RDP: Close, but No Cigar!
The first tool I used to take over his desktop worked OK for me, but forced my dad to look at a login screen the whole time I was working on his computer. I'm talking about the built-in Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol, aka RDP, which enables one computer to jump across a local network or the Internet to log in to and operate the machines remotely.
By using his IP address, of the form 10.24.16.157, I was able to jump over the Internet and take control of his machine. (When I say "of the form," I'm declining to share my Dad's real IP address with the world, and instead supplying a private Class A address that doesn't work on the Internet at all, purely by way of illustration.)
And while RDP works pretty well on local connections (I use it on my home network all the time to take over and work on all of the other PCs that may be attached to it at any given moment), it's kind of a dog over the Internet. Because my Dad uses a photo of my Mom's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery as his desktop background, RDP takes as long as 30 seconds to repaint the screen every time it has to be refreshed.
Figure 1 shows the Remote Desktop Connection application with an IP address for its target, which will work to establish a connection with a remote host over the Internet. Because my Dad's IP address comes from a DHCP server at Cox Cable, I would have to ask him to run ipconfig on his laptop to get his current IP address for me each time I wanted to run a session with him. Other remote control packages are not subject to this limitation, and all the ones I tried also work through firewalls, NAT, and other potential obstacles to purely IP-based connections.
Figure 1 RDP will happily connect to an IP-address URL.