Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Get (and give) free help on computer issues

If you have a friend or family member you would like to help with computer issues (Mac or PC), get a remote connection to their computer and insist they let you help them by connecting remotely. It means you will have a screen that allows you to operate their computer as if you are sitting in front of it. Who hasn't tried to help someone over the phone with a computer problem at one time? Now it's much easier.

My opinion? Family members that keep in touch with each other should set this up immediately, and encourage others to do so. You never know when a computer emergency can come up.

SUMMARY: Set up a free connection to anyone you help with computer issues, Mac or PC, allowing you to operate their computer as if you were sitting in front of it. Great for family members to help one another. Also allows you to OPERATE YOUR OWN COMPUTER WHEN YOU CAN'T BE THERE IN PERSON.

The problem with computers is that it's very hard to help someone when you aren't at the computer with them. Accidental misunderstandings are so common as to be the nail in the coffin for most people trying to help, but different experience levels, and poor understanding about how support is best provided are also factors.

But nowadays you can connect to a friend or family member's computer for free, and operate their computer as if you were sitting in front of it. You open a special window in your browser, which shows you the remote computer screen.

Options for getting started

I prefer LogMeIn Free for this, although Windows XP users can use Remote Desktop, which is built into XP, and can be accessed from Windows 95 or later. It runs in your internet browser and lets you see the remote computer on your screen. Typical uses include :

  • Helping a friend with a program you use but they are new to;
  • Something you know how to do but they have yet to learn;
  • Experienced user helping a novice user with computer skills;
  • Friends and family helping one another figure things out together.
Most importantly, LogMeIn Free has excellent security (best among alternatives -- whitepaper). Either create a new account and add computers to it, or add your computer to someone else's account. Part of the security is that you will need one username and password to log into LogMeIn.com, and then a second username and password to connect to a remote computer.

Sign up and usage tips
  1. Be careful not to sign up for a trial of a product costing money, if what you want is the free version. Click this link for the free version of LogMeIn. Uncheck any boxes offering free trials. You just want free, period. You can always switch to a for-pay product later if you want to.
  2. Have the most computer savvy person in the family sign up first, and put everyone else in the family on that same account. (You will still be able to let "outsider" experts access computers if you wish.)
  3. If possible, have someone familiar with LogMeIn show you the ropes. There are buttons on the interface that allow you to Ctrl-Alt-Del and to speed up the internet connection by using less colors.'
  4. Read these tech tips for fixes to some common annoyances.
  5. Don't forget to let people who want to help you connect when you need it!
Are you giving up too much of yourself? Or will you do more with less?

An inevitable question: are you becoming more, or less of an over-connected techno-addict by doing this? Answer: less. I spend a LOT less time on the phone helping folks, even though I actually help them MORE often. I encourage people to call me so I can fix things BEFORE they get out of hand. A couple minutes connecting remotely is much better than confusing, hour-long calls that don't always even resolve anything. So, yes, I do encourage people to call for smaller things, and so far that has meant I spend LESS time and am MORE effective.

As always, click the big blue call me button in the sidebar, or leave a comment if you'd like some help. Once you are comfortable with the LogMeIn interface, encourage others to get connected. It's a better world when we all help one another!

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