April 22, 2016

About Bozteck

Remote Desktop Management Made Simple

Bozteck is and always has been a one man show … Steve Bostedor.

I started writing this software sometime in 1998 after a co-worker named Tony Audis introduced me to a new remote desktop tool for linux called VNC.  At the time, I worked for a small computer store in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I repaired computers and was spending a lot of time learning to code in VB to build diagnostics tools.  A few months later, a free version of VNC was ported to Windows and I immediately saw the potential for it as a remote administration tool for large enterprise networks.

The problem that it posed, however, was that it was cumbersome to sneaker net to every desktop on every floor and install the server component.  And once you did have it installed on all of the PC’s, DHCP would kick in and you would need to update all of the shortcuts that you made on your desktop or keep your DNS updated dynamically … which was not really a mainstream idea in 1998 for most company networks.  At this time, the only remote desktop tool on the market at any scale was PC Anywhere and it was mostly geared at modem connection … and VERY expensive at scale.  I saw VNC as a way to democratize remote desktop management at scale.

To solve these problems, I began by writing an IP scanner in Visual Basic that would look for VNC running on your network and create objects in groups that would dynamically update every time you re-ran the scanner.  I decided to create groups that you could put the computers in and organize them by floor, department, or whatever you wanted.  I released the first version of this to the world on the ORL VNC mailing list for free just to see if there was any interest out there besides me for such a tool.  Within hours, the FTP server that hosted the setup file was effectively flooded out of service by the download requests.

Knowing that I was building something that others saw value in, I doubled down and added the ability to remotely deploy VNC to computers on your network.  At the time, there were no tools that I was aware of that could remotely push software over the network to computers so I decided to roll my own as a feature in what I was now calling VNCScan.

I found a budding project called “Fastpush” and contacted the author to get permission to build on what he started and incorporate it into the VNC console I was building.  He didn’t really have much to it yet so I added all that was needed to push not only the AT&T flavor of VNC, but also the newly beta versions of alternatives such as TightVNC and UltraVNC.  The latter quickly became my favorite and default flavor going forward.

I found myself hacking away at the code late into the evenings while still working on my day job at the computer shop so I felt that I needed to at least charge a little for it to pay the bills and motivate me to keep going at it.  Keeping the goal of democratizing remote desktop at scale in mind, I came up with a licensing model for the software where I would charge a small fee for each administrator who used the console while not limiting the number of computers that could be managed by the licensed administrators.  This differentiated me from PC Anywhere because they charged for every computer being managed; putting it out of the reach of most companies for a deployment at scale.

I worked with a close friend of mine to develop a custom registration algorithm that created product keys and a custom key generator, then put the newly updated software out on the market for sale.  It was met with overwhelming success where suddenly, it was being used in nearly every country across the globe.  It wasn’t long before hackers from China were creating keygens and releasing them on warez sites (these were sites that pirated software).  The following 10 years was a whack a mole game where I would adjust the algorithm, wait for the keygen release, then adjust again, and so on.  It was actually a fun game for me to play while also mildly aggravating.

After the computer repair store went out of business in 2000, I accepted a position at Thomson-Shore in Dexter, Michigan as a Network Administrator (and later as the Information Security Officer).  While at Thomson-Shore, I worked further on the VNCScan console to add features that I needed myself to do my day-to-day job such as the ability to SSH into network devices, remotely edit host files, and most popularly, the ability to reboot a Windows computer into safe mode remotely with VNC Server running in the safe mode.  That feature was considered a pretty significant hack because it was not sanctioned by Microsoft to have third party services running in safe mode and it had never been done before.

It was at this time that I experienced my first taste of competition.  A person from Singapore who I will not name contacted me via email and asked if I would allow him to work with me on VNCScan.  This software was my baby and I didn’t even know how to collaborate on a project like this anyway, so I declined.  This seemed to trigger a feeling of resentment in that person so he wrote and released a clone of VNCScan called VNC Manager.  For years, every time that I would release a new version with features that I innovated from scratch, he would clone into his and release weeks later.  It really turned into a pretty heated rivalry that sometimes leaked into the public eye.

Not much later, other VNC managers showed up onto the market including a new web-based competitor called LogMeIn as well as GoToMyPC.  All of these products incorporated many of the features that I innovated in VNCScan but they still lacked the features and agility that a win32 console on the network could offer.  Despite the obvious feature cloning, I continued to innovate.

Around 2007, I rewrote VNCSCan based upon Visual Basic .NET and started focusing more on RDP than VNC.  I created the ability to remotely enable RDP over the network and introduced RDP tabs so that you could flip between them easily.  I also added the ability to remotely enable RDP over the network on Windows servers and PCs.  At the time, this was a new innovation that no other software could yet do.  It, of course, didn’t take long for the clones to reverse engineer and release their own versions with the same feature set.

In 2010, I decided to shift focus away from VNC to a more generalized remote network administration tool that democratized all forms of remote desktop, server, and device management.  I rebranded this new console as Bozteck VNCScan Enterprise Network Manger … or VENM for short.  Much to my dismay, at near the same time, a new malware was wreaking havok on networks named “venom”.  I delayed the rebranding for a while to wait for the dust to clear.

One of the most requested features by school teachers and administrators was the ability to take timed screen captures of the student desktops and monitor them in real time.  I didnt want to rely on VNC being installed on the remote desktops because it could too easily be disabled by savvy students.  Instead, I wrote my own proprietary Windows service that would stealthily take remote screen shots and send them back to the console for viewing without the need to install any software on the remote computers or maintain services.  Unless the students had administrative access to the PC and knew deeply how the feature worked, there was no way for them to disable or prevent its operation, making it far superior to just taking screen captures of a VNC session (which is what my competitors chose to do).

Over the next 10 years, I released frequent updates and pushed them nearly daily.  I fully embraced the CI/CD philosophy in a truly global deployment scale.  Each release into the pipeline would result in downloads and deployments to many thousands of computers spread across countries all over the world.  Careful detail, integration testing, and lifecycle management had to be adhered to with every new push to production.

Eventually, I took a job at Amazon AWS as a Cloud Infrastructure and Security Architect where I worked on ways to grow AWS from being focused on greenfield start-ups to large scale enterprises.  In 2020, I moved from AWS to Microsoft where I am now focusing on cybersecurity in a Zero Trust world.  I no longer have the time that I had to work daily on VENM and have made the very hard decision to revert the product to a freeware spare time labor of love.

Bozteck VENM is still a major part of my identity and will always be my baby.  I would love to begin adding cloud desktop management features into it as time permits but these updates will be much slower coming.  If you have any feature ideas or would just like to chat, you can contact me at steve@bozteck.com