by Zachary Barry
In my opinion, one of the few good things to come out of the recent pandemic for Colorado School of Mines students was the ability to access programs not available for download on personal computers with Labby. For those of you fortunate enough to not have needed to use the service, Labby allowed students to run a remote desktop version of a computer on the mines campus from their personal computer. All a student had to do was connect to the Mines VPN and go to labby.mines.edu. This was an excellent option for many chemical engineering students, myself included, who couldn’t afford the literal tens of thousands of dollars a year for a single Aspen Plus license. This service was still available during the summer semesters and the start of this school year. With the return to in-person learning, I found the ability to open a remote desktop connection to the Mines server made it incredibly easy to send yourself files created on a campus computer if you were off-campus.
The problem with Labby is it required a physical computer on campus to host the remote desktop. These host computers could not be used for any other purpose when hosting a remote desktop. In hindsight, with the return to all in-person learning, the need for host computers made Labby unsustainable. That being said, when Labby was taken down, rather unceremoniously, it was still a shock to many students who had grown fond of the ability to work on projects and assignments last-minute from home. Let’s all take a moment to remember Labby for the absolute gift from the gods that it was during the pandemic.
Depending on a student’s major, they might have only heard about labby being taken down in passing and thought little of it. For chemical engineering students at Mines, however, Labby’s death posed a logistics nightmare. In addition to no longer having remote access to the pricy program Aspen Plus, when Labby was taken down many students lost access to the program Polymath. Both programs are used extensively in sophomore and senior year classes in the CBEN department. Polymath is only $40 for a lifetime license, but considering that the UI for the program looks like it’s out of the 90s, I feel it’s a little overpriced. Seeming like the only option left was to physically cram into the computer labs of Alderson Hall once again, all hope was lost. That was until a CBEN professor mentioned Turbo, a new service that would allow remote access to certain programs available on school computers.
More than a couple of weeks after Labby’s death, Turbo came online. I’ve used Turbo pretty much daily since then, and in my experience, it’s only just passable. The biggest reason for this is that Turbo works differently than Labby. Instead of creating a virtual desktop using a computer on campus, Turbo requires users to download local files to open applications. I’ve heard that the need to download local files can be a problem when trying to run certain programs on Apple computers, such as Aspen Plus. Furthermore, local downloads can be an issue for users with limited space on their personal computers. In my experience, polymath seems to run just fine and saves files locally. I’ve tried on multiple occasions to use the remote version of Aspen, but the 10GB download necessary is slow and has failed every time I tried. I’ve heard that Aspen doesn’t run particularly well with Turbo, so It doesn’t seem like it’s worth it to try downloading it again. Without a virtual desktop, It is a little disappointing that the only option is to shlep back to campus if you forget to upload a file from a campus computer. I find it disappointing to lose the utility Labby offered now that things are returning to normal. It’s disappointing to lose one of the only things I hoped would stick around from the last two semesters. Here’s hoping that semester-long projects instead of exams don’t go next.