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Symantec Previews Project Guru at DEMO 2009

Created: 02 Mar 2009 21:42:33 GMT • Updated: 23 Jan 2014 18:37:11 GMT
Brian Hernacki's picture
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So this week is pretty exciting. For the third year in a row, we're going to be showing off a prototype at the DEMO conference. Two years ago we launched Identity Defender (I was part of that one), which went on to become Norton Identity Safe—a technology available today in our award-winning Norton Internet Security and Norton 360 products. Last year our Symantec Research Labs Advanced Concepts group unveiled Project Watchdog, which today is known as Norton Online Family and is currently in public beta. This year we're showing off "Project Guru."

Project Guru is focused on a problem most of us techies know well. Like it or not, we're all the de facto tech support for our close friends and family. How many hours have you spent on the phone walking your mother through fixing her printer? How many Christmases have you spent in someone’s study installing new software for them? If you're like me, it's a lot. Guru came out of a frustration trying to solve this problem. First, we looked at available offerings to be sure there were some online ones. We discovered that they were mostly focused on enterprises or SMBs and not really suitable to use with your mother. I actually tried some of these out on my own Mom. Just getting her to set up her end was challenging. Others were from companies Mom hadn't heard of or involved letting people she didn't know access her system. Even the "real world" solutions seemed to fall short. Mom wasn't big on hauling her system into a store or letting some random service person into her house. Nope, I was definitely first stop for her tech support.

We tried cobbling together solutions from existing third-party components. But again, we found they were really focused on business needs, not the consumer, and especially not Mom. So we started looking  at our own products and building blocks. We found some pieces we could use and started building the rest. The result was Project Guru. It's a set of tools and services designed to make it easy and efficient for the techie to provide tech support to their family and friends remotely. Guru approaches the problem from a unique perspective that there are two very different sides to the problem. On the one side we have the "guru" (that's the techie). They're very tech savvy. They’re mobile. They're just as likely to use Linux or a Mac as Windows (maybe more IMO). On the other side, we have "Mom" (any other relative will suffice). She's not very tech savvy. She's almost certainly using Windows (if you're mom uses Linux, she's not really the target for Guru). She may be remote and it's likely not very convenient for the guru to get physical access to the system. This combination presents challenges for most existing solutions. Not Guru.

I like to say that Guru has two interfaces, but it really only has one. We focused on making Mom's side of things almost invisible. It's the Guru that really interacts here. Project Guru provides four main things. It's based around a portal service. No software install needed on the Guru side other than a mainstream browser (and yes we plan to support Firefox, Safari, etc.). The Guru logs in and they can send a simple email invite to Mom. Once she clicks on the mail and follows the simple instructions on her end (emphasis on the "simple"), the Guru can remotely administer her machine.





Now first we enable the Guru with a fast and secure remote desktop tool. This is actually powered by the same software and services we use for our Software-as-a-Service online remote access offering for SMBs and the enterprise, but it's been re-tasked for consumer usage. This is the big gun—when you need to actually log into the remote system to fix it or walk someone through something. But Project Guru adds to this. It also provides tools and information resources targeted at the techie user. Forums, knowledge bases, and community features are targeted at techie users. Do you want to search for the bizarre 0X1337BEEF error code? We have that. And then there are the tools. This is my favorite part. Using the same platform we use for remote access (the stuff that handles all the network stuff, works through firewalls, connects securely, etc.) we built a modular tools platform. This lets us (and maybe others eventually) develop tools to analyze specific problems and fix them. It's designed around a remote use model. You click the portal to launch the tool, it contacts the remote system, sends it the tool if needed (dynamic provisioning), runs it, and then collects the data and sends it back to the portal. This lets you quickly and easily perform tests and changes without needing a full remote desktop. I think that's going to be a killer feature as we think about extending this to support mobile browsers in the future. Believe me, I've tried out some of the remote desktop solutions on my iPhone and we're not there yet. Given the screen size issues, it may take a while to get there. I much prefer a more  "screenless" model of troubleshooting.

Whew. So that's Project Guru in a nutshell. There's a ton more to write about, but that should give you an idea. We'll show it off at DEMO and then run our closed pilot for a bit. If that goes well we may have a more open pilot later. Stay tuned for more info.