I think I won’t be far off the target if I say that most of my readers are probably fairly competent technology users. I know that not all of you are programmers or IT workers, but I don’t think there is anyone here that would be easily baffled by some silicone wafer based magic. This is probably due to the fact that I say some very offensive things about technology-clueless people. Hence, this blow will likely never have a broad, mainstream appeal, but so bee it. For better or for worse, we are all techies here and as such we often have to play a role of the free desktop support for friends and family.
My best advice for this sort of thing of course is “don’t do it” but every once in a while it becomes unavoidable. So my question of the week is, what do you guys use for remote support? And please don’t tell me VNC because I won’t believe you. VNC works when it’s your machine, hosted in a place where you can configure port forwarding on the router. The most people I get to support are behind a NAT and a software firewall so straight up VNC is usually quite difficult to set up. Not to mention that most VNC clients are targeted at power users, and that I don’t like to have an open VNC port running on my machine either to do the reverse connection thing.
For a while now I have been partial to CrossLoop, mostly because it was built on an open technology stack. They basically have a proprietary client, and a web service to handle the hand-shaking and establishing connection, and using TightVNC to do the actual screen sharing. That sort of approach appealed to me. I also liked the simplicity of the client – it had just one button labeled “Connect” and a big text box that said “give this number to your friend”. It was mostly self-explanatory, small and unobtrusive.
It has worked great for me back when the service was still young, but lately I have been lot’s of problems with it. I’m not sure if it’s a scaling problem, but most sessions I have done with it in the last few months had about 10-15 second delay and kept dropping. Their client also became worse – now they nag users to create an account every time at every launch. I guess I can’t blame them for trying to monetize the service, but it really confuses the shit out of users. Most CrossLoop sessions after they introduced that screen involved me saying:
“Click skip when it asks you to register. Yes. Skip. Or just ‘X’-out of it. Yes, you don’t need to register. Yep. Just skip. No, you don’t have to register. Remember when we did this last week, and I told you to skip it? And week before that. Just click skip. Why are you typing? Are you registering account? Why? I told you not to. Ok… Whatever. I’ll wait… No, I don’t know why it won’t accept your password. Just close it. Yes. Click the X in the corner. Close. Close. Close it! Ok, I’m gonna hang up…”
Plus, even though TightVNC is cross platform, CrossLoop is not which means that if I happen to be on a Mac or Linux then you are shit out of luck in terms of support unless I had enough foresight to load up an appropriate Windows VM on that machine.
A lot of people swear by LogMeIn but I have never really got into it. I tried it once or twice, but I remembered it to be a lot of hassle – it required you to register an account and the client would run in the background on the user’s machine. My user tend to need all the available CPU cycles and memory to run the copious amounts of malware so this is out. I do like one of their side projects called Join.me.
The service was really designed to host remote presentations – you can run the client on your machine, and people just need to type in an access code to join in. The reverse is also possible but tends to be problematic. You see, join.me client is really, really small and unobtrusive. My users tend to have attention span of a goldfish – after 60 seconds they forget what I just told them. Downloading the client is fairly painless, and it runs automatically but it does take about a minute for it to launch. Most users like to click on things while waiting for downloads to finish, so 80% of the time, they end up sending the tiny join.me client to the background, and then can’t find it to give me the access number.
The other problem with the service is that none of my users can ever figure out how to get to it. You would think that a domain name such as join.me would be easy to use and remember but it is not. Most of my users have a really hard time understanding that URL’s do not have to start with www and end in .com. LogMeIn realized tat, and they registered the joinme.com domain and made it redirect to join.me. So just give your users that one. Don’t say join.me because they will invariably type in www.join.me.com which does not work.
One gripe I have about this system is that it is flash based. This means that when I’m on Ubuntu, my CPU usage is pegged up to 100% after about a minute of using it. It does work ok on Windows though. It’s also based on VNC and therefore tends to be slow and flaky. Which makes two gripes. I have two gripes about it.
Lately I have been messing around with TeamViewer which is by far the fastest and most stable of the services I mentioned here. I don’t think they are using VNC because the performance has been stellar – very little latency, almost no delays, and good quality streams. I rather like the client which is big enough to capture users attention – unlike the tiny, half-transparent join.me thing. The way it provides connection details is tad confusing “Your Id” and “Your Password” labels make most of my users think they need to type these things in somewhere, rather dictate them over the phone. But overall, it is my favorite tool so far.
The pro version which you can use for work is either really cheap, or tad expensive depending on whether you are a big corporation or a small company. But I highly recommend it for your free tech support chores amongst friends and relatives.
What is your favorite tool?