Remote Access Software (RAS) allows a user to remotely administer another computer through a GUI (Graphical User Interface).
RAS software usually falls into three categories:
- Attended (someone must be present on the remote machine)
- Self-hosted RPC proxy servers (middleware for accessing firewall-protected networks).
In this review, we are interested in the first and second categories.
There are also two different kinds of packages:
- Those that are downloaded and run without requiring any installation
- And the other, which is installed and either uninstalls at the end of the session or remains for future sessions.
Unattended sessions would of course need to have the installed version to allow for connecting at any time in the future. I will explain the pros and cons of each type of session and the two categories.
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Let's first talk about the two different categories, attended and unattended. Attended is of course when there is a person sitting at the computer that you want to access. This is most likely a one-time session or when helping someone fix a problem where you will not be allowed to access it without the other person being present. This type of access is usually quicker to establish, but also comes with fewer capabilities when compared to a fully installed software that runs as a service.
Typically the process for establishing an attended session is simple. You ask the other person to download a small application which runs in their user session and has access to everything the user has rights to. From here the situation varies, but usually requires that you and the other person exchange a small pass code - either auto-generated or set by you. Once they initiate the session you are connected and able to request control of their mouse and keyboard. If the software is simply run and not installed there are typically some limitations like not handling multiple monitors or losing connection and having to start the process over again because it doesn't have an auto-reconnect feature.
If the software installs then typically it falls under the unattended category. There are more capabilities with an unattended solution but the trade-off is that the user needs to have authority on their computer to install software. Installed software also leaves behind a footprint, although there are some that ask the other person, upon completion of the session, whether they would like to uninstall the software.
TeamViewer. is very reliable, allows both attended and unattended control and has great features. There is a portable version of the viewer if you want to use an application or they also have a web-based control site that requires no installation to remotely control computers. The web-based version uses HTML and Flash, so it is usable even if the browser or firewall doesn't allow Java or ActiveX. TeamViewer is a commercial product and is only free for personal use. Any commercial use is prohibited by the TeamViewer use policy.
The next solution in this category is Mikogo. Mikogo is not the fastest nor is it the most reliable, but it offers the most features of any of the solutions in this article. It is a full-featured solution comparable to the commercial Citrix GotoMeeting product with features such as presenter switching, remote control, white board sharing, file sharing and session recording.
To sum everything up, you may need different tools to accommodate different situations. In my years of experience helping people solve computer issues remotely I use the best tool for the job. When speaking with a person that has no understanding of their computer and no idea of whether they are allowed or capable of installing software I use an attended, non-installing type of tool. Other times I might choose to get the person to install an unattended tool. Let the situation dictate the best tool but always have both available.
Finally, there are many other products in this category, with a variety of features which may be worth listing here, so please watch this space over the next few months. I am currently embarking on a review of other products and versions in this category, including: Gbridge, Deskstra, VNC suite, Supremo, Crossloop, AMMYY, MingleView, RemoteUtilities, LiteManager Free, Radmin Server and Viewer, I'm InTouch, Splashtop Remote, True Remote and Anyplace Control.
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