friend-list of all your acquaintances that use Screenhero. You can see when they’re online, offline, or if they have another status (ex. busy, idle, etc.). Unless you’ve been sent the invite from another user, your friend-list will likely be empty. The burden to the user arises in that you must now use the Add People+ button to find some collaborators. Adding them is as easy as sending a link via email that instructs them on how to download the app and start sharing.
Once you’ve enlisted a buddy to work with, you need only double-click his/her username in order to start a sharing session. You’ll have the option to share everything, just one window, or a particular application. I know this has become the standard but I still must acknowledge gratitude to developers who realize you may not want to cede control of your whole screen to someone else.
My Screen Es Su Screen
When the sharing begins, the magic of Screenhero begins to show. Instead of taking over the mouse from your control, there are now two mouse pointers, the original and one with the username of the person with whom you’re sharing. Each person can click and interact with whatever is on the screen (within the bounds of the sharing type chosen). It makes the experience less of “watch while I fix this problem” and opens up the possibility of “let’s solve this together”. It’s a type of collaboration you don’t often see unless you sit down next to someone and because Screenhero doesn’t limit you to a productivity suite, the world of possibilities opens. You could screen-share a Photoshop mock-up or even a game if your bandwidth were fast enough.
The screen-sharing quality is pretty good and adapts based on internet speed. Overall, I found it to be smooth enough with very, very few lags or glitches. The connection between the two computers is direct, according to the Screenhero website, and I was even able to fire up Bastion and experience a playable game via someone else’s screen. I’m not going to say it you can do the same with a resource-heavy first-person shooter, but I didn’t have one on hand to try.
One small smudge on the otherwise seamless two-cursor integration is the requirement that the users switch back and forth as they interact with the content on the screen. It’s almost like bringing the window into focus, except because each pointer needs to do so, there’s a back and forth of clicking to focus to make a change. In most cases, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal given the ease-of-use of Screenhero, but it’s worth mentioning.
While in the screen-sharing mode, users can use a chat box to communicate. Voice chat is in the works according to the Screenhero website so hopefully that’s headed down the pipe in an upcoming release. One nifty thing to point out is that keyboard shortcuts set up on the peer computer will work from the host computer. For example, my wife has a different key combination to call up Alfred than I use so when we were sharing screens, I had to use her key combination to bring up the app. I’m sure the same goes for sharing to a Windows computer–for example, Ctrl-C for copy instead of Command-C, though I didn’t have one handy to test out. Lastly, Screenhero comes with a menubar shortcut so you can leave the app running in the background if you’re waiting on a collaborative appointment.
I ran into a few small issues while using Screenhero, but none are really deal breakers. The first is that you won’t be able to use an app in OS X’s fullscreen mode while using Screenhero. Doing so breaks the app’s functionality. In the same vein, you won’t be able to switch desktop workspaces either. Another small inconvenience is that if the peer’s mouse is hovering over the chat box on his/her screen, then it will appear frozen on your screen. In other words, the chat box isn’t transparent to the screensharing experience, and I did find myself wishing it were a bit smaller and inconspicuous.
Screenhero is quick, easy, and mostly unobtrusive. I would easily recommend it over a remote desktop app for things like technical support or educational purposes. It would also work for shared coding projects or collaborating on productivity suites, but it’s probably not fluid enough for high-resource gaming or highly intricate tasks like drawing vectors. Even though the recently revamped Google Hangouts offers a similar feature, I found it clunkier and less reliable than Screenhero. In the end, if you need a screen-sharing app that does a good job, look no farther than Screenhero, especially once they add voice chat.