Many of us have had the joy of trying to help somebody with some basic computer issue over the phone. If you don’t have the patience for it, it’s a great way to end up hairless and bitter by the age of 40. I recently helped a member of my family with the simple concept of moving a file from a CD-ROM to the hard drive. It took me 25 minutes to walk him through this action, whereas anybody familiar with Windows even at a basic level would accomplish this in 5 seconds. The problem is that I cannot see what he sees. Secondly, he is describing things in terms which Windows users do not use. It can be frustrating to say the least.
It got me thinking about remote tech support. If I could have simply logged into his computer and SHOWN him how to do it, we would have been done in a couple minutes.
Remote Tech Support
There are, today, multiple ways of logging into remote computers and controlling them from afar. They include:
- Remote Desktop (built into many versions of Windows)
- Virtual Network Computing (VNC)
- Third Party Services
Now, the first two are perfectly viable and can be done for free. However, you may run into some more complexities with these options. If you are trying to connect to a computer which is behind a network firewall, you may not be able to get past the firewall without some router configuration. Usually, this involves opening up certain ports on our router (VNC typically uses ports 5900 through 5906). Also, neither VNC or Remote Desktop are secure connections. While both can easily be protected with a password, a brute-force attack may be able to get through and gain access to the machine.
I highly prefer using a third-party service. The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything. Logmein.com offers it for free.
I have been a user of Logmein.com for some time. I actually have a paid account with them. The difference between a paid account and a free account is basically the ability to transfer files between computers. But, if all you want is to control a remote PC (remote desktop), you can do that for free.
So, you want to use Logmein.com to help a member of your family with a computer problem? Have them do the following:
- Surf on over to www.logmein.com
- Have them create a new account. They should select the LogmeIn Free account for Personal Remote Access.
- Once registration is complete, they need to install the LogMeIn software to their computer. It will be a small software module which runs as a service under Windows.
- Next, they need to send you the username and password to their Logmein.com account. You will also need the password they chose to secure their computer.
- Log into their account and you will see their computer there on the list. Click on it, enter the password for the computer, and you will soon be looking right at their desktop.
You can then control the PC as if you were sitting right in front of it. And, they will be able to watch you as you control the computer. They will see their mouse cursor moving around and see everything you are doing. The LogMeIn connection is secure, so you don’t have to worry about anybody spying on what you’re doing.
Using VNC Instead
If you just refuse to use a convenient service, then you can give VNC a try. VNC will involve installing a server to their computer and a client to your’s. I prefer TightVNC. It is open source and free. Just install TightVNC to both your computer and their’s. Make sure to specify their’s as a server and your’s as the client. Then, you will need to configure their router to allow the VNC ports through the firewall. Lastly, you will need to look up their IP address so that you can connect to the IP address directly using yout TightVNC client.
Lifehacker posted a little more detail on how to use VNC to remote control a computer. Here is another feature post by them on how to access a computer behind a firewall.
It is obvious, though, that using a service like LogMeIn is much easier. They take care of all the data transfer issues between the computers, meaning you don’t have to worry about IP addresses, firewalls, or any network mumbojumbo .
Safeguard Your Hair
With this, now you can help people out with their computers and not go bald.