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In search of the perfect remote access app: TeamViewer

If you have multiple computers or have to provide support to a remote Mac or PC used by a family member or friend, or if you travel and need to contact your computer at home, you're a customer for some sort of remote access. There are lots of choices, both free and paid. I've tried many, like some of the varieties of VNC, and solutions like LogMeIn Ignition and RDM+. They have all worked, but I was looking for more.

After reading a review of TeamViewer by our Erica Sadun last fall, i decided to give it a try. For home/personal use, it's absolutely free. I was only using personally, so free sounded good. I installed it on my Mac, on a Windows laptop, and grabbed the iPhone and iPad clients. Each computer you want to contact needs to run a version of the TeamViewer app appropriate for the computer it's installed on. There are versions for Windows, Macs and Linux. With that done, you run the program and your shared machine is assigned an ID. A password will also be assigned, but you can choose your own.

Connecting to a remote computer is as easy as typing in the ID of that computer, and logging in with your password. In a couple of seconds you'll see the remote screen and some extra buttons that allow you to do file transfers, remote reboot a computer, and tune the connection by adjusting the quality and scaling of the remote display. You can also bring up a chat window if you are working with someone on the remote computer. The is no reason to have to fool with firewalls or chase changing IP addresses. TeamViewer just works. Sound is not supported on the Mac side. PC to PC, there is a VoIP chat and video option. These features are coming to the Mac version, but no dates.

As I mentioned, TeamViewer also has a free iPad and iPhone app. They work well, especially on the iPad. On the small iPhone screen, things are a bit awkward, but everything actually does work. Your finger controls mouse movement, and you can right click with 2 fingers. My main use is to access an observatory PC that I use for astronomical photography. It works well. I can operate everything from my iPhone, iPad or MacBook Pro just as if I was sitting at the PC. Even better, TeamViewer provides a web access option, so I can log into the TeamViewer site and input a machine name and password and I'm in business. While TeamViewer does not require users to register, web access does involve getting a free account.

In practice, everything works well. I've used TeamViewer to connect to my home Mac when I'm away, run automated photography sessions from the observatory, and tutor some people in using Photoshop. With no audio chat, we just get on a phone for the duration of the session. If I'm going Mac to Mac for tutoring, iChat desktop sharing works great, and does have audio, but Apple desktop sharing doesn't extend to an iPad or iPhone client. It should.

In practical use, TeamViewer is a dream. It's been extremely reliable, and screen updates are fast, even over a 3G connection. The flexibility to contact a PC or Mac remotely using another Mac, a PC, iPhone or iPad along with a browser only connection is very welcome.

Downsides? A few. I'd like that audio and video chat ability yesterday. Of course I can do that with Skype, but the screen refresh performance and feature set of TeamViewer are far more comprehensive.

Pricing of TeamViewer is downright wacky. I have a free option, with nag screens, or I can be a corporate user beginning at US $750.00 for a lifetime license. What I'd like to see is a low-priced personal edition that dispenses with the nag screens that come up both on the machine you are controlling and your computer. Those notices appear each and every session, and frankly, they are a nuisance. I suggested this 3rd option to the TeamViewer folks, and they listened but didn't sound enthused about my suggestion.

TeamViewer is quite secure, and has full encryption, based on RSA private/public key exchange and AES (256 bit) session encoding.

I've used just about every remote access app there is. TeamViewer combines the best features from the free and paid apps, and still doesn't cost a cent if you're not using it in a corporate or business setting. If they'd offer audio and video chat, this app would be the perfect solution for my uses. Even without those added features, I've switched to TeamViewer for my remote computing needs because as it is, it is very, very good.

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