IT pros are a unique breed of animal. They love their jobs, but they also tend to hide what they do when in conversation with those outside the profession. It’s almost like a kind of secret society, the Grand Exalted Order of IT Wizards.
Why do we hide what we do? Well, just try telling your distant family members that you work with computers all day long. Guess how they’ll respond. “Hey, you know all about computers? My PC has been acting kinda funny lately, can you help me fix it?” It doesn’t occur to them that you live in Boston and they live in Upper Mongolia. They just figure that since you’re an “expert,” you can help them from anywhere, anytime. And indeed you can, although that’s another piece of knowledge you probably want to keep hidden from them.
Remote login tools allow you to use your computer to log on to the console of another computer that may be located hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away. Provided of course that you can establish a network connection with the remote machine, which means both computers need access to the Internet.
Remote login is vital for businesses
For most businesses, remote login tools are a crucial part of the the IT professional’s toolbox. In the reality of today’s 24/7 business world, IT pros don’t get to clock off at the end of the day. They’re always on call, ready to troubleshoot problems that arise so the business can keep earning revenue. And when an employee is having problems with their PC in the evening, you don’t want to have to drive to work to fix it. Instead, you just fire up your favorite remote login tool and log on to the problem machine. Then once you’re logged on you can help the user install a program, change a setting, or perform some other task. Provided, of course, the machine isn’t frozen or unable to connect to the Internet.
Remote login tools have been around for years, and many have come and gone. How can you separate the good ones from the chaff? I’m fortunate that as Senior Editor of WServerNews.com I have close contact with almost 100,000 IT pros around the world who have signed up for our weekly newsletter. That’s a lot of raw expertise to tap into, and several times in the last few years I’ve discussed the topic of remote login tools in our newsletter and asked for readers’ recommendations. So I’m going to share here a short sampling of what some of our expert readers have said on this topic. And if I miss your own favorite remote login tool, feel free to mention it below by commenting on this article.
Let’s start off with Ian, an IT Project Manager in the U.K., who recommends join.me, which is powered by LogMeIn. “It’s a great little tool with tons of features for business users,” Ian says. “Definitely worth a look.” Join.me lets you share your screen and join a meeting, so it’s more than just a tool for remote login purposes. But you can definitely use it for troubleshooting your Uncle Anton’s PC in Siberia. All he needs to do is agree to let you have control of his machine. Good luck with that.
There’s a great little video on the join.me blog that explains how this tool works. Join.me is available in different licensing options for individuals, teams, and businesses. And if you’re a business customer and you’re concerned about how secure join.me is as a tool, you can read this whitepaper that explains their architecture in detail.
All in all, many of the colleagues I’ve talked to swear by this tool — even Uncle Anton’s cousin in Zheleznogorsk!
As I indicated above, join.me is powered by LogMeIn. But while join.me lets you jump in right away and begin sharing your screen and collaborating with others (or fixing their PC), LogMeIn provides quite a bit more than that. Available in Pro, Central, and Rescue versions for remote login and support for one or hundreds of machines, LogMeIn is a powerful solution if you’re willing to pay for it. Joe, one of our newsletter readers, says, “I do IT work on a fulltime basis, all day and every day. I constantly have to defend charging for time spent doing work for customers who call me with their problems. Granted, people usually don’t complain loudly, but one can read their displeasure when they are asked to pay for repairs to their little boxes. Just one man’s opinion, but I pay for LogMeIn and like and use it quite a bit. They even answer the phone when I call — another service of someone’s time and labor that must be made up in some way.”
That’s a good argument against remote login solutions being free. Someone has to develop them, and, more importantly, they have to support them. That costs money, so those who use the product should be required to pay for it too.
TeamViewer is another very popular remote login tool and is the favorite of many of our newsletter readers. Brian, who works with a transportation company in the U.S., sent me some detailed feedback on this tool a while back. “This is an awesome product! The new Web Management Console introduced in version 9 and the ability to use an iPhone, iPad, Android, and Windows 8 Phones makes this one a very slick contender. The performance is top notch, though I was a little disappointed at the number of dialog boxes the user has to click on when installing the host.” Another newsletter reader named Jon, who lives in Canada, said: “I’m a big fan of TeamViewer for remote access to Windows desktop and laptop machines. I use it all the time to support my relatives.”
Of course, with every good review usually comes some caveats. While TeamViewer, like most remote login solutions, is free for personal, non-commercial use, it may cost you quite a bit if you use it for commercial purposes. Brian says, “The biggest issue I see with TeamViewer is their licensing/cost model. If you want three concurrent sessions you pay $2,839 onetime cost until a new major version comes up. Then be prepared to pay again. I’ve seen a lot of bad reviews on this aspect, which makes me nervous.”
Then there’s the issue of security when you use this tool. It was only this summer that TeamViewer confirmed that a large number of users’ passwords had been exposed through breaches in the security of other popular services. Reddit has a long thread on this topic that might give you the shudders if you browse through them. Ultimately, we don’t know if TeamViewer itself was hacked or not, but regardless of which remote login tool you’re using you might want to change your password periodically. You can also take a look at this Reddit thread that discusses possible best practices for securely using TeamViewer and similar remote login solutions.
Unlike join.me and TeamViewer, which are marketed more as solutions for collaboration and online meetings (and helping Uncle Anton), RemoteUtilities from Usoris Systems sets its sights squarely on providing IT pros with remote access to PCs over a LAN or via the Internet. RemoteUtilities uses strong encryption and can bypass firewalls using either the cloud or from a self-hosted server in your datacenter. And licensing for the product appears generous as the model it uses is per-admin licensing that supports unlimited endpoints. So businesses in particular may want to take a closer look at this one.
Our reader, Brian, who was introduced above, says, “I never heard of this one prior to my search. However I decided to look at them… I was surprised at how much I liked this one and actually decided to use this for one of the smaller businesses I support and for my home.”
Versions of this product are available for Windows, iOS, and Android. One thing I personally like about this product is how clear and well-written their documentation is.
Another popular remote login tool (and one favored by our editor-in-chief, Tamar Weinberg) is VNC, a remote desktop solution that comes in many client flavors including RealVNC, TightVNC, and UltraVNC. The acronym VNC actually stands for Virtual Network Computing which is an open source protocol and explains why there are so many different clients around that can use it. VNC is also the base technology of some other remote login tools like CrossLoop which is the favored tool of Tom, one of our newsletter readers who works in Engineering IT Support for a university in Texas. Tom comments that this tool has been “very reliable and extremely handy” and that its “biggest advantage is the quick setup and the easy configuration to navigate NAT routers and other networking equipment while still maintaining security.” However, as AVG acquired CrossLoop in 2012, you’ll have to opt into one of the aforementioned VNC tools if you’re looking for similar functionality.
Last but not least, there’s Splashtop, which is available in versions for personal/home use and for professional/work, IT remote support, and educational usage. I’d never heard of this one until Michael, one of our newsletter readers, told me about it. His comment was simply, “I use Splashtop! It’s a paid subscription. Works awesome!’”
I guess that says it all.
Photo credits: join.me, TeamViewer, RemoteUtilities