February 19, 2011

TeamViewer.com: Simple, Secure Remote Desktop Support

If you've ever been asked for computer help over the phone you know how frustrating it can be both to yourself and to the person you're helping. Remote access to their desktop eliminates these frustrations and can lead to speedy problem diagnosis and resolution.

But getting remote access can be an even greater problem. For example, if they're an OS X user, you might ask them to launch iChat, but what if they don't have a MobileMe or AIM account? Or you might have them enable Screen Sharing, but then you need the external IP address of their DSL or cable modem. And is port 5900 open on their router so you can establish a VNC connection? And what if they're not on OS X, but on Windows? Or on Linux?

Enter Teamviewer.com. Unlike equally capable competitors, it's free for private use. No one-time purchase. No monthly or annual subscription. Nor is there any need to even mention IP addresses, routers, firewalls, or VNC ports.
  1. Have your caller download the free TeamViewer app (for OS X, Windows, or Linux*), run it, and give you the ID and password codes that appear, over the phone. They don't have to do anything else!
  2. Open up the same app on your computer or iPad, enter the numbers they gave you, and you now have full remote desktop sharing of their screen complete with mouse control! 
  3. Once you're done, have them quit the TeamViewer app, and their computer is once more secure. The next time they call, have them launch the same app, give you the new ID and password numbers, and repeat the process. 
Remote Access to unattended computers
The procedure above is for assisting a friend over the phone, while they are at their problematic computer. They need to be there in order to launch the TeamViewer app, and to provide you with the ID and password codes. An advantage of this is that when they quit the application, there is no application process left running on their computer which might be attacked by ne'er-do-wells.

The procedure above is not appropriate for remote access to your unintended home computer from work. TeamViewer, as well as many other vendors, have solutions for that. Or you could just enable a VNC server (e.g. OS X users have one built-in, identified as Screen Sharing under their Sharing Preference Pane), secure it with a password, and open VNC port 5900 on your home router.

*There are also Teamviewer clients for iPad/iPhone, from which you can help an OS X, Windows, or Linux user – but you can't take remote control of an iPad or iPhone.