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Free remote desktop app good for working with someone computer illiterate?

I am looking for something that I can install on my parents' and grandparents' laptops to help me remotely manage them. The requirements are:

  • On their end it has to be something that silently sits in the background and requires no interaction at all.
  • They might be behind a NAT.
  • They will probably have dynamic IP addresses, so it has to be something that doesn't require me to know their IP address. Ideally something that can show me a list of machines I can connect to would be great.
  • Mouse, Screen, Keyboard Control
  • Password protected remote access

Either free or paid is OK as long as it's reasonably priced (preferably one off cost rather than subscription based)


All machines are running Windows (XP, Vista or 7)

I am looking for something that wouldn't require a lot of configuration and setting up servers etc.

  • Do you have a server or such, always online and (preferable) with a static ip address? What operating system(s) run on your parents' and grandparents' computers? – andol Jul 31 '11 at 13:10
  • No, I don't and also I don't want to get into the whole setting up a server business. – Ivan Zlatev Jul 31 '11 at 13:13
  • I was about to suggest UltraVNC Single Click - uvnc.com/addons/singleclick.html - when the question got closed while I was writing up my answer! Geez. Good luck. – Evan Aug 1 '11 at 0:23

TeamViewer is THE way to go in my opinion. You would install the Full version, set it to start with Windows, and set a specific password. After you have it setup, and have the 9-digit code, it will work EXACTLY as you described you wanted.


You go into the Extras>Options>General to set it to start with Windows:

enter image description here

And you go into the Extras>Options>Security to set the password:

enter image description here

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  • P.S. It only facilitates a peer-to-peer connection, so once you are connected, no data goes through the TeamViewer servers. And this answer assumes that they are running Windows OS'es. – KCotreau Jul 31 '11 at 13:14
  • Starting at €500 this TeamViewer software is really expensive. I can understand the price given the huge feature set and the fact that its targeted at business users, but probably I only need less than third of the features. – Ivan Zlatev Jul 31 '11 at 13:21
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    It is FREE for personal use, and the only limitations are that it will bark at you and limit your sessions if you are on a corporate network. – KCotreau Jul 31 '11 at 13:24
  • On download.com, a very respected site, it is actually the 6th most downloaded software overall: download.cnet.com/windows Generally, on this site, if you recommend something that is paid for, you say so, and possibly even post the price. – KCotreau Jul 31 '11 at 13:26
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    another plus that is worth mentioning is that it is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and can connect across OS. I've been installing the personal version for my family recently; but since I'm using Linux and they Windows so many other software doesn't fit the bill. – Lie Ryan Jul 31 '11 at 22:25

I use LogMeIn to be able to log into my family computers. It's really simple. Just log into logmein.com from the computer you want to control, and then just add the computer. You will then have a list of computers that you can log into. LogMeIn is free for personal use, with optional paid plans.

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I've been looking into doing something similar, only in my case it's between my mother's computer, an iMac running OS X, and my own computer(s) which all run Windows. We're both using the brand of DSL gateway/router hardware from the regional phone company.

I've decided to use the Virtual Network Computing (VNC) graphical desktop sharing system to allow me to control her machine from one of mine. It's platform-independent and I've been using TightVNC's implementation of it on my Windows-based machines successfully for quite a while. There are a number of other versions to choose from as well. Apple's Mac OS X includes a VNC software.

The routers both have NAT, but I've been able to figure out how to configure things so the computers behind it will can have fixed internal local IP addresses, which should allow me to configure port-forwarding in them to the proper system.

Dynamic IP addresses can be handled using one of the many free solutions out there, like the free Dynamic DNS service offered by DynDNS.com, which tracks the changing IP address as it changes and provide a fixed domain name you can use to access the system after you register.

Anyway, that's the theory -- because I haven't finished installing and getting it all to work yet -- but I've done a fair amount of research and it appears to be a feasible (and free) approach.


Don't let the mention of client & server scare you off -- the server is easy to configure and can be set to start automatically at boot time.

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    I've done similar things in the past as well, but it's very time consuming, requires configuration on multiple layers (windows firewall, router port forwarding, dynamic dns and what not), is relatively fragile (router dies and I have to spedn 2+ hours walking my parents through setting up port forwarding over the phone) and is also high maintenance. Trust me it's too much hassle and this TeamViewer app seems to do all of that with 1 button click. – Ivan Zlatev Jul 31 '11 at 15:44
  • @Ivan Zlatev: Much of what you say may be true, but TeamViewer isn't CrossPlatform -- which is what I need. – martineau Jul 31 '11 at 20:36
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    Team viewer runs on mac linux and windows. I've done mac support with it from my windows pc. Works well. – Byron Whitlock Jul 31 '11 at 21:55
  • @Ivan Zlatev: LogMeIn is also trivially easy to get working, and probably provides much the same functionality as TeamViewer. – FumbleFingers Jul 31 '11 at 23:51
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    VNC might work fine. But you need to get the target machine in hand to configure it as well as the firewall. This might be a problem when your parent's machine is far distant. – harper Aug 1 '12 at 5:50

I typically help my family with their computers by using CoPilot. There is no software required to install and it works through NAT. So long as your family has Internet Access and can go to Copilot's website you can help them debug their issues. Obviously this isn't a great help if they can't get online at all, but then any other solution will have similar problems.

What I like most is I don't have to tell my family how to find their IP Address, I just point them to a web site and give them a code to input.

Copilot is free to use on weekends, I think its around $5 for a single use.

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  • It's worth noting that CoPilot was developed at the company of one of the founders of Stack Exchange, Joel Spolsky's Fog Creek. – Nzall Jan 20 '14 at 10:34

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