Whether it is for troubleshooting or collaboration, sometimes you just need to see what is on a user's screen to really know what is going on. The free software utility CrossLoop makes connecting any two personal computers as easy as typing a phone number and clicking Connect.
For more images of CrossLoop in action, check out the TechRepublic image gallery.
Under certain circumstances, connecting two personal computers over the Internet can get more complicated than many are willing to accept. Tools like Microsoft's Remote Assistance can be intimidating to the novice user and frustrating for the experienced user trying to gain access. Adding hurdles such as firewalls and routers to the mix means that many just give up on the whole idea of remote assistance.
Similar complaints are often heard about collaboration software. While the concept of two-heads-are-better-than-one is applicable to many situations in the business world, getting those two heads together presents challenges beyond just the personalities involved. There are several collaboration applications available; some are expensive and some are part of the operating system, but very few are as easy to implement as they should be.
However, one tool I have come across seems to have found the answer with a simple interface and an ease of operation that will make many other vendors of such software envious. CrossLoop connects any two personal computers running Windows with a deceptively simple interface that is essentially a box with an access number and a connect button. CrossLoop works through firewalls and routers without any additional configuration and encrypts all of the information flowing back and forth between the machines. The simplicity of setting up CrossLoop and getting two computers connected is remarkable when compared to the hoops most of us have to jump through to get the same result with other applications.
The CrossLoop software can be downloaded from the TechRepublic Software Library. The 1.6-MB installation file is an executable file, so starting the installation process is as simple as double-clicking. Figure A shows you the first page of the installation wizard.
|CrossLoop installation wizard|
Running CrossLoop is somewhat anticlimactic. As you can see in Figure B, the interface for CrossLoop embraces the minimalist design mantra.
|CrossLoop's opening screen is a minimalist's dream, but looks are deceiving.|
While the user interface for CrossLoop is simple, what is happening behind the scenes is not. The CrossLoop developers have seamlessly cobbled together several technologies to make the connection between two PCs secure and functional. The remote control of the connected personal computers is made possible by the free GPL-licensed TightVNC, which is a derivative of Virtual Network Computing (VNC).
By using TightVNC, CrossLoop ensures that data on both ends of the connection is 128-bit encrypted before it is sent to the other side. The encryption codes are generated by the 12-digit access code the software provides at the start of each session. Each new session gets a new 12-digit code, which adds another layer of protection from prying eyes.
However, even with all that going on behind the scenes, the requirements for running CrossLoop are relatively modest. According to the CrossLoop Web site, the general requirements are:
- Windows 98 or later
- Pentium 500 MHz +
- 128 MB RAM or greater
- 2 MB hard drive space
- Broadband Internet Connection: DSL, cable, T1
A session example
To see how CrossLoop works, lets look at a session in action. Using my desktop production machine as host (Figure C) and a tablet PC from the TRLabs as the client wishing to join the session (Figure D), I set up a typical CrossLoop connection.
|The host machine|
|The client machine looking to join|
The host machine communicates the 12-digit access number to the client through e-mail, instant message, telephone, yelling down the hall, etc. The joining user types the access number into the empty box. Both host and client click the connect buttons and bingo, the PCs are connected (Figure D).
|A connection is established|
The ability to connect two personal computers running Windows to each other over the Internet easily and securely is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. It is often the only efficient way to communicate a particular idea or troubleshoot a particular problem. Applications that make such connections possible have been available for some time, but they can be frustrating and unwieldy to configure and administer. CrossLoop has distilled the connection of two PCs to a simple one-button interface that works as well as any application currently on the market, only without all the hassle. If you want to connect two PCs across the Internet securely, I cannot think of a more efficient or satisfying application than CrossLoop.