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Ask Slashdot: Options For FOSS Remote Support Software?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the have-you-tried-restarting-it? dept.

Open Source 247

Albanach writes "I'm sure I'm not alone in being asked to help friends and family with computer issues. These folk typically run Windows (everything from XP onward) or OS X (typically 10.4 onward). Naturally, desktop sharing is often much easier than trying to talk the other end through various steps. I've found free sites like join.me but they don't work with OS X 10.4, neither does the Chrome plugin. I'd also prefer not to compromise security by using a third party in the middle of the connection. Is there a good, free solution I can run on my linux box that supports old and new clients that run Windows, OS X and possibly linux? I'd love it if the users could simply bring their systems up to date, but that doesn't solve the third party issue and it's not easy when it requires a non-trivial RAM upgrade on a Mac Mini."

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You've really never heard of VNC? (5, Informative)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049099)

Because that's what you want.

Or, ssh? (1)

xzvf (924443) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049115)

OK, that's a stretch....

Re:Or, ssh? (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049153)

you can install sshd on windows, but you won't be helping relativers with their GUI or windows admin problems with it....

Re:Or, ssh? (4, Insightful)

RealGene (1025017) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049201)

Since VNC is notoriously insecure, it's good practice to only run it over ssh on an untrusted network.
So, the answer is both.

Re:Or, ssh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049359)

Try echoware. http://www.echogent.com/tech.htm

Not completely open source but still viable.

Re:Or, ssh? (3, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049433)

nonsense, no one is going to intercept your VNC stream during the time you are helping your relatives. get real, no one at your ISP is snooping traffice from home looking for a VNC session to tamper with. have your relatives turn off the server when done. you are more likely to get struck by lightening.

or entertain us by your laughingly improbable method by which you will intercept someone's VNC packets.

Re:Or, ssh? (5, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049479)

Exactly. That's why I use rsh on all my servers.

It's faster and easier and no one on the internet is possible sniffing my packets.

Re:Or, ssh? (1)

bob zee (701656) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049831)

I would like to get struck by this lightening. I want to lose about 15 pounds.

Re:Or, ssh? (5, Insightful)

RealGene (1025017) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049849)

Have you ever tried to help an 80+ year-old relative with their computer?

"Just start the VNC server, auntie."
"Is that the 'start' button thingy?"
"No, just click on the icon that says 'VNC'."
"All I see is the email from cousin Ruby."
"Ok, close the email first."
"Do I turn off the computer? That's what I do when I'm done reading my mail..."
(continues for 35 minutes)

The point being, the folks who need the help can't be relied upon to start/stop a VNC server, or carry out any other task
that isn't part of their normal routine. And leaving a VNC server running, with circa-1985 eight-character password, on a standard port,
is a security risk.

Re:Or, ssh? (2)

John Bresnahan (638668) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050015)

I give my (almost) 80-year-old a desktop icon which is called "Call John" and it starts up the VNC server with the appropriate command line options to start up a reverse connection to my computer.

If my IP address changes, I just email her a new shortcut file to replace the one on her desktop.

Re:Or, ssh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41050113)

Or you can use, like, a dynamic ip domain name service?

Re:Or, ssh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049923)

Last time I checked (a few years ago), none of the existing VNC servers out there had protection against brute-forcing the password. It wouldn't even notify the process owner that incorrect passwords were tried, leaving you with no idea anyone was even hammering the server.

This would mean turning the server on specifically when you wanted to use it, which is hard enough to explain to the person you're trying to help (as already stated by several other people here)-- unless brute-forcing protection has been added to one of the few open-source VNC forks out there, it'd be worse than walking someone through system troubleshooting over the phone.

Re:Or, ssh? (2)

the_B0fh (208483) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050241)

you haven't looked at the logs and seen people knocking on vnc ports have you?

Re:Or, ssh? (1)

markdavis (642305) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049647)

Parent is over-rated. Exactly how is VNC "notoriously insecure"? Because it is not encrypted? Do you really think someone is going to intercept the screen drawing compressed bitmap traffic during some ad-hoc session? And what exactly will they get? A temporary visual of someone's screen?

Security really depends on how it is all implemented. I typically set it up so the person on the other end has to launch the VNC server, it has a strong password (which is not the same as any user), and it will only allow a connection for about 30 seconds before closing down.

Re:Or, ssh? (0, Flamebait)

Capt. Skinny (969540) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049893)

Do you really think someone is going to intercept the screen drawing compressed bitmap traffic during some ad-hoc session?

While we're at it, let's forgo backups. Do you really think a hard drive is going to die? And insurance. What are the chances your house will burn down? And seat belts. And safety harnesses. Because if it's not likely, it's not worth the trouble of protecting against, right?

It's called a security landscape (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050225)

Don't be ridiculous. The likelihood that a hard disk will die or your house will burn down is far greater than the likelihood that someone will try to break in to the computer of your relatives by exploiting a VNC connection, and even if they do they will be in for quite a let down when they realize that their booty is nada. There are far better ways to compromise a Windows system. Only a moron would forgo those in favor of the "dreaded VNC attack vector" of which you are so afraid.

Re:Or, ssh? (2)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049903)

If your relatives leave the VNC server running, that's a VERY easy attack vector for anyone with a port scanner. If they leave an SSH server running (assuming you're smart and disable password authentication) and port-forward the VNC port over that (so the VNC port is never forwarded past the router), then there is VERY little chance anyone is going to use it against them.

Re:Or, ssh? (5, Interesting)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049915)

Since VNC is notoriously insecure, it's good practice to only run it over ssh on an untrusted network.
So, the answer is both.

No, the solution is to have server initiated connections to a listening client that is launched on demand, which has the amazing added benefit that the techie is the one to configure his firewall/NAT appropriate rather than the noob. Consider the following secure handshake done over the telephone:

(Noob) Hi, can you help me with WinFooBarTunesExtreme?
(Techie) Sure, let me fire up my listening client and open a port on my local firewall and router
(Noob) I like turtles!
(Techie) Click on the little VNC icon near the clock, click "Connect to Listening Viewer" and type www.techiedomainname.com" then click OK
(Noob) Derp, OK, w-w-w-dot-t-e-c-h-i-e-d-o-m-a-i-n-n-a-m-e-dot-c-o-m, OK
(Techie) Cool, now I can see your screen, please reproduce the error while explaining to me what you are trying to do. ...
(Techie) Let's make sure that VNC is not set to accept connections, OK good, looks nice.

When the session is done, the noob drops the server connection and all is well. VNC server is not set to accept remote-initiated connections (trivial to configure right) so there's zero risk from that end. The techie closes the listening client and disables his port mappings (I hope).

Even the setup is easy, since the noob only has to click "Next" a bunch of time through the VNC server setup and then the techie can adjust the settings once he's connected. There's zero persistent open connections and so zero persistent attack surface. Since there's no passwords exchange, there's no risk of eavesdroppers stealing any credentials.

Re:Or, ssh? (1)

LinuxIsGarbage (1658307) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049951)

even better, you can configure a shortcut on the "noob"'s computer so they don't even have to type anything to start a connection to a listening client.

Re:Or, ssh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049983)

Even that is 100x more difficult than using one of the numerous screensharing tools, or even the shit that's built into Windows & MSN messenger.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (5, Insightful)

mrclisdue (1321513) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049121)

No offense intended, but I'm having a hard time understanding why anyone would be asking the submitter for computer advice.

Seriously.

cheers,

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049231)

No offense intended, but I'm having a hard time understanding why anyone would be asking the submitter for computer advice.

Seriously.

cheers,

Well, you could ask the Slashdot editors.

Yes you can.

Why not?

Jeez.

OK already. Just take me out back and shoot me.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049349)

Don't say "No offence intended" and "cheers" if you don't mean it. It's rude.

Cheers

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049497)

I don't mean to be a dick, but fuck you.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (2)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049845)

Step down off that high horse of yours. Anyone who so much as knows how to copy & paste an error message into Google will get asked for computer advice. That is, unless they're so full of themselves that they look down on someone who happens not to know some random bit of knowledge. Those people will drive away anyone who might otherwise ask them for help.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (5, Informative)

Albanach (527650) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050099)

I'm the submitter. I presume your friends and relatives are stunningly more technically adept than mine.

I have personally been using VNC for over a decade. Judging by your /. uid, that's probably a good bit longer than you.

How about you take a moment to read the question. I'm looking for remote support software similar to join.me or the chrome plugin. That means the other end uses their browser, goes to the URL I give them and with as little other input as possible, I can share their desktop.

That does not describe VNC. I already have a vnc/ssh based solution. It's convoluted and yes, they find it difficult. Perhaps you've never assisted folk in their 70s with IT, but yes, for many, something that simple is difficult. It's difficult because it's unfamiliar. They use their web browser and they use email. That's what they know about their computer.

Now VNC may be part of the solution - indeed I would fully expect that. But not plain old vnc or a combination with SSH. The end user shouldn' t need to locate software, open firewall ports, execute shell scripts or type convoluted SSH commands.

Finally folk do, frequently ask me for advice. They do so for the simple reason that I try and give them a solution that meets their needs. That solution is not VNC or I wouldn't have posted the question. I think if you'd read the question rather than trying to get the first moral superiority post you might have realized that.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (2, Insightful)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050165)

Then you need to have put that information into the original request instead of expecting us to read your mind.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

Albanach (527650) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050227)

Suggest you go back and reread the question. VNC or VNC + ssh does not come close to the service offered by join.me or the Google Chrome desktop sharing plugin.

I presume the question in your post title was rhetorical. In case it was not, I was using VNC for remote desktop control at least 13 years ago. I think I have a pretty good understanding of both its benefits and its shortcomings.

If you'd like to suggest ways - as others below helpfully have - to use the underlying technology of VNC, but also make it accessible to an inexperienced end user then I'd be delighted to hear your contribution to the discussion.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (2)

gmack (197796) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049191)

The downside of VNC is that you need to create a hole in your firewall for it and you also must know the host name, that puts it a step down from things like logmein.com which I've used to repair windows laptops in cases where I don't control the firewall (in one case Iraq).

I also would be interested in something like that that I could control using my own server and happens to be cross platform.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049279)

you never heard of listen mode?

step 1) get yourself a short and easy to type dynamic dns name and keep it updated
step 2) punch a hole in your firewall/add a port forwarding rule to your router/whatever applies (even using upnp if you like it)
step 3) start the vnc client on your machine in listen mode
step 4) tell your friend/relative/client to install tightvnc (the free version) with all default options
step 5) tell your friend/relative/client to connect to your machine, it is a couple click and an address to enter (and maybe a password to set). you an easily guide them by phone in this step, or write a simple web page to show them how.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049337)

What part of: does not control firewall did you not understand?

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (2)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049377)

You don't need to have control over the firewall if you only need an outgoing connection - that's what listen mode is.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049823)

You don't need to have control over the firewall if you only need an outgoing connection - that's what listen mode is.

From TFAC

step 2) punch a hole in your firewall/add a port forwarding rule to your router/whatever applies (even using upnp if you like it)

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049829)

*Your* firewall. The one that you control on /your/ end. Not the remote user's firewall.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (1)

gmack (197796) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050071)

If I'm connected via wireless modem, I'm stuck behind the horrid telco firewall that blocks listening services. In this case logmein works but listening mode will not.

Re:You've really never heard of VNC? (2)

hkrish4 (2704651) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049875)

Teamviewer is much better than VNC. I love VNC. But lately Teamviewer is the one I prefer because of it's wonderful features.

VNC? (4, Informative)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049107)

VNC is probably the most prolific remote access client / server software in existence. It is open source, although some companies have created enhanced functionality on top of VNC which is available as commercial products. OSX supports VNC type remote access natively.

Google+ (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049113)

The Google+ hangouts works for my students when they have software issues. I second-seat them and things run smoothly. If you are doing the maintenance on their computers, you can ensure that the plugin installs correctly and go from there. -TN

VNC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049117)

It isn't the best but it runs on just about anything you can think of.

LMGTF... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049151)

LMGTFY [lmgtfy.com] - two of the top 5 hits point to TightVNC...

teamviewer (3, Informative)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049175)

its free for non-commercial use. my mom lives almost 2000 miles away and that's what i use to help her.

Re:teamviewer (1)

thoriumbr (1152281) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049197)

But there's a middleman, and the guy asking help told this is a downside... VNC is great for what it wants.

Re:teamviewer (5, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049219)

the guy asking help told this is a downside.

The guy asking for help hasn't spent 4 hrs walking grandma through downloading and configuring VNC over the phone so that he can get through the firewall to actually help her.

TeamViewer is a good solution

Re:teamviewer (4, Informative)

BoogeyOfTheMan (1256002) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049343)

I have to agree. It may not be OSS, but it is free for non-commercial use and it works on Windows, Linux, and OSX. You can even use it from an Android device to control someones machine. I've used it on Windows and Linux to control other Windows and Linux machines, on Linux to control a machine running OSX, and on Android to control my Linux machine when I wasnt at home.

If you can walk someone through downloading, installing and running something, TeamViewer is perfect. Once its running, all you need to have them do is tell you their ID number and passcode, which is prominently displayed when TV is running.

I use it a lot to help my friend whos a complete computer newb to fix and/or learn things.

Re:teamviewer (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049365)

Took me half an hour to talk my dad through downloading and running the single exe for Teamviewer remote support.

Would not want to try talking him through downloading, installng AND running VNC!

Re:teamviewer (2)

aztracker1 (702135) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049475)

Did that once with my dad. Took forever to get thrugh their firewall config, download/setup vnc (interactive prompt, default refuse), and then whatismyip ... not fun, not cool... teamviewer/logmein etc are far easier.

Re:teamviewer (1, Flamebait)

MisterBuggie (924728) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049561)

Takes any of my computer illiterate aquaintances about 10 mins over the phone to install TightVNC. Then I start my client in listen mode, and get them to connect to me. Really not that complicated, no firewall to config, no whatismyip. The main step you need to remember to avoid most hassle with the most computer illiterate is to get them to use IE to download the installer by clicking on "Run", as Firefox doesn't allow you to do that. Then it's just a simple case of talking them through the installer, which is pretty basic...

Teamviewer (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41050267)

I use this commercially, and its a super product. In fact I am duplicating 1 TB across a vpn tunnel on it right now.
Now you may not have noticed, but on the team viewer web site, on the main page is a link for "Join Remote Control Session"
this requires no admin access at all, and is not a installable product. I use this for exactly the case you state. You walk them there
to the website, tell them to click and run that. Then ask for their numbers. Really that is as about as simple as it gets.
This is also the only product my "secure" customers trust. So we plunked down 1400 for a real license after using it for
several months. Great product.

Re:teamviewer (2)

Galactic Dominator (944134) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049637)

TeamViewer is a good solution

A good solution to install VNC. Then you can remove TeamViewer.

Re:teamviewer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41050033)

Why would you waste 4 hours on that? Just download the "scprompt" version of VNC and send it to them. They run the program, type in your IP address, and then it connects to the viewer running on your machine (need to forward port 5500 from your router). Quick and simple.

Re:teamviewer (1)

Albanach (527650) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050119)

The guy asking for help hasn't spent 4 hrs walking grandma through downloading and configuring VNC over the phone so that he can get through the firewall to actually help her.

The submitter has. Once more today, hence the ask slashdot post. VNC + SSH + Firewalls + dynamic dns all make for a pain. It works, but it's certainly not neat and tidy.

I'll take a look at teamviewer, so thanks for that. As was mentioned above, I'd really like something that can run locally, but in the end I may have to make do.

Re:teamviewer (1)

bobbutts (927504) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050249)

The other thing I've found useful thing about Team Viewer is that it can be setup to run like a service. I've set this up when I was visiting family members so we didn't have to deal with having them set it up. Also the control from Android is the best implemented solution I have found from that OS. The biggest annoyance is the popup asking you to play fair at the end of every session. "It's asking me to buy the license, should I click yes??"

Re:teamviewer (1)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049457)

And my mom has no idea how to configure the firewall on her router or enable port forwarding. And neither do I since I have never seen her router

Vnc is useless if mom can't get it to work

Re:teamviewer (1)

MisterBuggie (924728) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049569)

That's what listen mode on your end is for...

Re:teamviewer (5, Informative)

number11 (129686) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049997)

And my mom has no idea how to configure the firewall on her router or enable port forwarding. And neither do I since I have never seen her router

Vnc is useless if mom can't get it to work

UltraVNC [uvnc.com] has a "single click server" [uvnc.com] . You configure (via UVNC's website) a custom server that is a single 166K executable file that requires no installation and is hardwired to connect to your computer, and (when the time comes) you run your VNC viewer in "listen" mode and have them doubleclick the icon. Since they're the ones initiating the connection, firewall shouldn't be a problem. Works great, you can email the file to them, so long as you can explain how to save an email attachment to their desktop. There are some restrictions (Win only, you need either a fixed IP or something like dyndns to specify your address, and they need to be able to receive an executable attachment), but it works really well. Dunno what to do about the OSX, though.

Re:teamviewer (1)

zoloto (586738) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049487)

Let's put this into perspective

He's asking for remote access help which notably involves a GUI and from that we can surmise he doesn't know what he's doing and also what he's accessing doesn't require that much security anyways because quite frankly, if it did, he's vastly under qualified to begin with nor does he have a sense of the importance of his information. Google would have helped him far more than this "article".

Windows includes RDP, and Apple includes both VNC and ARD. Linux distros have repos with vnc in them as well

Teamviewer also only initializes the connection. That's it. The entire session doesn't go through their servers, or at least they didn't the last I checked.

Re:teamviewer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049269)

I second this and use it often myself, it's not open source and it's third party man in the middle-ish, but it's kind of a necessary evil in avoiding having to get the non-technically inclined to try and open up ports in their firewall or trying to get them to connect to your own services.

Nice thing about teamviewer is you don't even have to install it. Both parties run the app, one enters in the multi-digit code, BAM! Instant tech support, don't complicate your life with a FOSS alternative, it's free and gets the job done extremely well, even supports file transfer, view only and remote control.

Software software? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049183)

Free and Open Source Software Remote Support Software

Re:Software software? (0)

Cute Fuzzy Bunny (2234232) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049501)

Its alright. It was produced by the department of redundancy department.

Remmina client for RDP protocol works (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049207)

For the Windows boxes at least, an RDP client like Remmina works. (xrdp works as server on linux btw.) This might not work on Mac, so VNC is good to have also, but some Windows boxes will just happen to have RDP available (remote desktop) and it's easier to use something they don't need to figure out how to install.

Re:Remmina client for RDP protocol works (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049373)

Please, open 3389 on your firewall to an unpatched 'grandmother-edition' of XP SP2.

Your malware will thank you!

Doesn't exist (5, Insightful)

Cosmos_7 (128549) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049293)

What you're looking for doesn't exist. VNC is great, but without the middleman you're never going to have ease-of-use for the people you're trying to help... they're going to give up trying to get port-forwards set up on their router long before you actually get in to help them.

Logmein / Teamviewer / etc is what is needed, and just plain works. If you have to choose one, it should be Teamviewer... can run client and support on all three specified platforms, and the QuickSupport option on Windows is a godsend - nothing like telling a client / grandma / whoever to simply download and run a small executable to let you in and help them.

Re:Doesn't exist (1)

MisterBuggie (924728) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049581)

Hasn't ANYONE ever heard of listen mode? There's absolutely no need to get them to mess with their firewall/router.

Re:Doesn't exist (2)

flappinbooger (574405) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050043)

So the solution is obviously to make your own teamviewer-like solution since Teamviewer isn't free for commercial use. After much hairpulling I realized VNC is the answer but I wanted a use-anywhere-help-anyone solution. I then realized I needed a VNC repeater, this is basically what teamviewer et-al do. Otherwise YOU have to be behind a configured firewall.

Chunk VNC (you can google it yourself ;-p) is a project that is imminently doable. I deployed a repeater on my own always-on computer, configured the firewall appropriately, and customized the appropriate files. After some patience I have a totally free and branded remote support solution that requires no more from the client than teamviewer instant-support does. And, it works AS GOOD AS vnc is rightly known for.

Reverse VNC (5, Informative)

InfiniteZero (587028) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049297)

Other posts have already mentioned VNC, naturally. But more specifically, what you want is reverse VNC. You set up a VNC listener, and firewall port forwarding etc. on you end. Then ask the user to download a simple server executable (e.g. tvnserver.exe in the case of Windows/TightVNC) and connect to your IP address.

Re:Reverse VNC (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049395)

I completely agree... I've been doing this for many years. The main advantages are:
  - Nobody has an internet-exposed vnc server
  - The people you're supporting don't need to make holes in their firewall
  - As the OP requested: no 3rd party for the connection to go through (a boon to both latency and security)
  - FOSS

For ease of use, make a .bat file on their desktop that gives them icon to click that:
  - starts the vnc server service (i.e. net start vncserver)
  - tells the vnc server to add a new client (the name you've registered with dyndns).

When they want to share their screen with you, you'll need to be running the vnc listening viewer first, and have an open port on your firewall.

Re:Reverse VNC (1)

hedronist (233240) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049883)

One step beyond this: Use Ultra VNC's Single Click [uvnc.com] mode (free). Set up the config file to automatically connect to your listening VNC port. I've fixed email in Paris, my sister (and her machine) in Tucson, and a niece in Sydney, Australia. All they do is download a 200KB EXE file from my website. I even have Office 1 and Office 2, so if I'm in my wife's office they just click on that. The whole thing takes less than ab out 30 minutes to setup and no one else ever has to deal with anything complicated.

Re:Reverse VNC (1)

MisterBuggie (924728) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049591)

Someone mod this up as clearly most of slashdot has never heard of the listen mode...

Re:Reverse VNC (2)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049851)

The issues with reverse VNC are that it requires the remote user to initiate a connection to you, which is more work for them. Less perhaps then setting up their router, but still more than something like teamviewer.

It also breaks if you can't conveniently port forward your own machine whenever you need to support them. Maybe you aren't always at home in your basement. I use teamviewer from my phone. From my laptop at on my break at work. Etc.

I even went to the next step, and ran a VNC repeater for a while, but you know what that got me to where I was with team viewer with a lot more effort, and vnc security is still generally pretty much worthless on its default settings. Planning on walking grandma through setting up vnc security before she initiates a connection to your repeater? Yeah... right.

TeamViewer (3, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049301)

Its not FOSS, and there is a middle man to negotiate things to get you connected.

It is however free for non-commercial use.

You can remote control -from- Windows, OSX, Linux, iphone, and android.

You can remote control -to- windows, OSX, Linux, and recently samsung androids.

It just works. The person you are trying to support can get connected to you by clicking the "Join Remote Support Session" URL, and running the quick support app. They don't have to install the software, or configure their firewall, or fiddle with various modes etc.

You can connect to pretty much anyone anywhere from pretty much anything anywhere.

How does it compare to the various VNCs? Its much easier to get a connection going, and you don't waste more time trying to get a remote session going than it takes to actually perform the remote support.

Now, VNC is great, and if you set up your own public VNC repeater, and bundle your own VNC client to use that repeater you can get most of the way towards what you get with teamviewer without any effort at all.

Re:TeamViewer (4, Informative)

asmkm22 (1902712) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049437)

I'm going to second this. It's free for non-commercial use, so it's great for helping out family and friends. It's really easy to use and, like the poster said, there's no install needed. Just make sure they hear you correctly and go to "teamviewer.com" and not "teenviewer.com". I had that happen once, and it was a bit awkward.

Re:TeamViewer (1)

DMKrow (1496055) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049799)

This is also key when you are dealing with an ISP that gives you a NAT'ed IP, instead of a real address. Mac OS X VNC was pretty limited in options (no reduced color mode to help with latency, no attach to listening client). I found having a support script that forwarded the OS X remove VNC port to a remote host to have intolerable latency. TeamViewer is not perfect, but it did mostly work to support a remote Mac better than any other solution I tried.

Jitsi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049319)

Jitsi [jitsi.org]

In Person. (1)

TENTH SHOW JAM (599239) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049329)

I am the family geek and have found the best way of dealing with this is to organize a time to visit. Hop in car and stare at the problem in person. Set up access levels. (You don't get to be admin all the time there Mum) Set up schedules.(Leave your computer on overnight on Sunday night so the little maintenance men can do their work) Setup backups. (Where is that USB hard drive you got with this?)

If people get into problems, and they need service right away, tell them to drop the computer off at the local computer store. If it's important enough to need to happen now, then it's important enough to pay for the privilege.

Remote tools are handy for intranets (As I type I am using 2 different types). They are a security risk for internets.

Re:In Person. (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049767)

Time to visit might work fine, if you live nearby. For me, a visit is a seven hours drive. Twice. It will take me the whole weekend. There is no direct flight connection, the flight connections which exist, will take (inclusive changing planes) five hours single trip and are prohibitively expensive (I just checked, $785 is the cheapest offer for next weekend).
For some people "just schedule a visit" is not an easy solution.

The Author (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049367)

Hasn't RTFM.

PuTTY with VNC (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049379)

I've been helping my now 83-year-old dad since the Win2K days using this solution:
- On dad's machine, install VNC server and PuTTY SSH client
- Set the VNC server NOT to run in service mode.
- Set the VNC server to accept connections from localhost (That used to be a registry setting, but it might be the default now)
- Set up a user called "sonarman" on my Linux machine. sonarman's shell is a script that loops forever, printing the date and hostname, then sleep 60.
- Set up a public/private keypair so sonarman can log into my linux machine without a password
- Set up a PuTTY session for sonarman that uses the private key to connect, and that forwards some port on my linux machine to the VNC server port on my dad's computer (5901)
- If necessary, tell Windows to allow PuTTY.exe to go OUT through the Windows firewall.
- Created a folder on dad's desktop called "Get help from Mike" - inside are two windows shortcuts, one to start sonarman's ssh connection to form the encrypted tunnel, and one to start the VNC server.

So when dad has a problem, he calls me, he opens the "Get help from Mike" folder, and double-clicks the PuTTY shortcut. When he says "OK, it's showing me today's date", I tell him to double click the other shortcut, and he tells me when the VNC icon shows up in the notifications area.

Once that's done, I connect a vncviewer to localhost:<whatever port I set up>, and I have a view of and control of Dad's desktop.

He can't do any harm to my system, because sonarman's shell doesn't accept any input.
Because his computer is initiating the connection, he doesn't need a fixed IP, nor any holes through the firewall besides the *outgoing* ssh connection.
My linux machine has an entry in DynDNS, and dad's PuTTY connects to my machine by hostname, so as long as my dyndnsd keeps the name up-to-date with Comcast's periodic re-assignments of my IP address, dad's computer can always find mine.
My firewall must be configured to allow incoming ssh connections (but I want that anyway).

Teamviewer (2)

ras (84108) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049383)

I see most people here are recommending VNC. VNC and its brethren work, but can be very slow. A propriety alternative is Team Viewer [teamviewer.com] . It is free as in beer and like VNC runs on all platforms under the sun (including Android and iOS). It is unlike VNC in that it is rock solid (I've never seen it hang), always quick enough to useable and requires no special setup to pierce NAT and firewalls.

I hope that one day open source figures our what the magic sauce is in Team View is and replicates it in VNC. Until that day arrives when I need to get shit down, I just use TeamView.

Re:Teamviewer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049515)

I had the need to support internal users in the latest company I worked for, so I made my own tool.
Since I was in Linux and users were in Windows, those are the two supported platforms.
I already have some code to support OSX but not released, since they are some thinks
in OSX that I have to figure out.
Of course, it's not polished and have some problems. But it's usable, at least for me.
When I need to support users through the internet I create a ssh tunnel with a small VPS that I own
and then I ask the remote user to connects to the VPS IP.
the code is on github - https://github.com/rpedroso/sharme
The windows binary can be found here http://rpedroso.github.com/sharme/download.html

Re:Teamviewer (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050167)

I hope that one day open source figures our what the magic sauce is in Team View is and replicates it in VNC. Until that day arrives when I need to get shit down, I just use TeamView.

One sauce component is having connections made through the firewall and such. Do that through a "connection" layer on top of HTTP to a central server. Switch the connection to TLS encrypted. Then exchange account, identity, and authentication info. At this point the two ends can communicate via the server. In parallel, probe to find other ways to get through the firewall, such as direct TCP connections to the server. With communication to the server, any NAT being used is known (end IP != peer IP seen by server means NAT somewhere). UDP might be usable end to end if set up in a synchronized way. If other means don't work, at least the HTTP method does.

But I still don't trust Team View. I don't know if the end points establish safe end to end security or not. Maybe they are only doing end to server and server to other end security. This is one of the reasons we need software that comes in source code form complete to be compiled (for C, C++, ObjC, Java) or to be run (Lua, Perl, Pike, Python, Ruby). Binary can't be trusted except by those who build it, though partial trust can exist if you see that someone in the public can build it.

Yes, of course I am paranoid.

I would pay for ScreenConnect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049449)

Its self hosted and cheap and doesn't have the VNC problems like it works via the firewall.

for Macs - Reverse ssh with VNC (1)

shking (125052) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049485)

For mac users, I make sure that my computer is reachable by ssh and I set up a "help" account. Then I email the following commands (with appropriate substitutions)

sudo /System/Library/CoreServices/RemoteManagement/ARDAgent.app/Contents/Resources/kickstart -activate -configure -access -on -clientopts -setvnclegacy -vnclegacy yes -clientopts -setvncpw -vncpw VNC-PASSWORD -restart -agent -privs -all

ssh -R 5901:127.0.0.1:5900 -R 2201:127.0.0.1:22 help@MY-IP-ADDRESS-OR-DNS

Next I PHONE the person and get them to start up "Terminal" and copy/paste the commands above into the Terminal window. I also tell them what to type into the Terminal window when it asks for the "help" account's password.

Now I can start up my VNC client and connect via port 5901

Simple solution (4, Interesting)

Cute Fuzzy Bunny (2234232) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049543)

Logitech and best buy routinely sell cheap decent webcams. I've picked up regular ones, and 720p and 1080p HD versions for under ten bucks each shipped.

Bought one for each family member.

When they have a problem, I start a video chat with them, they take the webcam off the monitor and point it at the screen. On some cams you have to click the 'mirror' button to reverse the image. Then we work on the problem. If that computer is dead, put the webcam on a laptop and use that, or do a video chat with their phone or pad if they have one.

Securing software, poking hole in firewalls and all that seems like a waste of time when you can actually SEE whats going on for yourself.

Re:Simple solution (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41050109)

That has to be one of the stupidest remote support solutions I've ever heard, when you could do a better job just using Skype's free desktop sharing function in a video conference if for some reason TeamViewer scares you off.

Think bootstrap.... (1)

niftymitch (1625721) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049567)

Start with something quick, commonly used and easy to "get 'er done".
Middle man or not. Even a 30 day evaluation package.

Then load and configure something more to your liking, test it
and unload the first tool.

The alternative is a house call which might be fine.
I would bet you owe the family members involved a visit!

UltraVNC SC (1)

ComputerInsultant (722520) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049629)

I've been using Ultra VNC Single Click http://www.uvnc.com/pchelpware/sc/index.html [uvnc.com] for years. It only works with Windows, but it is small, open source, and relatively secure.

1 Your support client calls you
2 You open VNC in listen mode
3 Your support client runs a custom version of UltraVNC SC that is set to connect only to you.

Easy. Fast. Cheap. And it works.

Re:UltraVNC SC (1)

JamesTRexx (675890) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049869)

We're looking into using the alternative chunkvnc [chunkvnc.com] single click client.
It even works with UAC if you install it as a service after firing it up the first time. Just remember to uninstall/disable it afterwards for security reasons.

TeamViewer (1)

humanrev (2606607) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049661)

I'd suggest TeamViewer (http://www.teamviewer.com/)

No, it's not FOSS. But it is free as in beer and it also runs on Windows, OS X and Linux (the Linux build though is technically the Windows build packaged via a Wine bottle, all self contained and preconfigured well though). Sounds like the $-free and cross-platform aspects are probably more important overall to your needs than being open source. Plus you don't have to worry about firewalls or anything - I can even access my home system at my workplace through just the browser, no extra ports except 80.

ssh+vnc works for me (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049685)

When I sent my dad a Linux computer because his old Windows machine was taken over by malware (no amount of remote help with running various cleanup tools helped), I set it up to automatically SSH to my home server every 5 minutes and open a tunnel back to his computer desktop's VNC port as well as an SSH port as a fallback.

it came in handy when I had mistyped his home wireless router's WPA key before sending the computer, I just had him plug the computer directly to one of his router's LAN ports, and then I was able to remote in and fix it.

[PSA] Ken Starks of HeliOS fame has 2-3 weeks left (-1, Offtopic)

arielCo (995647) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049689)

This is one of those put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is situations. Ken Stark and his buddies have refurbished ~1,500 computers, putting Linux on them, and donating them to poor kids in central Texas since 2005 [lxer.com] (interview at LXer.com). Now he's battling throat and neck cancer. From his blog at http://linuxlock.blogspot.com/2012/08/this-is-where-we-are.html [blogspot.com] (written by her partner Diane):

Ken's cancer has just recently begun to spread to his right lymph node but his Oncologist has assured us that this is 80 percent curative if he gets the needed surgery in time.

Unfortunately, his 1100 dollar a month SSI disability disqualifies him for Medicaid care and the local county low-income insurance he was receiving. This leaves us with about 2 weeks to either raise enough money for at least the OR for the surgery (we are hopeful of finding a surgeon to do the work pro bono) or raise enough money for the entire procedure. We've spent hours upon hours researching and contacting the links some of you have provided but they are so limited in scope that 90 percent of them are not helpful at all.

We are looking at two weeks, maybe three before the cancer spreads past the point of surgery being an option. After that, we've been told just to make him as comfortable as possible until he passes. I'm not ready to accept that.

Stupid, this Medicare exclusion. More about the guy, by Steven Vaughan-Nichols of ZDnet fame:

+Ken Starks is a Linux and open-source supporter. He also runs a non-profit that's donated thousands of PCs to low-income households. Now, he needs help to fight cancer. For more on what's happening with him see:

http://thomasaknight.com/blog.php?id=71 [thomasaknight.com]

https://plus.google.com/113169713749496726739/posts/aXdV6DZivhS [google.com]

There's a donation page at Indiegogo [indiegogo.com] , or you can do it directly from his blog [blogspot.com] . They have gathered about $7,700 and just reserving the OR costs about $50,000. Pitch in if you can. Anyway, spread the word.

Thanks for reading. I don't even know the guy; I only learned about it through an unsuccessful Firehose submission and decided to do something.

VNC, and primitive OSen (1)

dougsyo (84601) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049871)

VNC, as others have noted, works on lots of platforms (including older ones). You'll have to configure it in their firewall, and I use a non-standard port as well.

Some VNC versions allow a form of access control, but that doesn't help if your IP or IP range changes.

And while I realize that there is an actual cost involved to fix it, letting them stay on primitive hardware and OS is not really helping them. Sadly, "because it still works" is less and less a good reason to keep an old PC running. Not too long ago I was asked to clean up a virus-infested Windows ME box - yes, it still boots ... but it had so little memory that none of the current antiviruses I had available would even run.

Doug

C'mon man!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41049913)

VN fucking C... !!!

Is this what slashdot has come to now???

VNC with Chunk (1)

flappinbooger (574405) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049921)

As mentioned elsewhere there are two main commercial solutions - non-foss. Teamviewer and Logmein. Logmein free is legal for commerical purposes and I put it on clients machines when I have them on my bench but it is limited. Teamviewer is just plain awesome but is not free for commercial use and they seem to watch. As is their right.

So the solution is obviously to make your own teamviewer-like solution. After much hairpulling I realized VNC is the answer but I wanted a use-anywhere-help-anyone solution. I then realized I needed a VNC repeater, this is basically what teamviewer et-al do. Otherwise YOU have to be behind a configured firewall.

Chunk VNC (you can google it yourself ;-p) is a project that is imminently doable. I deployed a repeater on my own always-on computer, configured the firewall appropriately, and customized the appropriate files. After some patience I have a totally free and branded remote support solution that requires no more from the client than teamviewer instant-support does. And, it works AS GOOD AS vnc is rightly known for.

Checkride (1)

Drgnkght (449916) | more than 2 years ago | (#41049965)

You might want to check out a program called Checkride. It is an open source program developed in Lazarus. It is basically a preconfigured portable VNC and stunnel package. To use you configure it to connect to your computer and give it to the person you are trying to help. The executable you send them starts VNC server and then connects to your computer via stunnel. Your PC then starts VNC viewer on your side and connects to their desktop via the secure stunnel connection.

Checkride [bitbucket.org]

Teamviewer! (1)

rbpOne (2184720) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050103)

It is NOT open source, but is in free as in beer for your use.
It supports Windows, Linux, and OS X.

Teamviewer is very use to use; I worked in IT at a business with about 800-1000 desktops and laptops, and i never experienced the users having trouble with it. They just called support, and it would go "Please click the "Company-Name Support" icon on your dekstop" "OK" "Now tell me your ID" "xxx xxx xxx" "And your newly generated passkey?" "xxxx" and they would be good to go.

I installed it on my grandparents (85 and 82) laptops to ease the time i had to use on helping them, with the laptops. They never had any problems with it.

THE WINNER IS TEAMVIEWER (1)

jobdrb (920458) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050151)

Theres some options, like VNC, Skype, theres a Plugin in pidgin (not sure). But, my option to do same of you want, is Hangout and TeamViewer. Simple and Easy, and free for not comercial use. :)

Mikogo (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | more than 2 years ago | (#41050281)

Mikogo (www.mikogo.com/) is pretty good. I think it's pretty much what you're looking for, FLOSS and cross-platform.

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