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Remote Control over the Internet -- for FREE

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Haven’t we all been there – Mom (or Grandma) needs help on her computer, so calls her IT son (or grandson) for help.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just remotely connect to her computer and fix the thing rather than trying to go through it on the phone?

Or we have that “special” user call us from their home office trying to get something working.  Sometimes it is just easier to do it ourselves, but driving to the persons' house is normally not the way to go.

Sure, there are plenty of paid services like GoToMyPC – but we are the IT gods!  We shouldn’t have to pay to help somebody, right?

Microsoft has (bless their hearts) actually tried to make this task a bit easier with remote help.  But sadly they have fallen quite a bit short of the mark when attempting to help Mom (or Grandma :-)

After having set up a lot of different remote control options over the years, I’ve run across one that I really love for it’s simplicity in the occasional-use arena.  It does not have a bunch of bells and whistles, and you are not going to be able to brand it and use it for a robust help desk solution.  But it is just about perfect for the every so often “I need help” call.

I am talking about VNC One Click – a free tool from the makers of VNCScan.  It is very similar to Ultra VNC SC, but setup is quicker and the “go to” IP can be easily changed with a simple .ini file edit.  When you find out that VNC One Click supports DNS names (an undocumented feature) it becomes even that much easier – think dynamic DNS!

Here is how to get up and going in 10 minutes when you realize that you need to remote control somebody’s system over the Internet.  Of course if you get set up before that fateful day you can really impress you Mom (or Grandma):

1)  Set your router / firewall / modem to forward port 5500 to your computer.  If you do not know how to do this, I’m sorry but you are not an “IT god” and I humbly suggest you look at GoToMyPC.
2)  *Download VNC One Click from here: http://www.bozteck.com/Downloads/Bozteck_oneclickvnc_ultra.zip 
3)  *Download UltraVNC viewer from here: http://prdownloads.sourceforge.net/ultravnc/UltraVnc-Viewer-101.zip?download
4)  Unzip both packages to your computer.
5)  Edit the settings.ini file.  This file should contain your public IP address, which of course you can get from http://whatismyip.org.
6)  Zip up OneClickVNC.exe and your modified Settings.ini, then send to the person whose computer you want to control.  They should save both of these files in the same location on their computer (their desktop is fine).
7)  Start VNC Viewer in listen mode on your computer with the “-listen” switch.
8)  Have the person you are trying to help run OncClickVNC.exe.
9)  Answer “Yes” on your computer to start the remote control session.

That is it!  How simple is that?

* In case the direct links to files are broken, or to see more VNCScan downloads go here:  http://www.bozteck.com/vncscan/downloads.html


Now that we have basic remote control, here are a few things you can do to make the experience even better:

-  Use Dynamic DNS.  There are several free options (such as dyndns.com).  Now you can put your DNS name in the settings.ini file instead of hard-coding your IP address.  That way you will not need to change the settings.ini file every time your IP address changes.

-  Create a self-extracting zip file with OneClickVNC.exe and Settings.ini.  Set this up to silently extract the files to the temp directory, auto-execute OneClickVNC after extracting the file, then delete the temporary files.  This makes for a true “One Click” experience for the person you are helping.

-  The challenge, of course, with a self-extracting file is getting it to the person you are tying to help.  Microsoft (again, bless their hearts) have decided in their infinite wisdom that executable files should be banned from e-mail….so trying to send that self-extracting archive to Mom could be quite frustrating if either of you uses Outlook or Outlook Express (or any of the other e-mail providers who have followed suite on blocking certain attachments)….

…..so………Stick the self-extracting archive you created above on your personal website instead!  Now when you get that “help me” call you just send a web link. Mom hits the “Download” button, answers “Run” or “Yes I’m sure” a few times – presto!  You are driving her computer.



As a side note, UltraVNC SC is also a great product that adds some additional “help desk” type features at the cost of a bit more setup work.  This article is not about UltraVNC SC – but if VNC One Click is not quite what you are after look into UltraVNC SC.
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Author:mds-cos
6 Comments
 
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by:Franky_R
actually try teamviewer ... it's free and much easier ...
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Expert Comment

by:James Murrell
teamviewer is great but also Logmein offer 5 pcs for free, been using them for years
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by:Mark Wills
Been using variations of remote desktop for eons. Used to really like PC Anywhere for business purposes, and have played with pretty much everything since.

Still use a few different tools depending on occassion (and customer and circumstance).

One nice thing about VNC are the variants available. The more the VNC engine gets out there, we find more derivatives and add-ons becoming available. Which also indicates a pretty solid engine.

But to each his own, and while I might now choose/use VNC as a general basis, there are occassions where I still use some of the other tools :)

I am not sure that one tool can serve every different circumstance, though recently I retired gotomypc for the windows mobile version of VNC. However, it still seems to be so very dependant on the customer or end (remote) user.

There are some great tools out there, and while we might end up with a list of tools as part of this Article, we might be reminded that this is one perspective of solving an increasingly typical requirement for us "IT" types. To help out those who cannot do much more than point and click (as far as computers go).

In that regard, browsing to a site, clicking an icon/button, clicking run and OK a few times is pretty easy to achieve. That is the important part I think. Whatever the tool of choice, it has to be so very very simple for the end user to download and enable that remote connection. Otherwise, we will be in the car and driving over to Grandma's.

Cheers...
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LVL 31

Expert Comment

by:James Murrell
Hello Mark I agree, but as I normally set up family and friends pc i load logmein then...so dont have to drive....but I did forgot pc-anywhere one of the best for business use I agree, re VNC (i have had many times) can sometimes not be ideal for the likes of grandma to turn on ....

James
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by:mds-cos
LogMeIn is a fine tool (as are so may others), and certainly has it's place.  The downside is the install part.  I sometimes get people needing help with no previous warning, and assume others get the same type of calls.  Sure I could walk somebody through downloading and installing something like LogMeIn on their system fairly easily.  But with this particular VNC approach all I need to do is send them a link and we are up and running.  I have a "private" page already set up with self-extracting, self running archive to make it super-simple.

I also wanted to avoid a write-up on a commercial offering like LogMeIn, TeamView, etc.  I don't see that an article on such products provides any value.  And while these products are currently offered free for "non-commerical" or "personal" use, who knows if / when that will change.  Further, as an IT person I find the "non-commercial" restriction fairly significant.  I think we all have times when using one of these tools would be walking a very fine line between "personal" and "commercial" -- if not blatently stepping over it.

As Mark says we can get a nice list of tools going.  Each tool has it's place.  Actually, wouldn't that be another good article.  A list of tools we have used with summary of pro's / con's on each.  It could be a long list!
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by:Mark Wills
*laughing* a very long list - looking forward to seeing that Article :)
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