Being a former Helpdesk employee, for many years I have observed a growing number of computer tools.
I specifically focused on the tools that allowed for taking control of a remote computer’s desktop.
Till today I’m smiling to myself about how users being on the other end of the line reacted to that “self-propelled” mouse cursor and floating windows. Like the computer suddenly became haunted. Some of them even cried or called you a wizard.
As Arthur C. Clarke stated: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. I couldn’t agree more when I think back to those reactions.
But that was then.
At some point the basic purpose most of the remote support software had – let you see or interact with the user’s desktop as if you were there in person – became blurred.
More and more companies and projects raced to offer new features, their software kept growing and becoming sophisticated, enterprise support tools that only large organizations could afford.
On the other hand, there were Open Source projects that stayed true to the values of simplicity and general availability. Some of them more than others. I’m talking about VNC (Virtual Network Computing) and all the Remote Framebuffer solutions out there.
Leaving their source code in the open, they allowed for active development and improvement of remote support tools. To name some most popular and contributing projects: TightVNC, UltraVNC or TigerVNC.
Some of them also give you a wide selection of features and are available for free.
Most of the free solutions however share a few limitations that I see as causes for those brilliant tools not being nearly as popular as the enterprise – ready expensive software.
First is general level of IT knowledge. Not everyone is an IT expert. Well, if everyone was, why would you even need IT support tools, right?
Second is accessibility restrictions between devices in times of threats that spawn on the Internet. We hide behind firewalls and threat management gateways that we feel secure us from those threats. The reality looks different, but that’s a topic for another article.
Those VNC based tools came up with a few solutions to mitigate those limitations to some extent. However, truly free versions still need either an IT specialist or direct Internet link to set up a connection between peers.
New remote control IT tools are coming to light every day, offering possible cures to both of the problems above. Some of them are Open Source and are rarely available as donationware as they use publicly accessible servers to deal with traffic and security restrictions.