How-To Geek

What You Said: How You Offer Computer Help From Afar


Earlier this week we asked you to share your tips and tricks for helping friends and family when you can’t sit right down at the terminal with them. Read on to check out how your fellow readers help from afar.

Reader responses were largely divided into remote viewing, running certain helper apps to resolve common problems, and then a combination of both. Brodiemac, for example, uses a combination of both techniques in creating and distributing an emergency flash drive:

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.

TeamViewer made multiple appearances in the comments. Mattmuttsmith couldn’t say enough good things about TeamViewer:

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.

Anonymous uses the Skype desktop viewer but notes that often times remote viewing isn’t an option for hardcore problems:

I’ve used Skype and its 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).

DBigWoo preemptively installs remote software when he first helps someone with their computer:

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.

For more tips, tricks, and remote software suggestions, hit up the original comment thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/14/11

Comments (12)

  1. Wayne

    I just use Windows Remote Assistance. It is installed with Windows 7 and doesn’t require a learning curve on the other side’s part.

  2. David

    DBigWoo, Love that, get things started and bid them good evening. I’ve unfortunately been stuck at people’s houses twittling my thumbs before. Excellent article!

    Personally, Microsoft has let me down far too many times to trust them with a security sensitive function like remote access. That’s pretty much one of the first things I disabled on my computer. Plus, I just plain prefer to support the open source and/or free software movement.

    Thanks all! Great suggestions

  3. Speedbump

    I used LogMeIn until Team Viewer came along. Now Google has an app that allows you a quick look at someone’s computer. It’s not as cool as Team Viewer though.

  4. Mike

    I too am a fan of TeamViewer. I have been using it for a few years now. If it is an install that I have done for friends or family, I install it for them; if not, I have them install it before I start working. It is so easy to use for them and the info I need to connect is right in front of them. Makes my job much easier and the app always works flawlessly.

  5. Nick

    Mikogo. Allows remote view, remote keyboard & mouse control, file transfer, session recording and even a whiteboard and chat session. Remote end downloads an exe but doesn’t need to install, they just need to run which is useful for helping people whose machines are locked from installing software.

    Currently free although they may move to pay model
    Nice being able to see

  6. vgamesx1

    Yep thats teamviewer for ya… lol
    but yea all same things on the popular teamviewer plus it has VoIP/video chat

  7. Technomancer

    I have found that CrossLoop works best for machines that I have never seen nor am I likely to have physical access to. If I can, I will use LogMeIn because I can access the machine after hours without user interaction. For security minded people, CrossLoop requires the user to be at their machine to start the remote session. If I know I’m going to be accessing their system for hours, I usually get their permission to install LogMeIn and go from there.

  8. Skeirgon

    Tried teamviewer and its great. Gonna try to connect to my computer from work.

  9. QB_Baron

    We use by Citirx – it’s a paid subscription, not for my customers, friends, or family though…use it b/c we can have unattended remote sessions with computers that we set up ahead of time…or we can do it on the fly if need be.

  10. Adam

    I use LogMeIn as well. They gave me a free trial of LMI Central, so I made an automated installer and put it in my public folder on DropBox. When someone needs help, I just send them a link to the installer, and remote in.

    I pay for 1 pro license, and can float it to whatever PC I’m working on. This allows me to do things like look at event logs and such without even having to take over the machine!

    I’ve tried VNC before, but with me living in Alaska, and most the folks I support back in the North East United States, there was too much of a delay. LMI has been awesome!

  11. Edward Allen Weissbard

    TeamViewer and Crossloop here.

  12. Adam Leite

    I agree that the best free version is Log Me In. Teamviewer is also very good, but I think it is complicated to access. Crossloop is excellent and easy to setup and use.

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