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Need remote control/access/VPN all-in-one? Try TeamViewer

My Dad is 87 years old, and still in good health, and he’s got a Dell D630 notebook PC that he uses daily to read e-mail, check his investments, and do some very light Web surfing. He’s by no means a savvy PC user, and when I try to pilot him through Windows GUI stuff by phone, he has no idea what a title bar is, a menu layout, the notification area, and other landmarks on the screen so necessary to steer users around. Thus, I must often take control of his system in northern Virginia from my desktop in Texas to diagnose and fix the problems he sometimes encounters. Case in point: last year, it took me about 45 minutes to finally understand that he’d maximized his Internet Explorer window and couldn’t see or access the other on-screen controls, simply because he didn’t know how to tell me what he was seeing on-screen, and couldn’t understand my instructions, either.

Until recently, I’ve used the built-in Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) in Windows 7 to jump from my machine to his across the Internet. It works, but it does blank his screen so he can’t see what I’m doing and learn from what I can show him. But about two weeks ago, his ISP (Cox Cable) switched its networks over to IPv6 addresses, and I can no longer use RDC to access his machine. My edge router device is IPv4 only, and tunneling doesn’t cut it when I enter an IPv6 address in the RDC computer name field. That’s how I found myself looking for a better remote control option, and one that was preferably free for non-commercial use.

TeamViewer is easy to install and use, and free for non-commercial use

TeamViewer is easy to install and use, and free for non-commercial use

Enter TeamViewer, the brainchild of German software company TeamViewer GmbH. The company makes a complete, fully-featured package available for free for non-commercial use on the theory that people like me who use it to support friends and family members over the Internet will be more inclined to recommend or demand use of the paid-for commercial version in the workplace as they get to know and like the product. For my own part, I’m already sold on this logic as well as the products the company puts forward:

  • TeamViewer Full Version: Remote control software that works through firewalls, NAT, and even across IP versions (IPv4 to IPv6, as when I go from my machine to my Dad’s; plus IPv6 to IPv4 as well). Within the TeamViewer window, anything you can do directly via local access becomes available through remote access, quickly and transparently. There are also no keyboard sequences or special tricks to change focus from the remote connection to the local desktop or vice-versa: the software knows where the cursor is (inside or outside the TeamViewer window) and behaves appropriately, with cut’n’paste capability in both directions. Also includes all the other items mention below, except for TeamViewer Manager, which is only available for commercial or trial use with 5-users, and comes as a separate software module, and Team ViewerMSI, only available by corporate license. TeamViewer encrypts all communications, using 1024 bit RSA for authentication and credentials exchanges, and 256 bit RSA for subsequent data transport once a session is established. It also works with all major VPN technologies.
  • TeamViewer QuickSupport: Small, basic end-user module (what runs on my Dad’s PC) that requires no installation, configuration, or admin level access to provide the receiving end of a remote access connection. Dead simple to run and use; perfect for non-PC-savvy users like my Dad. A corporate version can be customized wih logo and welcome text if buyers so choose.
  • TeamViewer Host: Sets up a system service on a remote computer with login/logout and remote reboot facilities. Deisgned for server access and maintenance, it also makes a peachy add-in for home office computers to which remote users want to connect while on the road.
  • QuickJoin: A remote presentation delivery tool that enables remote viewers to login to online meetings and presentations. Much smaller footprint than Windows Live Meeting, GoToMeeting, On24, or other remote meeting software I’ve used to attend and deliver Webinars of late.
  • TeamViewer Portable: Runs the software from a UFD (USB Flash Drive) so that you can take very little with you on the road, yet gain access to your home base from any Internet-connected machine. I love portable software like this, and this particular implementation works quite nicely.
  • TeamViewer Manager: A database-based software tool that stores remote host/client information in a centralized database, with distributed access to its contents to authorized users, and a powerful logging and reporting facility. It’s not inappropriate to think of this as an IT/admin console for an entire collection of TeamViewer installations and accounts across an entire enterprise.
  • TeamViewer MSI: An alternative installation package for TeamViewer host, designed for deployment via Group Policy Objects (GPOs) in an Active Directory environment, as is typically found in larger corporations or organizations.

Beyond the functionality, small footprint, and nice collection of different modules for different usage scenarios, what I like best about TeamViewer is their pricing model: client and remote host connections are essentially free. Buyers of commercial licenses only pay for the number of simultaneous seats they need for on-shift support staff to maintain active TeamViewer connections at any one time. Thus, even an enterprise that runs three global shifts of support staff only needs to buy 30 seats, if that’s the maximum number of support staff that will be using the toolset during any single shift. This is vastly different, and more affordable, than most other remote access and remote support solutions available in today’s marketplace.

check TeamViewer out. It’s free for trial or non-commercial use. I predict that once you get to know this little gem, you’ll start factoring it into your future on-the-job software acquisition planning.

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Ed, that's an excellent article on TeamViewer. It sounds like it will do the majority of what people want. For more advanced features like the ability for the remote supporter to login after a reboot (often required after a software install), tools like GoSupportNow and TurboMeeting can handle this.