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How do you perform remote support for your organization? Do you, for instance, need to remotely access your telecommuters' work computers via a virtual private network (VPN) connection or do you ask your customers to install a software agent so you can view and interact with their desktop remotely?
The major players in the secure remote access solutions space are robustly featured, but quite expensive. Here are some representative examples:
- DameWare (starts at $365 per technician)
- LogMeIn (starts at $149/year for two computers)
- Radmin (starts at $49 per computer)
- SplashTop (starts at $60/year per user)
- TeamViewer (starts at $809/year per user)
Microsoft and Apple also offer remote desktop products, but those often require port forwarding and firewall allowances. The same is true with rdesktop, the open-source Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) client. Finally, there are the open-source virtual network computing (VNC) servers like the following:
These products are free, but typically don't offer much, if any, connection security, at least by default. Today I'd like to introduce you to a lower-cost, but still secure and full-featured remote control solution called LiteManager (sometimes called Lite Manager).
Besides its affordable price (there's a free version and a paid version; we'll get to that later in the review), LiteManager has quite a few other aspects in its favor. Let's get the product installed and see what it can do.
Installing the software ^
Like most remote support software, LiteManager has both server and client components. They're packaged in .msi format, which makes the software easier to deploy via Group Policy, Windows PowerShell DSC, PowerShell package management, or another configuration management solution.
In fact, LiteManager includes an MSI Configurator application that allows you to customize the installation behavior and initial configuration of the server or client .msi packages. Once you've customized the installation packages, you can even perform remote installations and upgrades from the LiteManager Viewer application shown in the following screenshot.
Let me walk you through the major LiteManager Viewer (LM-Viewer) interface elements, using the previous, annotated screenshot as reference:
- A: Connect to remote computers by using IP address or ID (I'll explain that in a moment)
- B: Organize your remote connections
- C: Customize the client and server .msi packages and perform remote upgrades
- D: Generate a map showing connectivity among remote computers
- E: Perform various administrative tasks on your remote connections
LiteManager has an Android viewer app in the Google Play store. Supposedly, LiteManager is supported in Linux and OS X versions running in the Wine and CrossOver emulation environments, respectively. However, I was unable to find any documentation on how to make these configurations work. Bummer!
You configure the LiteManager server (LM-Server) in much the same way that you do with VNC servers. Once again, let me give you an LM-Server annotated screen capture and explain the security options:
- Authorization: Set a local password or use a Windows account (local or Active Directory) to authenticate incoming LM-Viewer connection requests
- Authentication: Choose an encryption level; the highest uses 2048-bit RSA signature keys and 256-bit AES session keys
- IP-filter: Whitelist or blacklist IPv4/IPv6 IP addresses or ranges
- Modes: Disable particular administrative actions during remote control sessions
Performing remote administration with LiteManager ^
Let's fire up the LiteManager Viewer and create our first connection. First of all, understand that LiteManager communicates on TCP ports 5650 and 5651, so you may have to instruct your users to forward those ports on their home or office routers.
In LM-Viewer, click New Connection to open the New Connection dialog box as shown below.
The main thing I want to show you here is that you don't have to use the target host's DNS name or IP address to create a remote connection entry. LiteManager includes connectivity to its own semi-public No-IP server. With No-IP, each LiteManager server generates a unique numeric hostname that is accessible from across the Internet.
In the next screenshot, you can see one of my servers running LM-Server and displaying its dynamically generated ID. Click Connect to link this ID to LiteManager's public No-IP infrastructure.
On the viewer side of the connection, simply choose the Connect by ID option, plug in the server's ID, and "Bob's your uncle," as my Aussie mates say.
Once you're connected, accessing the modes is a bit weird. First, you select your connected remote host, and then you click one of the mode icons. I show you the File Transfer functionality in the next screenshot:
To help you get a feel for some of the remote management capabilities, let me list and briefly describe the modes:
- Full control: Remote desktop; full access
- View only: Remote desktop; view only
- File transfer: Bi-directional copy/move
- Demonstration: Screen sharing (supports recording)
- Shutdown: Remote shutdown
- Task Manager: Remote task management
- Execute: Run shell scripts on remote host
- Terminal: Open a remote console session
- Device Manager: Manage hardware remotely
- RDP: Open a Remote Desktop Protocol session
- Chat: Bi-directional chat (like Microsoft Remote Assistance)
- Screen recorder: Screencast video
- Send message: From LM-Viewer to LM-Server
- Audio video chat: Useful for remote support in absence of telephone
- Registry Editor: Remote configuration management
License details ^
The LiteManager Free license allows you to manage up to 30 remote computers with no time restrictions. However, the free version lacks some of the full version’s features:
- Screen recorder
- Device manager
- Audio video chat
- Address books
LiteManager allows you to unlock the Pro version features for 30 days. You can do this in LM-Viewer by clicking Help > Change Viewer type Pro/Free. LiteManager Pro is licensed in two ways:
- By number of remote connections: For 1-50 remote connections, you pay $10 per connection. The per-host license cost goes down to $7 per connection if you need to license 300 or more remote computers.
- By channel: The so-called "help desk license" is based on the number of active connections. This license method is good for managed service providers (MSPs) that need to install LM-Server temporarily or permanently on non-corporate-owned (e.g., customer's) computers.
According to their website, your license is good for life and product upgrades are free.
Closing thoughts ^
What I don't like about LiteManager is that the interface and remote management are a bit slow and clunky for my taste. Also, the LiteManager documentation is incomplete and not fully available in English.
I like that LiteManager includes quite a few remote access features at an affordable price. The ability to easily customize the LM-Server package is pretty cool.