Friday, September 26, 2008

Remote Support Tool

I'm often asked to "jump in" to someone's PC and generally I  use a Terminal Services client, Remote Assistance (check out sora.exe to make this easier), Ultravnc or Ultravnc SC.  These solutions all have different benefits, but I've recently found another tool called CrossLoop that is pretty good too.  It's a bit deceiving because it look like you have to register the tool, but you really don't.  So, IMHO here is the low down on these tools:

Terminal Services - Great for remote control, but you're gonna knock off the local user at the box and there's no good way to shadow them and see what they are doing.  Best used for remote access to servers.  This is a very efficient tool from a bandwidth standpoint.

Remote Assistance - A decent tool, but it has to be enabled on the client and to take control of the mouse and keyboard the user has to first allow you in (meaning they have to be sitting at the machine waiting for you) and then they have to also let you remotely control their machine.  This two step process is a pain.  Also there's no easy way to get into a the client tool because it's buried in the Help and Support nonsense.  I did find a tool called SORA.EXE which acts as a client helper making it easier to connect, but the users still needs to accept twice.

UltraVNC - A great tool with lots of options, but you have to load the tool which requires a reboot.  It's pretty fast and seems to work well but walking a low tech user through loading the tool is a bit cumbersome.   Adding it to a standard image is great for helpdesk folks.  The benefit to this tool for helpdesk personnel is that the user need not be present to remotely control their PC.  This is big brother...you can easily spy on users so make sure you include a remote policy on what is and what isn't acceptable behavior.

UltraVNC SC - This is an extension to UltraVNC...think of it as a mini-ultravnc setup.  You edit and ini file and then create a .exe file which you can post on your website.  Anybody can then download and run the tool.  The install is seamless and it uninstall's when you disconnect so there is no permanent footprint.  Because you prepopulate the ini file with your Internet IP address the user can simply click on a "connect to Fred" link in the tool to give you remote access.   It supports encryption and can run on any port you want.  Downside is if you are on the road and need to help someone it's difficult because you've tied your IP address into the ini file. (I haven't played with PCHelpware yet, but I'll look into it.)

CrossLoop - This tool does require installation on both sides of the connection but it's pretty simple and doesn't require a reboot.  You can pass control both ways so they can see your screen or you can see theirs.  So far it's been great for me when I'm out of the office and someone needs help.  The one thing to note is that you can skip the registration during installation by clicking a little "skip" shortcut on the bottom right of the registration page.  Good stuff.

So lots of tools and lots of options...no one tool is perfect for every situation but a between these tools I've been able to do everything I've needed to.  If you've got a tool you think is better, drop me a comment.

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