One of the least-used tools in the Windows arsenal is also
potentially one of the most useful, especially if you have
access to more than one PC. Microsoft’s NetMeeting is one
of those tools we’ve all either looked at and quickly dismissed
or have never even noticed in the first place.
If you’re in the former category, you’ve probably loaded NetMeeting and scratched your head for a moment or two before briefly tinkering with the options. As the name implies, NetMeeting is a tool designed to make conferencing and collaborating with friends or colleagues over a network much easier. On the surface, it looks like quite a superficial application,
at least as far as the home user is concerned. Even if you have a network of two or more PCs set up at home, the chances are that they’re
very close to each other – close enough to talk to the person on the other machine, rather than using a program such as NetMeeting.
Ignoring the standard features for a brief moment – we’ll go into those in a little more detail soon – a further examination of NetMeeting reveals one or two hidden depths
that aren’t immediately obvious at all. To begin with, there’s a fairly major feature
that, while documented, doesn’t seem to be heavily publicised: remote control. With commercial third-party programs such as Symantec’s PCAnywhere or Laplink often being sold on the strength of their abilities to control one PC from another, it’s surprising to discover that there’s actually a program supplied as standard with Windows itself that does the very same thing.
Remotely controlling another PC is one of those things you think you’ll never need to use. Once you’ve found a use for it, however, you’ll be surprised you didn’t need it sooner, and it can make life a lot easier. If you have two PCs in your home connected via a simple network, it’s useful to be able to perform tasks on one machine while sitting in front of another. If you have a PC downstairs as a general entertainment machine and another tucked away upstairs for more serious work, it’s useful to be able to treat them both as one. Having machines networked means you can, of course, access files from one machine on another, but it doesn’t provide any kind of control.
Here’s a hypothetical situation for you. Windows networking relies on the principle of shared resources,
and when you attach your PC to a network, you specify which files, directories or drives should be accessible to the rest of the network.
If you’re choosy about this kind of thing, you can lock off most of the files on your PC and only enable network access to a smaller area where you know there isn’t anything you want kept private. Now – what happens when you’re connected over a network where some distance is involved, and you realise that the file you want is outside of the drives and folders you previously designated as shared? Worse still, the building that houses the shared PC is physically locked? Normally, you’d be up the creek,
but what if the PC in the locked building had NetMeeting installed and
was set up for Remote Desktop Sharing? You could simply fire up a connection and take control of the machine,
and then it would be as if you were sat in front of it. After
just a few minutes you could move the files you needed into the shared folder, making them available for normal network access.
It's a simple problem,
but one that would have been insurmountable without NetMeeting’s ability to control one PC from another.
Remote control aside, NetMeeting is actually a very handy program to have around. As well as working over local area networks, NetMeeting functions perfectly well over the Internet. The prime use for the program is conferencing,
and this can take the form of a voice chat, a simple text chat
or a full-on two-way moving-video chat. NetMeeting should work
with any analogue device capable of video capture connected to
your system, including almost all Webcams, as long as they can feed a stream of live video to your PC. It also includes some – but not all – analogue capture cards and devices such as those you’d use to edit your home videos. You can’t use digital devices such as DV camcorders with a FireWire card, though.
Share and Enjoy
Another collaborative tool offered by NetMeeting is the ability to share programs on your PC with others during a conferencing session. While you’re in a NetMeeting call, click the Share Program button – it’s the one on the left of the four graphical buttons at the bottom of the main NetMeeting window. This opens a new dialog that displays all running programs on your system that are able to be shared. As you can guess, you’ll need to run the program you want to share, and NetMeeting will update this window to show the new application. Select the program you’re working with, then click the Share button.
A new window will open on the desktops of everyone else involved in the conferencing session, showing the screen display of the program you’re sharing. Now, others in the virtual meeting can watch exactly what you’re doing with any particular program.
To pass control of that program on your PC to someone else in the meeting, return to the dialog where you initially shared the program, make sure the shared application is selected, then click the Allow Control button. When someone wants to control the application, NetMeeting will ask you if you permit it – if you don’t want to do this every time you share a controllable program, check the Automatically accept requests for control box.
Finally, NetMeeting offers a shared whiteboard tool. Using this, you can sketch ideas out to other meeting participants, and they can add their own contributions. It isn’t hugely useful, but it can be handy for a quick game of OXO!
Go on, install it from the Windows CD now – it only takes a moment to set it up…
When you first launch NetMeeting you’ll be asked a series of questions before the program will run. You need to tell the program about yourself, including your name and email address. The last two fields are optional and only apply when registering with Microsoft’s servers.
When you’re deciding which applications you would like
to leave out of start-up, it pays to be cautious and to clear the
check boxes one at a time. You can then restart your PC after each
one to make sure that the running of your system hasn’t been affected
in any way. Remember that the System Configuration Utility should
only be used as a last resort. You should check individual applications
to see if they have a ‘launch at startup’ option and turn this
off within the program itself. Alternatively, take a look at the Startup folder on the All Programs menu to see if it contains shortcuts
to any programs.
Unless you’re on a permanent Internet connection such as ADSL, you’ll want to clear the option regarding logging on to directory servers. You might also want to keep your details private too, in which case clear the lower option as well.
Finally, you’ll be asked to speak into your microphone to set the levels for NetMeeting voice and video chats. If you aren't using NetMeeting for video and audio conferencing, you can skip these tests to finish the configuration process.
Need to work from home on the office PC? Here’s what you need to do…
Select Tools, Remote Desktop Sharing to begin configuring NetMeeting for remote-control purposes. First, you need to specify a password. Don’t use your network password, and make sure it’s longer than six characters or the program will reject it.
As the configuration ends, you’ll be asked if you want NetMeeting to activate a password-protected screensaver during remote-control sessions. This is a good idea, as it protects your PC from being interfered with as you control it remotely.
On the PC you want to control, you can quit NetMeeting itself. This leaves an icon in the System Tray – right-click this and select Activate Remote Desktop Sharing from the context menu to enable remote access over the network.
On the machine you’ll be using to control the PC you just configured, fire up NetMeeting and click the Place Call icon. Enter the IP or network address of the other PC, and make sure Require security for this call (data only) is enabled.
NetMeeting will search for the other computer – this should be quick if you’re using a local area network, but could take a while longer over the Internet. Finally, you’ll be asked for the password you set up in step one.
Finally, a window will open containing the controlled machine’s desktop. You now have control of all functions of the other PC, including mouse and keyboard – you can use the PC as if it were in front of you.