A friend called me up the other day because he was having trouble with his Windows machine (hey! no comments from the Peanut Gallery!). Seems he picked up a nasty malware program called "MS Removal Tool." Of course, they made it sound like a good thing, right? Basically, this bugger holds your system hostage, not allowing you to run many programs (especially not spyware removal and anti-virus, but others as well) unless you buy their tool to remove it. Nice racket, eh? Me friend did find the page I linked to, but was nervous about playing in the Windows Registry (as well he should be – one false move and you're reloading Windows and maybe most of your programs). He asked if I'd walk him through it over the phone (he lives several states away, so a house call wasn't going to happen).
If you've ever tried to support someone this way – over the phone, without being able to see what they are seeing and doing – you know it's a nightmare. If you try and follow along on a system of your own (I could have fired up a virtual machine of XP) your system never looks just like theirs, and they always click before you tell them to, on the wrong thing. So you really need to access the other machine remotely.
Now there are plenty of products to allow for remote access – Windows and OS X both have built-in ways to do this. But getting my non-computer savvy friend to open the right ports in his firewall didn't seem like something likely to happen. So I asked one of my co-workers who also does a lot of Windows support if there was a product he'd recommend that would be easy for my friend to get running. He suggested TeamViewer – which turned out to be a great choice.
TeamViewer is free for non-commercial use. They have versions for OS X, Windows, Linux, and clients for iOS and Android (so you can control another system with your phone or pad device) and a web client as well. They also have a "server only" version – you have the person who needs his system worked on download that, and they don't even need to run an installer – just download and start it up.
You start the program, and after a few seconds, it connects to TeamViewer's servers and fills in an ID and password. You read them off to the person who will be taking control, they enter those values, click on "Connect to partner," and then they are controlling the computer.
At that point, you have control of the system (although the other person does as well, and can see what you're doing). Of course, the malware wouldn't let him run this program (it called it "harmful," and from its point of view that was true). So I had him boot his Windows box and hold down F8 to bring up a menu of troubleshooting modes. I had him boot to "Safe Mode with networking." Fortunately, the malware was started by "RunOnce" and "Run" registry entries, which are skipped in Safe Mode. I was able to find the software and whack it and the registry entries.
So if you're looking for a cross-platform remote access program, you might want to give TeamViewer a try.
I chose today's song for two reasons – not only for the "distant fire" I put out for my friend, but because one of my faithful G4 Cubes gave up the ghost the other day – I woke up to the smell of burning electronics.