What You Said: How You Offer Computer Help From Afar

By Jason Fitzpatrick on October 14th, 2011

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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
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