February 17, 2005  ·  Lessig

So I travel too much, and leaving my family is now driving me insane. (Last year, 186 nights in hotels). Today I experimented with making a presentation remotely. If you’ve seen me, and my presentations, this actually might be better than me being present — all the action is on the screen.

The problem is technical. There’s no good way to stream a wide range of content — video, audio, slide presentations. And there’s no simple way to remotely run a computer.

But the latter seems the simpler hack: I’d like to be able to send a CD of my presentation to a place I’m to speak at, and then remotely control advancing the slides. So, e.g., my voice could come over the internet, and control of a remote computer could come over the internet.

There are lots of expensive ways to do this. (e.g., Apple Remote). But is there a cheap, simple, cross-platform compatible way to do this? Again, I want a mouse like control I can operate here that advances my presentation there.

  • alex

    vnc is a nice way of running a computer remotely via the internet. you can read about it at realvnc.com … I am not sure how best to send sound in a interactive way.

  • Paul

    The open source version is here: http://www.tightvnc.com/. I’ve used it before. Works very well.

  • lessig

    VNC might be it, but the point is I’m not trying to send anything except a mouse-click. My assumption is that the presentation will be fully loaded on the host machine, and all I need to control is the interaction to advance the presentation.

  • PrivacyHound

    I realize that you already know this one, but sending a CD and saying, “Next Slide” will be your cheapest, most reliable way to do what you want remotely without having to be sure of a network connection. You probably have already done so and know that the downside is that you have no control and no feedback.

  • mrsungo

    Since they’re going to need some type of net connection anyway, couldn’t you just do some type of netmeeting or webex? You’d call in via phone and you’d be able to control the slides advancing thru the instructor portion of the app.

  • Lessig

    “Next slide” won’t work for a presentation like this:


    And WebEx won’t work for large video streaming.

  • http://tig.nareau.com Rahul Dave

    Perhaps Synergy which sends keyboard and mouse over tcp-ip could be configured to help…


    Not sure about what the mouse and keyboardt latency would be though..

  • Eddie


    I’d LOVE to see one of your presentations. Everybody in blogsphere who has seen you present live raves about you.

    Why not buy Keynote 2 (just announced at Mac World Expo a few weeks ago and now part of the iWork and create really stellar presentations which you can export to Quicktime or Flash? You have a Mac Powerbook dont’ you? Keynote rocks and Keynote 2 rocks even more (I saw it in person at Moscone)!


    -Eddie V.

  • jb

    large video streaming, for what? I guess all you need are a remote machine that runs the presentation, and a skype connection for your voice in realtime. (if it is oscon2002 style.)
    You want to stream the large video of you, eloquently speaking in realtime, like some “telepresence” thing??

    oh, why not ask AC Clarke (or his team) for some advice?

  • http://mybit.typepad.com Karl

    How about Gotomypc.com or PC Anywhere?


  • http://htmlfixit.com Don

    If you want really simple, what you do is give them a page to go to:

    Put an iframe in it if you want. Set a refresh rate (this assumes you have a modest to good internet connection). Upload either into the iframe or the page if you prefer the current content you want them to see. When you are ready for the next slide, then upload that content to the same page and the refresh will replace it.

    You can even put in a counter (like our stats counter over at http://htmlfixit.com/free.php if you want) and be able to see if they have downloaded the new content. That will essentially tell you the slide has advanced.

    This could also be done server side where you check back with the refresh, but only deliver new content at certain points.

    I would try to also transmit a cd or complete web copy to them in advance to cover the situation where the net goes down so you will be almost seamless.

    If you want to chat about this drop over to our live chat help, and we can discuss it. Link in in the upper left on our site.

  • http://www.mutant.net/ Zwack

    I would agree with everyone suggesting VNC. Send the presentation on CD or whatever to them along with a copy of the VNC server install. Have them install the VNC server (include software installation/customisation instructions) and then connect to it. Have it send the minimum information back to you that you need to know where you are in the presentation and then you can control the clicks from your end.

    If there is a technical issue (firewall, network issue, whatever) then you should arrange for an “assistant” who can advance the presentation at your cue.

    People would not be too impressed to turn up for your talk only to have it cancelled because you can’t use your presentation.

    I hope that this helps,

  • http://allthingsalceste.com Dan

    VNC is point and click. The only req is a decently fast net connection, but that’s going to be true of any method.

    Here’s what I would do.

    1) Put the VNC server along with your presentation on a cd or memory stick. Send it to the conference managers.

    2) Test the connection out ahead of time. The VNC will allow you to control the presentation exactly as you would in person. Video will be jerky on your end, audio won’t show up, but your audience will hear it just fine. This leads me to

    3) Use a cell phone attached to a speaker to talk through the presentation and do Q&A. Save all the bandwidth of the net connection for the VNC. Why risk lag and collisions? Plus, most any windows machine will handle VNC, be it apple, linux, windows. Net telephony, while cross platform, takes far more time to setup, and much more overhead.

    Hope this helps.

  • Paul

    While VNC may provide the basics of what you are looking for I would recommend looking into the Access Grid for giving remote presentations. The audio and video can be broadcast quality and the Access Grid sites already have the functionality for remote control of Power Points and other computing resources.

    The Access Grid directory does not list a site at Stanford but does list 4 over at Berkeley and a number out at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    �The Access Grid has over 1,500 users worldwide. Each institution has one or more AG nodes, or “designed spaces,” that contain the high-end audio and visual technology needed to provide a high-quality compelling user experience.�

    �These resources are used to support group-to-group interactions across the Grid. For example, the Access Grid (AG) is used for large-scale distributed meetings, collaborative work sessions, seminars, lectures, tutorials, and training.�


  • http://www.DavidJRitchie.com/ David J. Ritchie

    To address the most recent topic and the one before, I encourage you to check out this URL:


    which is the made-tiny form of:


    which is a streaming video with synchronized transparencies of a talk titled ‘Bringing “True” Broadband to America’ about the difficulties people have encountered trying to create community-funded broadband where they already have community-funded electric companies.

    While the topic of the presentation may address some aspects of the previous post related to communities making their own wi-fi where the commercial companies have not seen it in their interest to do so, the method of the presentation only shows an existence proof of one way to provide almost the immediacy of a personal visit along with the ability to communicate during the visit with presentation materials. You get audio and video in one window (via Real*Media) and the presentation materials in another window via one’s web browser. The method is fairly straight-forward but it requires at least some group of people experienced in doing those sorts of things (see the 1000 or so other talks at the vmsstreamer… web site for an example).

    I am not sure it helps you stay closer to your family which was your point — but after the fact it does give you a way not to have to travel but to just point people to the presentation instead of having to fly off to give Yet Another Talk (YAT).


  • http://http:andrewducker.livejournal.com Andrew Ducker

    If you’re going to be sending the presentation in advance and then synchronising it to your voice over the internet, why not shortcut the whole process and simply add your voice to the presentation. They can just watch/listen to the presentation and you can take questions “live” at the end.

    The other advantage there being that you can also allow people to download the presentations, giving you worldwide coverage!

  • Nigel Pegg

    Streaming Slides, audio, video, crossplatform, allow remote control of a computer… These should all be doable.

    Maybe try a free 15 trial of Macromedia Breeze? The price point for purchasing would probably be the only barrier. ($.32 per minute).


    Sorry, not trying to spam you, but I’m an engineer on the product and read this blog regularly, and it seems like a good fit.


  • http://pobox.com/~joehall/nqb2/ joe

    Here’s a solution: Skype (or such) for the voice and IM a certain character (like a character close to the return key) to a robot-program on the remote computer. That is, get someone to write a robot that can hang out in a randomly decided IRC channel that only accepts certain input (like forward and back, etc.) and interfaces with the program that you use to display your slides.

    You could even post this as a prize on your blog and stipulate the requirements and that the IP is licensed a certain way. This might not be uber-cheap up front (prize price of $100-500) for you, but would solve this problem for quite a while… and stipulating that the code and such must be GPL or BSD would ensure that others could integrate it with other presentation software (like fullscreen Adobe Acrobat insteadof Keynote or PowerPoint).

  • http://www.generalcounsel.net/wiredgc/ John

    Yes there is such a hack: send a 1L.

  • Les Dabney

    VNC is definately the way to go and if needed a reverse connection can be made.

    I use VNC every day to help me manage my client’s networks.

  • http://symbioid.blogspot.com dave elliot


    I don’t think this is exactly what you’re looking for, but maybe it can help.

    It’s the SMIL Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language from W3C

  • http://symbioid.blogspot.com dave elliot

    addendum (snippet taken from the aforementioned w3c site):

    “The Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL, pronounced “smile”) enables simple authoring of interactive audiovisual presentations. SMIL is typically used for “rich media”/multimedia presentations which integrate streaming audio and video with images, text or any other media type. SMIL is an easy-to-learn HTML-like language, and many SMIL presentations are written using a simple text-editor.”

  • http://www.macromedia.com Tom Hale

    Tom Hale of Macromedia here.

    Above Nigel mentioned Breeze – it’s a great way to share info online b/c all you need is a browser and flash (installed on 98% of computers!) and a Breeze account.

    You can store presentations, video, documents etc, and share them with anyone who is online in the flash format (which is cross platform – win, mac, linux, etc). If you want to see what I’m talking about ping me and I’ll show you a 3 minute demo.

    At the risk of being too marketing-y, I’d be happy to hook you up with an account for free, just b/c it would be an honor to support you.

    Tom (thale@macromedia.com)

  • Murray

    this is going to require a bit of coding from a clever person, but conceptually I think fairly simple once it’s setup:

    * export ppt to the html-ised version
    * hidden frame which keeps reloading
    * javascript in hidden frame tracks a timestamp in said file [1]
    * when change is noticed, it advances the slide.

    It ought to be possible to take a vanilla html-ised ppt presentation, and “convert” it automatically into the above. Sounds like a lovely web-service someone could provide.

    Even on an adsl line, reloading a 10 byte file every 5 seconds should be possible and not interfere with skype.

    This way, you can host the presentation on your own servers, allowing for that sneaky last minute update. Client(s) view it off your server, and when you update the advance.txt on your server (via a little web admin cgi tool or such), the client’s end spots this, and moves on to the next slide.

    [1] or just the http header that gives you last updated time of the file, but as not all servers handle that nicely, maybe looking inside the file would be safer

  • James Kiley

    Many of the vendors that try to sell things to the chemical company I work for use Webex (http://www.webex.com/). I’m not affiliated with them but it works okay for us for audioconferences.

  • Marc Lavall�e

    Using VNC is a good solution because it’s better to have visual feedback. Video should not be a problem; I don’t think VNC would stream the video to your control computer, because (good) video players are using a different video layer in the video card. Skype is proprietary software, so instead I would recommend using RAT (Robust Audio Tool). When there’s enough bandwidth, you could even use a video-conferencing software for a better contact with your audience; since I use Gnu/Linux, I would recommend GnomeMeeting, which is compatible with other H323 standard solutions.

  • RichK

    Use a commercial service — Macromedia Breeze is one option. Or use Microsoft’s Placeware-based service (I know, heaven forbid) or better, WebEx.

    Don’t try to hack up a service yourself….

  • Daniel Berner
  • http://www.theninemuses.net Priscilla Spencer

    Professor Lessig, on behalf of Professor Decherney’s class, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to speak to us. It was a fantastic experience, and it gave us all a bit more insight into the past, present, and future of copyright. I’m glad you enjoyed the videoconferencing experience, and I hope that other students at other schools in the near future will get the opportunity to speak with you in a similar fashion. Best of luck in all your endeavors! Thanks again!

  • Max Lybbert

    I’m very surprised that nobody in the world has run into this problem yet.

    The earliest Internet Radio broadcasts were made on a hacked version of “Cu-SeeMe,” which was an open source, X Windows predecessor to NetMeeting and kin.

    I can’t find the source for it nowadays, though, but it would handle video (the Internet Radio hack was to remove the video side of the broadcast), and I can’t see why it couldn’t be hacked to swap between live video and bitmaps from your computer screen.

  • http://btucker.org Ben Tucker

    Professor Lessig,
    I was in the class today and CMU and really enjoyed your presentation. Thank you for joining us! I thought that your method of just pointing your camera at your screen, though not ideal, actually worked pretty well.

  • http://rathe.medinfo.ufl.edu/ Richard Rathe

    I have participated in a few remote presentations (as both presenter and audience member) that used an effective ‘mixed tech’ approach. The slides were served live via the Web, and the voice over standard telephone conferencing. To this you might add a webcam to add full motion video of the speaker or conference room. This approach seems to be very reliable and reasonably low cost. RR

  • http://www.presenternet.com Bill Vick

    I faced the same problem and wrote off any product that would not allow me to create content, used Java or did not support video, audio, polling along with slides. I also did not want to spend an arm and a leg. My solution is Presenternet.com, an elegant solution that converts my slides (PowerPoint) to Flash. It’s a value at $25 per month for all you can eat.


    Bill Vick

  • http://www.instacoll.com Sumanth

    VNC and other “screen-sharing” tools of its ilk miss the point of document sharing completely – besides being firewall-unfriendly, bandwidth-hungry and insecure, they try to the lowest common denominator (the screen) for sharing information. If the object of the exercise is sharing a PowerPoint presentation (or a Word document or Excel spreadsheet), why not use a solution that simply extends these productivity applications from static, standalone tools to rich, interactive platforms? This way, you are not using a new tool but simply adding a collaborative layer to your principal productivity tool. Is there a tool like this? Check out InstaColl (http://www.instacoll.com) – which is in public beta now. Users need to have the Microsoft Office application on both sides and it currently works only on Windows but it’s free for one-to-one usage and support for non-Windows platforms should be coming up pretty soon.

  • Neil Finlayson

    Its not cross platform, but that is perhaps its only flaw. Try Groove from http://www.groove.net/

  • Rene Visco

    Have you heard of Slideshow s5 where you can create a simple webpage containing various slides. You can include videos, graphics, text,…the only drawback is that you cannot advance the slides remotely. But, it’s close to what you want.

    Perhaps, you can use apple remote desktop to advance the slidesshow..easy to do…

  • http://www.tennantcapital.com Bob

    I think that WebEx provides exactly the service you are looking for (www.webex.com). I don’t understand all their services, but have been in one sales presentation using their site. A group of us were in a conference room for a remote sales presentation. The slides were presented (with remote control) via the webex site, and the audio was over a standard phone line (although I think webex can do audio as well). Hope this helps. Bob

  • http://www.mrbz.com Mike Koenigs

    WebEx is too expensive. Macromedia Breeze is too. It does everything I want though:

    - Whiteboarding
    - Video conferencing
    - Audio conferencing
    - Screen sharing
    - Chat
    - Polling

    If anyone knows of a REASONABLY priced product or service, I’d love to know more!

  • http://www.neocodesoftware.com joshua paul

    Lessig-like presentation:

    how he made it:

    Tools of the Trade of the €” Sean Kelly


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