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Remote Control Software

by Alan German

On a recent trip to the UK, I assisted a friend to configure a few items on his home computer and the conversation came around to long-distance support, i.e. a Canada-UK “help line”. For some time I had been thinking about web-based support systems, mainly to avoid having to drive across Ottawa to work on some friend’s machine – or having them bring their computer over to me. Such a solution would certainly be useful for a European support operation!

As always, a freeware or open-source package was the preferred option and, in this case, Team Viewer seemed to fit the bill. This program obtains very good reviews from a number of reputable sources and, since it is free for personal use, it looked to be a good candidate for this user helping other users. And, the package did indeed prove to be exceptionally simple to install and use.

Within minutes I had the program running on both a laptop and a netbook operating on the same Wi-Fi connection. I was able to control the netbook from the laptop - just as if the laptop’s mouse and keyboard were actually connected to the netbook. While that is clearly the purpose of the software, it was still astounding to see the program work precisely as advertised!


Figure 1. Team Viewer displaying the remote machine’s desktop


Figure 1 shows a screenshot of Team Viewer in action. The main image is the desktop of the laptop. An open window has Team Viewer running and displaying the netbook’s desktop. The laptop is controlling a Notepad++ window that has been opened on the netbook. Text typed on the laptop’s keyboard is displayed in the Notepad++ window on the netbook.

However, the acid test was to connect remotely over the Internet to a second machine. A friend in Ottawa who occasionally needs a little help volunteered to be the guinea pig. Having installed Team Viewer on this second machine it was time to connect.

The process is simple. Running Team Viewer on the remote machine produces a logon window that provides both a machine ID (Your ID) and a password. Obviously, the remote user needs to be able to communicate these parameters to the “master”. In Ottawa, the simplest solution is to use the telephone to provide a ready means to exchange these details, in addition to providing a vehicle for discussion of the problems on the remote machine - and their solutions! For an overseas connection, while a long distance telephone call would do the trick, some other, less-costly possibilities would be E-mail, text messaging, or perhaps a Skype connection (the latter is yet to be tried).


Figure 2. Team Viewer’s connection window


Initially, both the master and the remote users see similar Team Viewer connection windows (Figure 2). The remote user’s task is to indicate the values of “Your ID” and “Password” from the left side of the window. From the master’s perspective, making the initial connection simply means entering the Partner ID, pressing the “Connect to partner” button, and entering the remote computer’s password (number) in the subsequent pop-up dialogue box. Once these steps have been completed the Team Viewer window displays the remote machine’s desktop (as shown in Figure 1).

Note that “Your ID” on the remote computer remains constant and this is stored on the master machine in the drop-down “Partner ID” menu. By contrast, the password changes each time a connection is attempted. Consequently, subsequent connections just require selecting the appropriate Partner ID and entering the current password for the remote machine.

Note also that there is a “Please sign in” box on the right side of the connection window. This allows creation of, or signing in to, a Team Viewer account. Using such an account provides additional functionality such as managing multiple connections and making fast connections (no ID’s or passwords). However, using Team Viewer doesn’t require setting up an account. You simply download, install, and run the software.

Team Viewer seems to allow the master user to control just about anything on the remote computer. Over the Internet, I was easily able to restore a number of desktop icons, navigating to the executable files, right-clicking, and selecting “Send to desktop”. Over a Wi-Fi connection, for my local machines, I could run a web browser, install and uninstall programs, empty the Recycle Bin, and activate Windows Update. I was also able to reboot the remote machine - with Team Viewer asking if I wished to wait and reconnect to the remote machine.

I could also back up the data drive on the remote machine to a USB memory stick. Obviously, on a truly remote connection, such modifications to the hardware mean having the remote user physically insert the USB drive (if required).

Team Viewer offers considerable functionality. On the master computer, a tool bar provides a menu with options for Close, Actions, View, Audio/Video, File transfer, and Extras. The Actions option includes the ability to command a reboot and even for disabling (keyboard and mouse) input from the remote user! The View menu provides for such items as changing the screen resolution, scaling the view, and selecting between multiple monitors. The Audio/Video tab includes options for communicating via on-line chat, voice-over-IP and video conferencing. File transfers between the master and remote machines can be accomplished either using a dual-window, FTP-like system or through a Dropbox-like “File box”. Finally, the extra functions include remote printing, taking screenshots, and recording a session.

There are so many possibilities with this software that I haven’t been able to try them all. However, the bottom line is that, if you need to be able to control a second machine remotely, Team Viewer provides a simple yet powerful means of doing so.

Bottom Line:

Team Viewer (Free for individual use)
Version 9

Originally published: October, 2014

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