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Doing Remote Support from a Mac

Screenshot of the

I, like many tech literate people, end up having multiple hats. One of those "jobs" that many tech literate people end up performing is being tech support for others. When you do need to provide tech support for others, there are instances when that can be accomplished via email, text message, or even over the phone. However, there are those times when you need to actually see what is happening. This requires connecting to a computer. For this, this is where remote control software can be handy.

There are a variety of options available depending on your needs. If you only need to connect to your own computers, you can probably use Apple's built-in software. It becomes a bit trickier if you need to connect to remote devices, but there are some solutions. Some of the available options are Jump Desktop, ZoHo Assist, AnyDesk, and Team Viewer, just to name a few.

Let us look at one in particular, the one I used, Team Viewer.


Team Viewer

Team Viewer logo

For the last decade I have been using Team Viewer. Team Viewer is one of the myriad options available for remotely connecting to devices. The reason that I have been using Team Viewer is because it is cross-platform. I, as you probably guessed, use a Mac, but the other person I support is using a Windows computer.

Team Viewer offers a couple of different methods for connecting to a remote device. The first is by prompting the remote user to allow you to connect to their computer. This method is good if you are on the phone with them. The second option is by using a password. You can configure one so that you can always connect to the device, provided it is powered on.

The reason I chose Team Viewer was because it was free to use for personal use. According to their website:

"...Remote access software connects individuals and devices, allowing you to collaborate, interact, and provide support for free..."

Team Viewer has worked well for over a decade, at least, it did until earlier this year.


The Issue

Over the last couple of months Team Viewer has, incorrectly, been thinking that I am using Team Viewer in a "commercial" manner. Now, I have only ever had two computers connected to my account. One being my own computer, and the second being someone else's. I only ever connect to the other person's computer when they call and need help. When I setup the other computer, I created a password so I could connect automatically if I needed to.

Because Team Viewer thinks I am using their software in a commercial manner it only allows you to be connected for five minutes. To add even more friction, it is not possible to immediately reconnect. Instead, you had to wait at least one minute between connections. This arrangement effectively makes the software useless for remote support and troubleshooting. I struggled through getting kicked off every five minutes for two different sessions, but ultimately decided this was untenable.


Possible Solution

You, reader, might be wondering, "Doesn't Team Viewer have a paid version?". Yes, they do. I am not opposed to paying for software. Not only because I am a software developer and would like people to buy my apps (and books), but because if you like good software, you should probably pay for it. I pay for quite a bit of software, even on a subscription basis.

Paying for the service is one way of that I could have made the error disappear. Team Viewer has a few options, with different levels depending on your needs. The package that would have made sense for me is called "Team Viewer Personal". When I first encountered the issues I looked into the pricing for this. It would cost just $25 per month, and billed on an annual basis. This is comes out to just under $300 per year. To me, this is an absolutely ridiculous amount to pay, per year, to support a single computer.

A second possible solution was to contact Team Viewer support and explain that their software had incorrectly identified me as a commercial user. However, I figured that this approach would go nowhere. Therefore, I only had one option remaining; just completely replace the software with another solution, and that is what I did.


Screens

Screens 5 app icon

Once the trouble started the first time, I thought about what software I could use to replace Team Viewer. I looked at several different options, but ultimately landed on a piece of software that I have used before, Screens by Edovia. I am not new to Screens, I actually use the iOS version regularly to connect to my Macs from my iPhone and iPad. When I am on my Mac and need to connect to another of my devices, I just use the built-in Screen Sharing app.

I went back and looked at when I first purchased the Screens app, and it was in 2011 when I purchased Screens for iOS. I then purchased Screens VNC for the Mac in 2014. As mentioned above you can use the Screens apps on your local network and connect to other devices, but Screens really comes into play when you use it to connect to remote computers.

The way that the system operates is by using a relay server, hosted by Edovia, to connect your computers together. This relay software is called "Screens Connect".

Screens connect runs as a service in the background and will keep your computer connected to relay servers so you can access any registered computer at any point. The use of a relay server means that you do not need to open up ports on your router just to use the service.


Setup

Edovia's marketing image of Screens Connect which shows a Mac, iPad, and iPhone possibly remotely connecting to two Macs and a Windows PC

Previously, I have done Screen Connects installs on a Mac, but this was my first time doing an install of Screens Connect on Windows. The install was pretty straightforward but one of the steps is to install TightVNC. This is standard free remote connection software. When you set up TightVNC you are required setting up a password, which you can be prompted for when you actually connect to a remote Windows computer.

This password can be entered every time you connect, or you can configure it to be saved within the Connection Settings for a device. This option is good so you do not need to enter in the password each time. Once you have installed Screens Connect, you will not likely need to worry about managing settings later on, but you can do so by right-clicking on a computer and then clicking on "Edit".


Screens App

The 'What's new' popup when you install the Screens 5 app

In order to use Screens Connect, you will need to purchase the Screens app on your Mac. Technically, the app is free, but there is an in-app purchase.

Once you download the app you will have a few options. There are two subscription options; a $2.99 monthly subscription and a $24.99 yearly subscription. The monthly subscription is great for those who only need to do remote support, or need remote access to their computers, on an infrequent basis. There is a third option, which s particular good for those with subscription fatigue. There is a one-time "lifetime" purchase. This, as you might suspect, is more expensive. The one-time purchase is $79.00.

Given how infrequent I need the app, I could have opted for the monthly subscription of $2.99 and just re-purchase it each time I really need it. However, I actually opted to go for the one-time purchase of $79.00. I opted for the one-time purchase partially due to subscription fatigue, but also because I would rather just have a one-time purchase for the software.

I may have to re-purchase the software again once Screens 6 comes out, but, as of this writing, Screen 5.0 just came out four months ago so it will likely be a while before they end up releasing the next major version that requires purchase. So, I do not have any issues with spending the money.


Overall Experience

After I had installed Screens connect on the remote computer, where I previously had Team Viewer installed, and connected using the Screens app I immediate noticed one difference, the screen quality. When using the Screens app the quality was significantly better than when using Team Viewer. It is not like the Windows PC was using a 4K monitor or anything, but it was noticeably clearer and sharper.

The second thing I noticed was the improved responsiveness overall. Instead of clicking taking multiple seconds for an action to complete, things just actually worked as expected. I would absolutely expect a bit of delay due to the age of the computer, and the fact that it is a remote connection, but I did not realize just how poorly the Team Viewer experience was.


Screens 3

As mentioned earlier, I purchased the Screens VNC app back in 2014. Out of curiosity I re-downloaded the latest version of that, which is from 2018, to see if it would work. And, guess what, it actually did run, and it will connect to newer devices. This was simultaneously surprising, and not surprising.

It means that I did not necessarily need to purchase the Screens 5 app, but I do not know how long the Screens 3 app will continue to run. Besides that, supporting small software companies is always a good thing, particularly if you want the software to stay around.


Closing Thoughts

If you have a Mac and are looking for an app that allows you to connect to a remote Windows computer, you may want to look at Screens and Screens Connect. Yes, you will need to purchase a license for the Screens app, but you do have three options, a monthly subscription, a yearly subscription, or even a one-time "lifetime" purchase. The one-time purchase is not an insignificant amount, but it is not exorbitant amount either.

Screens is designed for the Mac, but the fact that they have Screens Connect for Windows means that they do know that a certain segment of their user base does need to connect to other devices.

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