Remote support

Remote support is the ability to support a PC from a remote location.

The way in which remote support can be provided has changed and developed over the years. Prior to the release of Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS based applications tended to be menu or keystroke driven. These applications were easy to support over the telephone as it was easy to describe a series of keystrokes to an end user.

However, with the introduction of Microsoft Windows and GUI based applications, telephone support without remote access to a user's computer became more difficult. One of the earliest pieces of software to provide remote access to a user's computer was pcAnywhere.  This required a client to be installed on each computer which needed to be accessed but allowed full access to the remote PC for support purposes.

With the introduction of Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and then continuing with Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows Vista, remote desktop support was provided via the inclusion of Remote Assistance (for shared support sessions) and Remote Desktop (for remote administration). This service uses the RDP protocol and doesn't require any additional client software to be installed. The service is also provided in Microsoft's server operating systems. RDP client software is also available for Apple's Mac OS X operating system. RDP works well, even over slow internet links.

Open source remote support software has also been developed. The most commonly used is VNC, which is available in a variety of free and paid-for versions (such as TightVNC, UltraVNC and RealVNC). Similarly to pcAnywhere, VNC requires a client application to be installed. However, one major benefit is that there are versions for most operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, Linux and Unix. VNC is generally slower that RDP and can be difficult to use over slow internet links.

The latest development is remote support is web based services, such as those provided by LogMeIn. The main benefit of these is that they run through a web browser so no changes are required to firewalls at either end - the only requirement is web access through a browser. There are generally two types of product - the first requires a client application to be installed before the computer ca be managed remotely but the second doesn't need the client software installed in advance; a small web applet can be downloaded at the time of the support request and run without the need for installation or administrative rights. This allows easy support of computers that have never been supported before with little or no setup required. The performance of these web based services is generally very good and, while they are not usually as good as RDP, they are often much faster than VNC and work well over slow connections.

There are several other companies offering both software based (Radmin) and web based (GoToAssist) remote access services. Additionally, many universities provide remote support (e.g. The London School of Economics, The University of Greenwich and Coventry University).

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