Whether you're looking for an easy solution to fix a relatives' computer half the world away, or you need to collaborate with a colleague for your latest project, there are several strong screen-sharing programs that can meet your needs.
First off is a familiar name: Skype. The latest beta of the world-famous VoIP app supports screen-sharing, and if you've ever been in a Internet cafe, you know that this could be a big deal. Skype is already heavily used in a multitude of countries to connect friends, family, and business partners via voice and text. Screen-sharing would simply be another excellent feature to add to the list that already includes file-sharing. It's sharing-only, somewhat laggy, and currently limited to one contact at a time. Early adopters should be aware that Skype does have a native option out there, but it's not the only one if you don't mind third-party software.
Oneeko reinterprets screen-sharing as a shared, collaborative space that lacks polish and grace, but is robust nonetheless. Pronounced "one echo," Oneeko shares can be initiated only from PCs, but Mac and Linux users can share their screens, too. You can initiate a share via Skype, e-mail, or through the Oneeko Web site. The sharing process sends out a link, and from there the user can see your computer.
Oneeko's most striking feature is its interface, which is based on a looking-glass concept. The interface is topped by a horizontal control panel, with the remainder of the window dedicated to a transparent pane. When you're not connected, it shows quick-start instructions. During a share, the pane disappears and the windows beneath the pane show through. Anything below that pane is shared--the rest of your monitor remains hidden. Moving the window around determines what you're sharing. Paid upgrade features include useful tools like annotations, group support, file transfer, and Webcam support. Without them, Oneeko requires a fair bit of effort to get started but professionals might appreciate the slick melding with Skype.
Yuuguu's approach to screen-sharing goes straight through your instant messaging clients, although they're not required to run the program. It's a multiprotocol messaging program that supports the biggest IM services--Yahoo, MSN, Google, AIM, ICQ, and Skype--in the hopes that rolling the services into one communications package will appeal to resource-conscience users.
When you want to initiate a sharing session, you click on the users' name and share the provided code. As with its competitors, both sides must agree to the share before it can begin. Unfortunately, Yuuguu doesn't support file-sharing, although you can transfer files via IM. Yuuguu users can share with as many as 29 other people, but only the host needs to have the software installed. Participants can watch and contribute to the chat, making this an effective tool for small-scale presentations. It supports voice chat, too. Of the various screen-sharing apps out there, Yuuguu's instant-messaging support makes it among the most Web 2.0-esque of the bunch.
TeamViewer strikes a good balance between features and speed. You can share securely, send files with a minimum of hassle, control access rights, and even flip which user has control. The options available while you're in control work smoothly. A big X from a drop-down toolbar in the center of the remote window lets you close the connection, while the Actions button lets you switch whose in control, disable remote input, and reboot remotely. The View menu hides options to adjust the screen resolution, the optimization toward speed or quality, and control multiple-monitor displays. Sharing here is similar to its competitors, with unique computer identifiers and passwords required to share.
When you log in, you're given an access code and a password. Sharing those allows your computer to be controlled by the level you set it to: remote support, presentation, file transfer, or VPN. The TeamViewer servers remember which computers you've connected to, so reconnecting to previously shared computers happens faster. TeamViewer also has a Web-based version, for remote connecting to home from public computer. Even the installation process is impressive. Users can toggle admin rights, can opt out of running at start-up, and can opt into installing the TeamViewer VPN driver for more secure screen-sharing. Overall, TeamViewer makes screens-haring and file-sharing as fluid and unobtrusive as it should be.
When you run CrossLoop, it assigns a new 12-digit access code to your PC each time you start the program. You then give that number to another user to share virtually your desktop. Once connected, that user will have full access to your machine.
It doesn't support multiple users, so it's not ideal for presentation; however, the complete system access and 128-bit encrypted connection combine to create a great solution for zero-budget, long-distance tech support. Guests can use any app and save files on your computer, as if they were sitting in front of the machine. No router configuration is required--a big plus. File transfers are supported, but the purpose here remains collaboration: CrossLoop doesn't work without explicit permission from the host. Since simplicity is a key attraction, it lacks more advanced features, and the connection must be made in two minutes or it times out. While the interface and the features are simple, CrossLoop offers a secure and fast method for two users to collaborate on one PC.
Screen-sharing isn't an essential need for all users, but it's precisely the kind of collaborative functionality that user can demand of their high-speed connections. If you have a favorite screen-sharing app that I didn't mention, tell me about it in the comments below.