Daily Archives: September 7, 2006

Remote PC support for family members

Working in the IT industry, I’ve become a part-time PC support person for relatives, friends and neighbours. My guess is that this is fairly common!

Last Christmas I built new systems for my mother and my parents-in-law. My mother’s PC is on dial-up (still!), and my in-laws in Poland are on satellite broadband, so I haven’t been able to do anything particularly clever like sorting out dynamic DNS addresses. Actually I did try to get a DynDNS address working for my in-laws, but there were weird issues to do with NAT’ing from a router that I couldn’t get access to – upshot is, my plans for providing remote support got ruined early on.

That was until I read a fantastic piece over at LifeHacker all about how to create a simple VNC-based executable client package that would connect to run a VNC viewer listening on my desktop (and I can control the DNS address of machines on my network). So, rather than me trying to connect to them, they can run this tiny < 200k executable to connect to me. I can accept the connection, and then help them out.

The instructions are trivial to follow. I’ve customised the GUI to be a bit more friendly / needs-specific:

vnc

I’ve tested this locally on my home network, and it seems to work great. Now I need to find some family guinea-pigs. The last time I tried to talk my mother through the process of importing photos from her digital camera, it was fairly painful… maybe I’ll see if I can persuade her to try this out with me soon.

Update: it works… it was a little slow, but then the PC at the other end is on a 56k dialup. VNC was trying to adjust itself to use the best settings for both ends of the connection, and it was usable, but laggy. The next step is to try it across to Poland. This is looking very promising indeed.

Update #2: it works across to Poland too, and it’s much snappier. At this very moment, I’m fixing the backup schedule on the PC I built for my parents-in-law. I’d rather stupidly set it to do full backups every month, which caused the backup disk to run out of space after a couple of months. This time I’ll use incremental backups! Using the Windows XP user interface in a different language is great for improving my language skills.

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