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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

1242. Computer collaboration

It seems that we (Doug and Ken) often need to collaborate in such a way that Ken can see Doug's computer desktop from his office, or vice versa. What are the options for screen sharing and collaboration across the Internet?

There are many options for screen sharing with friends and co-workers. In each case, the technology is secure, because you control who sees your screen and when. You control what portion of your screen the viewer can see; you control whether guests can take control of your keyboard and mouse; you control whether guests can transfer files.

Although there are several different options for providing screen sharing (an excellent way to provide and get technical support, by the way, and one that many major software vendors now use for technical support), they all basically work alike. In every case, the computer doing the sharing must install host software that allows the computer's screen to be seen; the client computer must install the same (or a different) piece of software that allows it to view the host's screen. In addition, the software manages the connection between the two computers through the internet.

Depending on the software, you may only be able to perform one-to-one screen sharing sessions, or you may be able to host meetings where one person shares a screen with many people (for online training, for example) or where many people share their screens with many people (for online meetings). Some services allow you to share audio and video in addition to screen sharing.

In terms of simple screen sharing (the point of this tip), the most common service is VNC (Virtual Network Computing), an open-source standard that's built into Linux and Mac OS X for free screen sharing. If you have a Linux or Mac computer, you can set up a VNC client application (such as RealVNC, TightVNC, or UltraVNC) and quickly set up screen sharing using the VNC standard. Going this route is free, but requires some technical expertise on both ends.

In terms of simple-to-use screen sharing, you can't beat TeamViewer (free for non-commercial, private use), and LogMeIn (free in a limited-use version).

Commercial (for pay) services include,,, and Doug's favorite, Microsoft’s Lync .  You can also sign up for your own company's Office 365 service that includes Lync support at the Malibu Software Group website.

If you are looking for technical help from friends, want to work on a spreadsheet with a co-worker, or need to give an audio/video presentation to 25 people, there is software available for you--and at very reasonable prices.

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