Fog Creek Copilot

January 26th, 2007

Some time ago I had the great privilege of working for a week in New York City at the Fog Creek headquarters. Aside from getting a chance to meet Joel and the rest of the staff, I was also able to do some early exploratory work on the Mac version of Copilot, which went live today. This is a product based on a fantastically simple idea: VNC with no configuration hassles. Anybody who’s ever tried to set up a remote access connection to a person who may be technically naive, behind a firewall, etc., knows how significant removing the hassles is.

My trip to Fog Creek was a Copilot-heavy experience. Though only one of the original Aardvark interns was present at the time, the company was in the final stages of post-production for their Project Aadrvark movie. So I showed up just in time to meet the film’s director and join in company screening just before it went to production.

Up to now Fog Creek was “the best software company that doesn’t make Mac products.” Now I guess I’ll have to drop that qualification. Maybe now that one of their brightest engineers has been bitten by the Mac bug, we’ll be seeing other interesting stuff in the future. (Actually, they have shipped FogBugz, and an associated screen capture tool for Mac for some time).

One of the interesting aspects of this commercial venture is that both the helper and helpee processes are completely open source, GPL licensed code. How does Fog Creek make money by having customers download GPL applications? The mojo is all in the server. This is simultaneously how the company eliminates the configuration hassles and adds a monetary bottleneck to the offering. But at the new price of $5 for a full day’s use, I think many will find it’s worth every penny.

3 Responses to “Fog Creek Copilot”

  1. Jan Says:

    Nice!

  2. Bob Peterson Says:

    Good for PC users, but it may be too late to compete on a Mac.

    I welcome products like this. I even wrote about the need for it back in 2004: http://emperor.tidbits.com/webx?14@@.3c525277

    History note: Netopia once made a version of Timbuktu called Housecall, which did the same thing as Copilot. When They stopped supporting it, the app became useless as it needed Netopia’s servers to initiate the connection.

    http://db.tidbits.com/article/05509

    The competition will come from Apple itself. Built into the O/S. iChat Screen Sharing does what Copilot does. I suspect it uses AOL via iChat to just initiate the connection. So it is possible it may fail when firewalls are present, whereas Copilot routes through their servers, presumably through HTTP/HTTPS.

    Copilot presumably works across platforms: A Mac user supporting a PC user, for instance. Copilot requires your browser to keep cookies for maintaining your payment “receipt”. I’d have to tell OmniWeb to continue to delete cookies on exiting, but save the ones from copilot.com.

    Oh, and while researching my post, I found this Mac-only iChat tool available today:

    http://www.trnmag.com/Stories/2004/063004/Interface_blends_screen_and_video_063004.html

    http://www.showmacster.com/index.shtml

  3. Andy Lee Says:

    I want to check out Copilot, because I help the non-techies in my family with their Macs, and you know how that can get. “VNC with no configuration hassles” is a terrific nutshell description that locks the product in my mind as something I want to try.

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