Help Me, Uncle Shawn

If you're anything like me, the holiday season is spent fixing Wi-Fi and removing spyware. Occasionally, I get to install Linux for a relative who is ready to give up Windows or needs something that will run on a circa-Windows 2000 computer (Xubuntu is usually my choice). The problem with helping friends and relatives with their computers over the holidays is that you become their first call when something goes wrong. You either can fight it or make it easier on yourself by preparing in advance.

I love Team Viewer. It's not an open-source program, but it's free for personal use with no frustrating limitations. Plus, it runs on Windows, OS X and Linux. The best part is how easy it is to use. I generally don't set up the "automatic availability" feature that logs the computer in to the Team Viewer network automatically on boot. I like to use the standard startup, which requires users to call me with the code on their screen.

The best thing about Team Viewer is how easily it handles NAT situations. Since the software connects to the Team Viewer servers, those servers act like a connection broker, meaning there are no router ports to forward and no proxies to set up. As long as the computer is on-line, you should be able to take over and help someone. Again, you might not like the ease with which you'll be able to help, but having access to a user's computer in real time is so much nicer than explaining to Uncle Harry what "right click" means.

Due to its free license for personal use, cross-platform compatibility and incredible ease of use, Team Viewer gets this month's Editors' Choice award. It's not new software, but after a stretch of holidays, I'm reminded just how nice it is to have installed on all my relatives' computers. Be sure to install the client before you leave their houses, or else be prepared to explain software installation over the phone! Get your copy at


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.