Windows 7 RA vs. VNC Viewer

A customer came to me with the question which of the two does a better job for delivering remote assistance to the end-users : the built in remote assistance function of Windows 7 or the (3rd party tool) VNC Viewer. Because I’m a big fan of the Request Remote Assistance function in Live Messenger for supporting friends and family with their computer issues I advised them to use the default remote assistance.


Windows Remote Assistance
Last week one of the customers it guys asked me what the default remote assistance function was in Windows 7 and what they should choose, because they were asked to choose between the two options (ra or vnc). This was the reason to show him the remote assistance. When an end-user wants remote assistance the ‘default’ remote assistance procedure is:

  1. The end-user starts Remote Assistance and selects ‘Invite someone you trust to help you’ image
  2. The end-user then has to choose one of the three offered options…image
  3. The end-user has to save the Invitation.msrcIncident file somewhere where the IT Pro can access it (or e-mail the file to the IT Pro) and he also has to give the IT Pro the password which appears.
  4. The IT Pro has to open the file and then enter the received password to set up the connection.

You can imagine that this can be very complex for the average end-user in a corporate environment.

VNC Viewer
When you use the VNC Solution you have to install the VNC ‘Server’ on all the clients for which you want to enable remote assistance. The IT Pro’s can use the VNC ‘Viewer’ executable (no installation needed) to give the remote assistance. When an end-user wants remote assistance the procedure will be:

  1. The end-user calls customer support.
  2. The IT Pro asks for the end-users computer name (or ip address).
  3. The IT Pro starts VNC Viewer and uses the computer name  to connect to the end-users desktop.image
  4. Depending on the security settings the end-user has to approve the connection
  5. The IT Pro can give remote assistance to the end-user

In some environments it can be easy to ignore the built in Windows Remote Assistance and go for the ‘free’ VNC Viewer. For home use VNC Viewer is indeed free, but in a corporate environment you have to pay for this solution. If you want to give remote assistance to 100 end-user machines you will need 100 licenses for VNC Viewer which will cost about $ 1300,-.

Remote Assistance the corporate way
Wouldn’t it be nice if you can use Windows Remote Assistance the same way you can use VNC? You can! Why use a 3rd party product if you can have the same functionality with the built in Remote Assistance utility!

What do you have to do to use Remote Assistance in your corporate environment? Just read on!

Since the current Remote Assistance version came with Windows Vista it is possible to use some command line parameters to run (or automate) Remote Assistance. I’m going to discuss all of the parameters, just visit this Microsoft TechNet page for more information. The option we’re going to use is this one : /offerRA

Group Policies
Before you can use the /offerRA option you first have to configure some Group Policies at :
Computer ConfigurationPoliciesAdministrative TemplatesSystemRemote Assistance. The only policy object you have to configure is the Offer Remote Assistance setting. If you leave the state Not configured or Disabled you won’t be able to use the /offerRA option. So change the state to enabled and add a domain user or group which you would like to giv e remote assistance. I added the testdomainRemote Assistance group and the testdomainAdministrator user as shown in the image below.

The other settings are optional, but I also enabled the Turn on session logging and Customize Warning Messages with some customer support information.

How easy can it be?
When you have configured the policies the Remote Assistance procedure became less complex:

  1. The end-user calls customer support.
  2. The IT Pro asks for the end-users computer name (or ip address).
  3. The IT Pro starts Remote Assistance with the /offerRA option from the command line : msra /offerRA
  4. The Windows Remote Assistance application starts with the option to enter a computer name or IP address. You can also choose a computer from your historyimage
  5. The IT Pro enters the computer name and will press the Next button. The connection is established.
  6. The end-user receives a pop up screen to confirm that the IT Pro is allowed to give Remote Assistanceimage
  7. When the end-user has pressed the Yes button the IT Pro can see the desktop. If the IT Pro also wants to control the session he has to press the Request control button in the upper left corner of the screen.image

So in a corporate environment it’s really easy to setup Windows Remote Assistance without additional costs and installation! The only thing you have to configure are a few Group Policies, which can be done in a few minutes. With Remote Assistance it’s even possible to chat with the person who helps you out!

  • Nickhenstra

    Hey helmer long time no see… (ex collega centric en samen gezeten bij oranjewoud) maar was toevallig opzoek naar wat inside info m.b.t windows remote asstince omdat een klant voor een zelfde keuze stond. Erg verhelderend! top!

    Nick Henstra

  • Graag gedaan!

    • Test

      is there a utility to automate the RA in windows xp?

  • asterismW

    Wow, thank you!! I HATED that I seemingly had to have the user initiate the RA session. Loved the feature, hated the process, especially since in XP I could offer remote assistance. I don’t know why 7 removed that option in the RA wizard (but then, they changed a LOT of things they should have left alone), but I’m glad they left the back door open. A million thanks for clueing me in on this.

  • Henrikmc

    Erhmm… in RA:
    press “Help someone who has invited you
    press “Advanced connection option for help desk”

    Who do you want to help?


  • maandag testen lijkt me erg makkelijk qua implementatie!

    gr Mowikan

  • Matt

    We are implementing Windows 7 RA and we have followed the steps detailed in your excellent article.
    Our only problem comes in Step 6 when the end-user awaits the Pop-Up asking them to confirm request for help.
    We can see that msra.exe is a newly running process, but the pop-up never arrives. Eventually, RA stops on the Admins box due to lack of response and the msra.exe stops running on the end users box.
    Any guess and what GPO or Security setting may be preventing the pop-up?
    Thanks, Matt

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