I’ve been around a while now and, over the years, have tried out lots of remote control programs. Some I’ve liked, others have left me cold, but one of my favourites has to be TeamViewer. Not because it has more to offer than the competition – although it does measure up pretty well – and not because it’s cheap, either, but because it’s just so damn easy to use.
Like other remote control programs, TeamViewer has lots of potential uses. For example, it can be pressed into service to manage servers in remote data centres, run training sessions or give remote sales presentations. More often than not, however, it’s employed by support staff to troubleshoot and fix problems, so to test it out we used it to help resolve problems encountered by customers of a small software company.
To do this we installed and ran the full TeamViewer application in the company help centre. Then, when a customer called in with a problem, we got the caller to download a separate QuickSupport module. This is available for both Windows and Apple Mac (OS/X) systems, and can be downloaded either from the TeamViewer website or a site of your own.
It can also be branded with a company logo and custom welcome text. Plus it’s remarkably compact (1.4MB for the Windows version), taking just seconds to retrieve, and it doesn’t have to be installed, just run on the target PC with no administrative rights needed.
Another plus is that neither we nor any of the customers needed to get involved with IP addresses in order to use TeamViewer. Instead, the QuickSupport module simply generates and displays a unique partner ID and password, which are all that’s needed to identify the target system. These details were then relayed over the phone, typed in at our end and – voilà – in just a few seconds we were connected.
Of course, behind the scenes, there’s a TeamViewer routing server somewhere on the Internet that sorts out the connection, but you need never know it’s there. Moreover, once the connection is established the server gets out of the way, leaving the connected systems to communicate peer-to-peer. Plus it’s all done using HTTP, which meant we had no problems at all with firewalls or proxy servers on any of the sites involved.
Once connected, remote control sessions can be run in either direction and the direction changed at any time, with chat and file transfer facilities both available if needed. The console is easy to use and very responsive, even over slow links, and despite the inevitable delays waiting for the screen to be refreshed, there was nothing we couldn’t live with.
Support for multiple monitors also comes as standard, plus you can blank the remote screen for privacy and even re-start a target system and re-connect to it automatically. There’s even a tool to record sessions as movies, which can be useful both as proof of work carried out and for training.
As well as the dynamic one-off password used to establish the connection, all of the traffic involved is encrypted using 256-bit AES encoding, making for a secure solution. You can also use TeamViewer to create a secure VPN (Virtual Private Network) tunnel, giving the remote PC unfettered access to the network, although special drivers have to be installed to take advantage of this option.
Another nice option is the ability to install and run TeamViewer as a Windows service, enabling the software to be used to manage unattended servers.
When it comes to pricing, TeamViewer is far from cheap, with a choice of Business, Premium and Corporate licences all of which support an unlimited number of remote clients. With the Business licence we were given (£422 + VAT) you’re only allowed one “supporter” console, while the Premium and Corporate editions (£846 and £1,566 + VAT, respectively) can have multiple supporters and multiple participants per session.
Don’t let the price tag put you off, as TeamViewer compares well on price against competitive solutions. Plus for non-commercial use it’s free, with a popup displayed after every connection to shame business users into coughing up for a full licence.
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