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Uncool Solutions: Remote Control
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September: Remote Control
(c) 2003 The Tayler Corporation, All Rights Reserved
Colored by Jean Elmore

Winning Entries

We ran a contest to get people to submit a Cool Solution for the issue highlighted in this comic strip, and here are the winning entries. If you would like to try your hand at solving a comic strip problem with a Novell products, check out the current contest.

1st Place

Scott Kiser

Gee I kind of wish I had the Boy Genius' solution....

Before my institution purchased the full version of ZENworks, we used the Starter Pack. (And before the Starter Pack, we used the freely downloadable NetWare Applications Launcher, the first in a series of great products!) The Starter Pack doesn't include remote control of workstations, so I deployed a custom remote control solution this way:

  1. Grabbed a free implementation of VNC (currently available at http://www.realvnc.com/ or http://www.tightvnc.com/, among others).
  2. Made an app object using SnAppShot.
  3. Edited the app object for details... in this case, the app copies the application files, pushes custom registry settings and runs the executable VNC server; I removed the Start Menu shortcuts that are created by the default VNC install and named the app "Enable Remote Control." I throw this app out to workstations so, if a user is unable to explain just what his/her PC is doing wrong, we can tell 'em, "Simply double-click this icon," and their PC is made available remotely. BTW an icon appears in the system tray to indicate whether VNC is running.
  4. Copied the app object to another object -- this one is called, "Secret VNC" and is the same as the first only runs hidden. This one may be set to run at NAL launch for a specific user or workstation at need. (Certain security and HR folks like this.
  5. )
  6. Finally, for my jury-rigged solution, I setup a web page enabling lookup of users' IP addresses, MAC addresses and/or host names, in case these are not known at the time of the call.

The joke is, once we purchased the full version of ZENworks, folks here continued to use my solution despite Novell's integrated solution! (Maybe because it was considered a hassle to distribute the RC component of the client, or something. Personally I think it was VNC's colorful icon that clinched it.)

2nd Place

Matt Beckstrom

First, let's look at this problem the way a Microsoft shop would. The first step would be to make sure the computer is running all the latest service packs and critical updates. Then you can connect it to to the network. After that you would have to install all the latest versions of Microsoft software: operating systems, applications, etc. Then you would purchase the most bloated, complicated and expensive piece of software from Microsoft that you would then find out is now out of date. After spending sixteen hours with customer support, you would completely wipe the hard drive and start all over. Once the computer was running again, you would connect it to the network and pray to all the ethernet gods that you can actually see the computer on the network. (if not, please go back to step one) If you can see the computer, go and buy a lottery ticket. Finally, blame the whole darn thing on "an incompatibility with existing drivers" and get a beer.

For a Novell shop you would install ZENworks on your NetWare servers. Using ZENworks, you would have a powerful and stable remote control solution. You would then use GroupWise to send a message to your boss telling him you are taking off early to get some "micro brew research" done.

3rd Place

Frank Earl

Well, let's see... A QUICK check on the Novell site brings up ZENworks for Desktops and Servers. Looking at the specs for the product (and the base pricing), if you've got a budget that can afford the licensing on the main software and the clients, that would be one of the FIRST places I'd be looking- as long as you're dealing with Windows and Novell boxes on the network.

It gets a little more complicated if you're talking about UNIX/Linux or MacOS 9/10 boxes being in the mix. Unfortunately, there's no current Novell offered pick-and-use solutions for that type of situation- yet. (Unless you guys happen to have something in the works, then ZENworks would still be one of the more preferred solutions).

Where I'd start with on that case would be to pick a remote admin tool, something like VNC. It's Open Source, and available for download from http://www.uk.research.att.com/vnc/. It is a project that was developed by Olivetti's research lab in the UK before AT&T bought them out. It runs on Linux, UNIX, Windows, and MacOS server-side and has clients for Linux, UNIX, Windows, Windows CE, MacOS, and Java. Zero cost, reasonable performance on all possible platforms. This appears to be a big portion of a fix for the apparent problem that Boy Genius is proposing a fix for with his little networked LART toy.

Doing a remote software update would be more "interesting" and would require several different approaches (no one approach will probably work as apps, etc. are going to be different anyhow, unless you're talking Java, Perl, etc. applications...). There, the remote update features from ZENworks would work out well for the Windows side of the equation, but you'd need some other items in hand to manage that situation. In the case of a UNIX/Linux based workstation (which includes MacOS X), you could clumsily duct-tape together something with bash/ksh/csh, tar/cpio, and rsync that periodically pushes update packages out to the machines (Clumsy, prone to break- but easy enough to implement), or implement a packaging scheme on the platforms that don't have it (RPM and DEB package management is available for all UNIX-like platforms) and add an update tracking system such as apt-get that is called on a periodic basis on each of the clients. With apt-get on top of RPM or DEB (Debian comes with both installed by default), you can make a meta-package that forces new updates, etc. and the system will get each update in turn until it is fully updated.

other suggestions

Mike Eldredge

PC Remote Control - How about RealVNC?

I've had good results with it.

Tony Graham

Well, there are two approaches that I would consider.

For a Novell ZENworks shop it's easy. Simply deploy the remote administration components.

However, as we know not everyone runs full-blown ZEN or even any version of ZEN.

Therefore, I would recommend TightVNC. I use ZEN Starter Pack and use NAL to deploy an icon that resides on the system desktop titled Remote Admin. If a user clicks this icon it enables the VNC server so an administrator can access their system (with appropriate password of course).

I also limit by IP address those systems that are allowed to access desktops(this can be done in VNC). In this manner I give the user control over when their desktops are visible to administrators. When a user needs support, they call the help desk. If required an administrator can ask the user to activate the VNC server. Once work is complete I tell the end user to right click and shutdown the service. Quick, easy relatively secure and cross platform...though it would be a lot slicker if there was a Linux client to take advantage of the ZEN NAL features!!! <VBG>

J Adams

As a UNIX/Linux admin, I would first propose dumping the lame Windows workstations in favor of Linux, thus allowing any sysadmin to go and snoop quite effectively. Unfortunately, that doesn't involve Novell software, and is probably not regarded as "realistic", so can't be the right answer.

I used to use PC-Anywhere for stuff like this, and the Windows guys down the hall use it extensively. It's a nice solution, although very platform-specific. Can't manage UNIX at all, for instance. Also, no Novell software...again. That also effectively eliminates any/all of the free/cheap equivalencies using the backorifice code.

The clue, of course, is Howard Tayler's involvement. A clickity click on the GroupWise link provided, then a scan of the product overview, and it lists ... remote control capabilities!

The One True Answer, therefore, must be GroupWise.

Caleb Ronsen

ZENworks contains a very nice remote desktop management tool that is hidden behind all of the other features of the suite. A simple workstation, such as the HP XW4100, equipped with a dual head video card would be more than sufficient to manage and control a remote desktop anywhere on the network and still have screen space available to work with network or server resources. A must for anyone who need to view two things at once. A media kit and as many licenses as needed is the best price point (at least two licenses are required) and the CBT offers the best solution for getting your IT up to speed.

Daniel Treadwell

The best solution to remote control PCs is the ZENworks remote control feature. But if for some reason you cannot make it work, there is another option that is free and very easy. Download TightVNC from: http://www.tightvnc.com

This is a very small freeware app that can be easily distributed via a snAppShot, and locked down with a simple registry edit. As soon as the server portion is installed on your desktops, you can launch the viewer from your administrator workstation and remote control any computer you want. This saved me a lot of trips down to classrooms for an easy fix, and a lot of driving to remote locations to restart a Windows server. There are versions of this software available for Windows, Linux, and UNIX.

David W. Cooney

I love the strip for remote control. One of our favorite ideas is the "slap" button. When pressed by phone support, a hand reaches out of the user's phone and ... SLAP!!!

Frank Keessen

First of all, I should say we like your comic very much!

As for Remote Control, how about the following cool idea:

First of all, we are using ZENworks for Desktops (version 3.2) to our great satisfaction. Not only for software distribution (it only took me 5 minutes to create a NAL to distribute the famous Microsoft RPC patch), but also for remote control.

Now, we have a special "support team" for an inhouse application. These people are not the real IT geeks that we are, so I was a little cautious about giving them access to ConsoleOne (the tool we love so much). Instead, we found a piece of software called Workstation Control (by www.rkaid.com) that nicely plugs into ZENworks and allows our application support team to perform all Remote Control tasks OUTSIDE ConsoleOne (but INSIDE ZenWorks, using the standard RC agent).

Workstation Control is very easy to use and a lot faster than ConsoleOne, because it is designed to do just that: Workstation Control. In fact, we have bought a "site license" (at a very reasonable price), and now the TechSupport team uses this cool tool in addition to ConsoleOne.

I admit, this solution is very simple, but that's exactly what we were after: a simple yet effective tool that can be deployed in 2 minutes! ZenWorks and Workstation Control are the perfect team!

Further details about Workstation Control can be found at: http://www.novell.com/coolsolutions/tools/1614.html.

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