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Is free remote control software good enough?

Level 7

If you ever have to support desktops and laptops in your company, chances are that you’ve used some sort of remote control software to avoid walking – or driving, or flying! – to your end-user’s desk.  Remote control software has been around for some time, and there are lots of different flavors.

Some remote control software products require end-user permission to initiate a session, while others allow unattended access without permission.  Some provide the ability to connect over the Internet; others don’t.  Some are best suited for helping your grandparents “get on the Email,” while others provide feature-rich support for help desk administrators.  The best remote control software for you is the one that fits the job that you need to do on a regular basis.

Regardless of which is the best, there is little question about which is the most common free remote control software.  Microsoft’s RDP, or Remote Desktop Protocol, is one of the original remote control solutions, ships with Windows, and has been around since XP was first released.  RDP does what it claims to do – and is free; however, it does have some limitations.  RDP does not have the ability to screen share – two users viewing the same screen or desktop simultaneously.

If you are responsible for supporting desktops and laptops, you need the ability to screen share during a trouble-shooting session with a remote user.  More often than not, you need to interact with the user sitting in front of the remote system – maybe to allow them to show you what problem they are having, or to find a particular file or application.  During an RDP session, the screen of the remote user is blacked out while the administrator is logged in – effectively preventing the experience of “standing over the shoulder” of the remote user.

There are a number of remote control software products that provide screen sharing.  One solution particularly popular with systems administrators is DameWare Mini Remote Control (or MRC).  When a remote control session is initiated on a remote system, the remote desktop is visible to both the MRC administrator as well as the remote user.  The end user can see what the administrator is doing on the system, and vice-versa.  MRC provides a number of other features that help enhance the interactive experience, like the ability to chat with the remote user through a native chat client, the ability to take screenshots, as well as the ability to transfer files.

MRC also provides a granular level of control over how the administrator and end user will interact with each other before, during and after a remote session has ended.  It can be configured to require the end user’s permission before initiating a session, or it can be configured to allow unattended access on remote systems.  Connections can also be restricted by IP address or Active Directory group.  Again, none of this functionality is available with RDP.

If you’ve used RDP or other free remote control software before and felt that it didn’t quite meet your needs, consider trying the Dameware Mini Remote Control.  It’s not free, but it’s cheap - and you can try it for free for 14 days.  You can also check out a more detailed comparison of RDP vs. DameWare MRC.

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Level 15