“See the Start menu button? Okay, click that and go to Control Panel. No, Control Panel, over there. Do you see it? Yes, you have Control Panel, just look a little closer…”
Anyone who’s done technical support for a friend or family member over the phone has probably felt some frustration about not being able to see the computer’s screen to better assess the problem and guide the user along. Although they can often be overlooked, remote assistance tools — which let you see the other person’s screen and even take over control of the computer through your Internet connection — can make it easier for helper and helpee alike.
Tapping in via remote assistance is not as hard as it used to be, thanks to new software and services. For example, Google recently added a Remote Desktop feature to its Google+ Hangouts group video-chat service.
There’s a little bit of set-up involved, but a guide on PC World walks you through the steps. The Remote Desktop function had been previously seen as an extension for the Chrome browser, so that’s a possibility as well for helping out from afar as well; Google has info on using it here.
If you don’t use Google+ hangouts, or the Chrome extention, the Windows operating system has its own Windows Remote Assistance feature that’s been around for at least a decade and also lets you tinker with someone else’s computer over an Internet connection; questions about it are answered here.
Mac OS X has a few ways to share the screen (including with the Messages app) so you can see what’s going on and better direct your support. Apple has its own instructions for screen-sharing in OS X 10.8 here.
Third-party remote desktop apps like LogMeIn or TeamViewer, but these can be pricey if your needs go beyond the freebie editions. There’s also a whole category of remote desktop apps for mobile devices as well, so search your app store if you want to go that way.
Because it involves surrendering control of the computer, a remote assistance solution should only be used between trusted parties — and at least one of those parties needs to know what it’s doing. Remote assistance is obviously better for diagnosing software problems that it is for hardware issues, but if you just need to tweak a setting or find a “lost” file that accidentally got saved to the wrong folder, it can be a great tool for wielding your Jedi Master technical expertise when you’re not even physically in the room.