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Ask The Readers: How Do You Offer Computer Help From Afar?

We’ve all been there; a friend, colleague, or relative calls us with a computer problem and there’s simply no good way to diagnose it by their haphazard description alone. When you’re in that situation, how do you help? What tools do you use?

This week we’re interested in how you do your long-range trouble shooting. Do you share screens? Remotely connect to the file system of their computer? What applications make life easier when you’re the one with the technical know-how and the person you’re helping isn’t?

Sound off in the comments with your favorite web sites, applications, and other tools for offering your help from afar. Don’t forget to check back in on Friday for the What You Said roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/12/11

Comments (101)

  1. Tim

    I use a program called Mikogo and just send them to the site with a session ID and then I can look at their computer.

  2. Karttikeya Bihani

    I help my dad troubleshoot his issues using the built in feature of iChats’ screen sharing since we both have a Mac. This is the best way, ’cause even he sees what I do and learn learn from it. I also explain him via video chat telling him what to do. This is useful to me ’cause doesn’t have huge problems as such. Few minor issues and stuff.

  3. Austin

    I download an installer from ninite.com containing teamviewer and ccleaner. I then email it to them. They run the app and then tell me there ID and Password. If the internet is down it gets more difficult. After I am on I runs ccleaner, run virus scans(MS Essentials), Microsoft update, update apps(ninite.com) and update drivers. If that doesn’t fix it I google the specific problems and go from there.

  4. BobbyPhoenix

    Logmein and phone call.

  5. Eric

    I prefer Teamviewer. The QuickSupport app is very easy to use and even the non techie can read off the numbers to give you access.

  6. Bill

    LogMeIn Free

  7. Tom

    join.me (it’s basically logmein beneath)

  8. Shawn Rogers

    I use Teamviewer for remote support for my family/friends.

  9. Brodiemac

    My closest family and friends have gotten an ‘Emergency Thumb Drive’ from me pre-loaded with things like SuperAntiSpyware, Malwarebytes Antimalware, Microsoft Security Essentials, CClean, Revo Uninstaller, etc. Most importantly, it has the portable version of TeamViewer on it. If they get stuck, I have them run Teamviewer Portable so I can remote into their system and get to work. Everyone else who asks me for help, I just have them download and install TeamViewer and, again, I get right to work.

  10. GeekInThePink

    if it isn’t hardware or OS problem, i walk them through googling teamviewer and downloading it .but if i sense tht it isn’t a big deal i just tell th

  11. GeekInThePink

    if it isn’t hardware or OS problem, i walk them through googling teamviewer and downloading it .but if i sense tht it isn’t a big deal i just tell them to do a system restore to a time tht they didn’t have the prob n then monitor (or walk them through) restoring the changes they did in case they caused the prob.

  12. jon_hill987

    Normally just over the phone or in person. RDPs are not very helpful when the computer is properly broken.

  13. Sanchit Goyal

    I ask them to download Hijackthis. Run the scan and email me the logs. If they do it most of the times the problem is solved by deleting some files.

  14. debsawyer

    I use Teamviewer and Join.Me.

  15. Wayne

    I use a bullhorn.

  16. gaitch32

    Crossloop is very easy to use and works great.

  17. xana452

    Usually I do it over the phone or via text message. works well enough and usually solves the problem.

  18. jim

    TeamViewer

  19. Vince Tech

    I use Crossloop for RDP. However my usual suspects that I know will call often I setup on Logmein. If their computer is completely down then the best you can do is try to resolve over the phone. If not I charge a phenomenal(not nominal) fee to pay them a visit.

  20. joe_Da_Schmoe

    nothing beats logmein + Hamachi

  21. John

    Team viewer….. Works great every time.

  22. Multimon

    join.me

  23. Lisa

    Logmein.com free

  24. gyffes

    Teamviewer, wot? It’s outstanding.

    Unless their problem is, “I can’t get on the internet!” in which case, they’re outta luck.

  25. Louise

    I”m keen to see how chrome remote desktop goes: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/gbchcmhmhahfdphkhkmpfmihenigjmpp

  26. Mattmuttsmith

    Two words: Team Viewer! I use it because it is so easy for the person that I’m trying to help to use. Very simple download. Very stable platform. Very simple UI; So the person I’m trying to help can give me the correct info so I can connect to them. It also allows me to save connection info of the people I help often so I don’t have to keep asking them for the correct info to connect. Oh, did I mention it is FREE? Can’t get any better than that my friends.

  27. oldgoat1957

    I use Logmein free to access my work computer, and Join.me seems to be non-threatening and effective for friends/coworkers.

  28. The Don

    TeamViewer.

  29. Android Dude

    I use joinme.com first and then install the Logmein free client. After that – all I need to do is use Logmein anytime there is an issue.

  30. 1GreyGeek

    I use DualDesk to connect to remote computers to resolve issues and answer questions. It’s a huge plus to see their desktop and run the remote pc, or watch them run software to answer their questions. Since the remote session has to be initiated by the remote computer it cannot be used as a remote hackers tool.

  31. Anonymous

    I’ve used Skype and it’s desktop viewing utility a few times. It’s not like being able to take over a clients/friends PC or as intense as something like “Go To My PC” or enabling the Windows’ remote desktop or something, but it’s good for a quick look-see.

    Skype’s remote desktop viewer is about the best quick and dirty remote PC helper I’ve found simply because there’s very little fuss involved installing or configuring. And there doesn’t seem to be a single OS that is doesn’t support Skype either – other than maybe a few different tablet OS’s like older Android and such.

    The only downside to using Skype or even a full fledged remote control PC app like Teamviewer or RealVNC (which has a free “open” version, by the way) is that without a connection to the Internet you pretty much have to go see the problematic machine anyway. And for me, that’s about 95-percent of the time.

    You just can’t substitute a good old fashioned house call when your friend/client can’t find the power button(s).

  32. Siliconguru

    I’ve never been to Afar. Is it nice?

  33. Samuel Coxson

    I use LogMeIn and LogMeIn Hamachi so I can view and send files etc. and then a video/instant messaging service for any talking any will do but I use imo.im as it includes pretty much all of them (including Steam Now)

  34. jon

    Teamviewer and a telephone call.

  35. michif

    Teamleiter!! Easy and powerful.
    Host installations are Free,so that i Can let ist Start on my grandma’s Laptop she Turns ist on!

  36. michif

    Sorry iPhone autocorrection: TEAMVIEWER

  37. dima

    team viewer and skype

  38. Eco

    UltraVnc Single Click. Only 166Kb on client side and without installer. Fixed IP required.

  39. Gernot

    TeamViewer: Very convinient!

  40. Wasim Fatair

    I often use Teamviewer, instant messaging like skype
    I always prefer TeamViewer ..

  41. bemymonkey

    Loving TeamViewer… my father in law takes up most of my tech support time, and even he was able to download the file, run it and tell me the username and pass… :)

  42. Merlin

    I often use TeamViewer. Especially if the target computer is behind a router and/or firewalls.
    The Quick Support module is easy to use and when they exit the app, no one can connect to their computer without them knowing…
    TeamViewer includes a chat function and then there’s allways skype or a ‘normal’ telephone to do the talking if needed.

  43. Laggomundi

    teamviewerQS.exe

    nuff said

  44. PendragonUK

    I use Teamviewer, I have it installed on most of the family’s computers. It has been used several times. From installing a new antivirus program on a cousin’s laptop, too showing my aged Aunt how to attach a picture to an email. It normally starts with a phone call, I ask if they are sat at their computer and we go from there…

  45. the flap

    I just a god set of notes for common problems with step by step for each operating system. That takes care of about 90%. I usually give them a copy and offer moral support over the phone. The other 10% I use remote services to coach thru the issue. Only about 1% of the time do we need to start over.

  46. Win

    I use Gtalk and TeamViewer. I chat with Gtalk and give the download link for TeamViewer. Before and after installing TeamViewer, I can ask the problems through Gtalk. I can diagnose the computer through TeamViewer as well as I can explain them about the problems why it happened and how I fix it for their knowledge purposes through Gtalk.

  47. n4terz

    Usually starts with a phone call or text message to which I can help the family/friend. Most of the computers have MAMB, SAS, CCleaner already installed on them and Virus Protection of some kind. I have them run at MAMB, SAS, or CCleaner, and then email me the logs or a picture of the results. Usually this does the trick. If it doesn’t help them, I have them drop it off at my house since everyone is close so I can diagnose it myself. But if they are too far away then I use logmein.

  48. George

    I use Logmein.com for several years using my Ubuntu notebook to help family and friends who use Windows.

    This year a buddy of mine told me about join.me. Works great from a Windows PC, but there is no Linux support.

  49. ASH

    Teamviewer, once on ccleaner, malwarebytes, windows updates and antivirus update or install

  50. James

    I usually tell people to get lost :) Working full time in IT for 16 years now, the last thing i want to do when i go home is start fixing friends/family/colleagues computer problems!

  51. J000

    GoToAssist Express

  52. ParanoidAndroid

    The company I work for uses Bomgar for remote support. We love it and I have used it for helping family, too.

  53. Jeremy

    As with most here, I use Teamviewer. It’s extremely simple to use for the client and for me.

  54. Carol Hagen

    When client availability is an issue I’ve used Screenr to capture step by step video instructions – great for after hours and creating knowledge base.

  55. 4G Reaper

    @siliconguru, Afar is lovely this time of year, breezy and warm, it’s a tropical paradise. :)
    As for remote assistance, only time I use it is at work, and I just connect through the network via the good ol’ network and sharing center. My friends and family all are within a few blocks so I just walk over to help them.

  56. Sammy

    i prefer to use team viewer. its easier and affective

  57. 01nb

    Join.Me (aka LogMeIn)

    Free. Easy.

    We pay for GoToMeeting here at work, but I prefer to use Join.Me.

  58. Jeremiah

    TeamViewer all the way.

  59. Ellis

    Whe a close friend runs into trouble and i need to help them fix there machine i ask them to go to logmein.com and install the free version of the software. Then i remote into their box and open a txt document so that we can chat while i work on their problem…it works great.

  60. Scottm

    I use Crossloop. simple, free and notepad or phone

  61. thegnnu

    TeamViewer 6 my in-law have 2 computers 245 mile away. With Teamviewer on both and setup between them and on the web I can control either and if one looses the web you just connect to the other one then take control of the 2nd computer. Also use it on my internal network to give direct lan access to 3 computer. Great little program.

  62. Graham

    I use a customized version of VNC called Chunk Viewer. You can customize the screens shown to whoever you are helping and it will only connect to my ip address. Problems with teamviewer, logmein etc is when you are helping someone who should not even have a computer:). When you tell them to google teamviewer some of them say “how do i do that”, then when I tell them to open the browser it’s “what’s a browser”. Then you tell them to click on the “big E on their taskbar” it’s what’s a taskbar. Then you ask them to type something into the address bar and again it’s generally typed into the wrong location. By running Chunk viewer (and supplying to customers) I can get initial access to the screen and if required can then install teamviewer or logmein.

  63. hobelinm

    I use Windows Live Mesh with a test account

  64. Hisa

    Logmein and Skype. And depending on the person, a phonecall or visit.

    If I can’t wrap my head around their problem just by viewing it via Skype, I use Logmein. If there is no internet or their whole PC is down, they get a phonecall. Otherwise, I show up when I can. Generally, Logmein and simply being their physically is what does it. A few times though, a simple phonecall scared the issue away ^^

  65. RickCJ7

    I use Teamviewer. Very easy to use for idiots on the other end.

  66. Phylis Sophical

    I look the problem up on Google, then send them a link to that Google result page. This shows them how they can resolve most problems / questions just by googling them.

    I use CrossLoop.. Very simple for newbies’ can transfer files on older versions. I talk them through the repair process and watch from my end. People learn and retain better if they are doing it themselves. Unless it’s complicated, then I can easily take over.

  67. DBigWoo

    Usually the first time someone asks me for help, I’m visiting them and near the PC. So I install LogMeIn Free for them so that I can access later for help with other issues later (there is ALWAYS some kind of help they need in the future). Then I have them all ready to go. (I use the Pro version so I always have access to my main home PC in case I need files.)

    I once even helped a friend in the Philippines using LogMeIn. She needed help with her webcam. I used IM to talk her through the load of LogMeIn and had her add her PC to my list. Then I logged onto her PC and within a couple of minutes had her webcam running.

    I’ve also found it handy to use when I am actually at someone’s PC and have a task that will take a long time (or several steps at long intervals) to accomplish. I get things started, bid them good evening, and head home. Then I can monitor from time to time to finish in the comfort of my own home. When finished, I just leave a text note open on their screen with any further instructions and log out.

  68. Cires

    I find logmein to be the most reliable option when helping users. The ability to restart the computer without losing connection really helps when installing programs or doing virus removal.

  69. jjib

    I use teamviewer and a good old text message

  70. F11

    For me, TeamViewer does the job perfectly. Not only can I install it on my computers for personal remote access but friends and family can receive help without, dare I say it, *installing* anything! This standalone application feature is brilliant as a lot people I help seem to believe that any file downloaded from the internet by definition must have a virus embedded in it that *will* destroy your computer and everything on it.

    Getting back to the point, it’s simple ID and PIN system is great and something that one can easily transfer over the phone or email.

    I have also used LogMeIn in the past (especially for my own remote access), but now that TeamViewer has a, quite honestly simpler, online interface, I’ve ditched LogMeIn for TeamViewer.

  71. Iszi

    Join.me is great, especially for environments where you don’t want to leave a remote access server (such as TeamViewer or LogMeIn) permanently installed on the system. The only downside is, of course, that a user must available to log into the remote system and start the session for you.

  72. Joshua

    I use Teamviewer. Full remote access and I can also use it at home. It works great!

  73. Itolicus

    hmm… no showmypc.com love?

  74. Enigma

    I also use Teamviewer. It’s fantastic and I can use it from my PC or iPhone.

  75. Chet

    Teamviewer or Crossloop booth work well. I prefer Teamviewer, because you can control your own PC even when it is not attended. And again its Free for personal use.

  76. Ian

    Here is a list of Comparison of remote desktop software – I have never tried any myself but a friend of mine uses Teamviewer and he likes it very much. I have seen him use it and it looks very good indeed.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_remote_desktop_software

  77. Adriel

    I use join.me and teamviewerQS. I love the the voice, video and chat service in teamviewer and for join.me, the teleconferencing.

  78. Adamboy7

    They tell me whats wrong, and I give a deminstration by recording what goes on on my computer screen, and just sending a video. Usually works. I use a program called Replay Video Capture 5

  79. Roshnal

    Mostly, its over the phone (and yeah its for my dad). But once or twice I have used TeamViewer and had a bad experience with my limited bandwidth usage..

  80. StarsLikeDust

    Often a phone call will suffice but for tricky issues I tend to default to a remote session of some kind. At work I use LogMeIn if its a friend or family member I tend to have them start a join.me meeting and share mouse control.

  81. Lance

    I use Team Viewer, works great for me.

  82. John

    Teamviewer. Works great and is free for non-commercial use.

  83. jonmar

    I use Mikogo & Skype problem solved. Both are FREE.

  84. AdriaanK

    I use VNC, RDP and even LogMeIn.
    Just depends if the remote party needs to see what I’m doing.
    haven’t tried TeamViewer, yet!
    I’m going to give it a shot as a lot of guys here seem to approve it.

  85. Pudsoft

    TeamViewer wins!
    Also Dropbox for easy standalone app running!

  86. StanL

    Been happy with Show My PC. I use it to support my software business remote. They put my logo on the splash screen. Costs about $15 per month. Easy for the remote user to setup. Will look at the other options given here.

  87. StanL

    I did look at Teamviewer. Looks like it cost $750 for a lifetime license but works from only one computer. Show My PC works from unlimited numbers of my computers and I am not stuck with a huge investment that may be replaced with something better. I wonder if the comments above re TeamViewer had access to a free trial version.

  88. Ronald R

    I use a Magic Jack $20.oo a year.
    Unlimited long distance calling.
    I also use this email to look for answers.
    Its great to have this much imformation in on spot.
    Thank You Guys For Everything.
    Rockit Ronnie…..

  89. smelise

    Teamviewer, works great.

  90. Fforestlodge

    Team viewer works every time for me

  91. Mike

    Teamviewer is simpl and easy to set up to help anyone!

  92. Ian

    I use Teamviewer for Android to PC or PC to PC also Crossloop … Imperio is really good but setup is a problem and the free version has ads….

  93. tommy2rs

    With family and friends I know are capable enough to follow instructions I use the phone. Otherwise it’s Teamviewer. For customers it’s always a paid visit unless they are on my monthly subscription service.

  94. bettydev

    I use TeamViewer. It’s easy to install and easy to use. Because my friend has problems installing things, we installed it at the same time, and so I was able to tell her what to do. Now using it, I can easily walk her through her problems. It’s really a great service.

  95. davesanders

    Radmin 3.4

  96. DiggerP

    My Favorite > TeamViewer . + GT or any other IM program.
    I’ll tell you some of the things that can be done with it.
    @ bettydev . I do the same thing but reverse directions so they can see how I do it,
    then help them to install the same program, so they see it twice.
    Best thing yet: Even if the remote computer can’t boot ,I’ll have them boot up with a rescue CD that contains TeamViewerQS ( From the start I send them the iso or burn the CD and send it)
    Once logged on I can explore their drive or even a USB drive and do a repair ,transfer files from the USB drive etc.Even backup important personal files in case they need to do a re-install.

  97. Chris Raisin

    “Team Viewer” is definately the best way, unless either party has no internet access available at the time)

    If “Team Viewer” not an option then “Physical Visit” is best.
    It has four steps to get it running:
    1. moving from desk
    2. going out to car
    3. turning key
    4. visiting problem PC

  98. David Baker

    I used to use LogMeIn, but the free version is remote control only, but since then I discovered TeamViewer, which is free for personal use and has much more than just remote control, it’s got FTP, VPN and more! It’s so fast too, plus with the android app, I’ve got it with me all the time, it’s brilliant! :)

  99. dlgn

    Different things I try: 1. Get frustrated! 2. Go to them! 3. Try to get them to use TightVNC or other viewer!

  100. liz

    I can only dream of remote, unfortunately we have offices stationed in the middle of know where, so over the phone is how we have to do it, and even then we are not so lucky, because it is so far out sometimes we cannot even get in contact with people, so when that fails, climb in the car pack a bag and every conceivable tool you think you may need and head into the bush, usually our luck after driving hundreds of kilometres and arrive there the power is down for days too, we generally take a lot of beer and fishing rods with too.

  101. pbchhaya

    I use Google chrome & Chrome Remote Desktop Beta. Its easy.

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