Sunday, August 12, 2007

CrossLoop - Simple Secure Screen Sharing

I know that I haven't been directly addressing telecom technology related issues lately, and I promise that my next article will be on a telecom network related item.  While relaxing yesterday to a couple of podcasts, I found a very handy product for those of us that have to help our parents manage their computers from afar.  I heard about it while watching the Scoble Show during an interview with Silicon Valley legend Tom Rolander.  The program is the latest brainchild of Tom and his company CrossLoop.

How many of us end up as tech support for our close friends and family, and how many of these people have trouble articulating what they see on the screen?  I can't even count the times I just wanted to reach through my screen and grab the mouse on the other end.  That elusive goal was only a dream until now.  CrossLoop was developed with this simple task in mind: allow a techie to remotely control a non-techie's computer in as few steps as possible.

Of course we have tried Remote Assistance in WindowsXP, instant messengers, and other programs designed for remote access, but firewalls and the complex instructions to get them running on the other end prevented them from ever working or working more than once.  CrossLoop aims to make it easy for the tech savvy to help the tech challenged. 

The CrossLoop developers eliminated the multiple steps of connecting to a remote computer and configuring firewalls.  The steps to remote support bliss are few:

  1. Download a small (~2 MB) file from CrossLoop.
  2. Run the installation program and "trust" program if your anti-virus software prompts you.
  3. Run the CrossLoop application.
  4. Have the person on the other end complete the first three steps.
  5. The person on the other end has to click on the "host" tab and read to you the 12 digit access code and click connect.
  6. Type the access code in the box on the "join" tab and click connect.
  7. Now you are connected!!!

CroosLoop screen shot

CrossLoop handles all of the mysteries of the connection behind the scenes.  The truth is that they use HTTP to a proxy that punches through any firewall to initiate a peer-to-peer connection between the two machines.  There are few configuration options to confuse users.  It just works.  The connection is secure because it uses 128-bit encryption with a key generated from the 12-digit access code.

My parents always have questions on how to do things on their computer.  I am delighted to offer assistance, but they have trouble understanding what I tell them no matter how simple I make it.  They use AOL as their ISP which I have no clue how to do anything through their user interface.  For years I have struggled with explaining how to send attachments, load printer drivers, find files, and edit documents.  On occasion I have set up Remote Access on their computer when I visited them, but firewalls have blocked the traffic.  Application sharing through IM programs failed since they have been moved or removed since my visit.  I am always resorting to describing the steps of a process over the phone.

Today I had my parents download CrossLoop and install it.  Once installed, I had them read me the 12-digit access code and click connect.  Moments later a window opened displaying their desktop.  Actually it was several moments because they are still on a dial-up line.  In any case, I was able to navigate around their desktop and show them what to do.  Now I can install new programs, repair shortcuts, and show them how to use IM and other useful programs.  Bliss is near!

CrossLoop is free right now while they are trying to figure out how to monetize their business.  In the future expect to possibly see ads inserted into a corner of the screen or possibly charge for a premium service with more features.  Right now, it does just fine simply connecting me to my parents' computer.  Sometimes simple is better.