Fog Creek Copilot

by Marc

Copilot
You know the scene. The phone rings and that computationally challenged friend / relative / coworker is in trouble. They’ve bought something, installed it and now the screen is asking them all kinds of funny questions. They clicked “yes” to something and all kinds of strange things are happening.

Oh, and they’re 1/2 hours drive away and they have something urgent to do tomorrow and could you please help them out?

Well now you can! Copilot is a very nice implementation of desktop remote control software. It’s based on VNC which is nothing new in itself but their implementation manages to get around things like firewalls so that you can just connect remotely to their PC and have a look for yourself.

The thing that impressed me about the copilot service is how easy it is to use from both ends. Just tell the other party to go to www.copilot.com and tap in the code you give them. A tiny, custom VNC client is downloaded and voila, you are in control. They can see exactly what you’re doing and possibly more importantly you can see what they’re doing.

I’ve used remote support software before but it’s usually hassle getting it through your average NAT router. The copilot service just worked when I tried it, and you get a 2 minute free trial to check it out.

12 reviews or comments

Al Says: October 3, 2005 at 1:17 pm

I’ve always found VNC to be really slow compared to Terminal Services or Radmin, is this any better?

I have helped my mum a few time using remote desktop, need to find a way of screening those calls.

Marc Says: October 3, 2005 at 1:47 pm

It’s about the same speed as regular VNC, so no it’s not that quick. The bonus is zero client side installation – you just tell the other person to go to a website and tap in a number, and you’re connected. It also goes right through firewalls – no messing around with installing software, drivers, configuring ports on the router or anything else.

Keith Says: October 3, 2005 at 3:02 pm

Primarily, it sounds much better than Remote Desktop Connection. The use of this service seems to dispell any tedious configuration. However, does it work behind NAT routers?

Marc Says: October 3, 2005 at 3:51 pm

Yep, it did for me. Because both sides make an outgoing connection to the copilot.com servers the routers deal with it quite happily.

Best thing is to give it a try, they offer a 2 minute free trial which is enough to see if it works in your scenario.

Derek Says: October 10, 2005 at 4:41 am

Access by using a website as an intermediary sounds interesting. What risks are there in using a 3rd partie’s website for making the connection? Should I be worried about them listening in or tracking the connections?

Derek Says: October 10, 2005 at 7:48 am

Are there any dangers, things to look out for, when using a 3rd party’s website as a method of making a connection? I can see it being useful, but do you have to implicitly trust the 3rd party?

Marc Says: October 10, 2005 at 1:13 pm

From their FAQ :

Is it a security risk to have the connection running through your server?

No. All the information sent is encrypted on both ends of the connection. Even if someone on our servers were “listening” to the information sent, the data would not be decipherable.

Jim Says: October 12, 2005 at 11:14 am

How does this differ from a product like GoToMyPC or WebEx? Are they any clicks to transferring control to another user? What is the cost?

Marc Says: October 12, 2005 at 3:07 pm

I’ve not used either of them but from what I can tell GoToMyPC is aimed at a different use, in that it needs client software installed on each PC you want to remote control and it’s designed for unattended use of a PC whereas copilot is designed to be used ad-hoc for support of a remote user.

I’ve just had a look at WebEx – it looks quite cool and does far, far more than copilot with a price tag to match!

Jack Says: October 31, 2005 at 6:02 pm

Co-Pilot is still peer to peer and most probably won’t work through firewall. I use WebEx Support Center and it rocks! I pay about $150 a month and it is totally worth it if you do more then 3-4 support session a month. Try out Support Center free for 14 days at http://www.webex.com/ft/index.php

Al Says: November 1, 2005 at 6:05 am

I think you may be a bit biased here Jack, as you posted your comment from the IP address of webex.com :)

Marc Says: November 2, 2005 at 11:21 am

I’m all for advertising but at least be honest about it :-)

Copilot does work through firewalls (or at least it went through the ones I tried it with), as it routes traffic via their servers so it’s peer to peer but both sides are making outbound connections. I suspect you’re doing something similar, because I can’t see another way around the inherent problem of remote control through NAT routers and firewalls.

I don’t think either WebEx or CoPilot are going to be treading on each other’s toes as from what I can tell they’re designed for different markets.

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