If you’re reading this, chances are friends and family ask you for tech support. Even worse, they usually call you from 100 miles away and want you do talk them through something over the phone (like finding the any key). I find it much easier to tell them to get out of the way and let me fix whatever is broken.  But when they do call from 100+ miles away, what do you do? Here are some viable options I have come across recently.

  1. Teamviewer – absolutely my #1 pick for supporting friends & family. Free for personal use, very fast, easily bypasses most firewalls, routers, NATs, etc. 
    My implementation for home use: http://www.aaronpalermo.com/help
  2. VNC is a free remote control software package. Many versions exist (UltraVNC, TightVNC, RealVNC, etc.) The main drawback here is TCP port 5900 has to be open and routed to the requestor’s PC. This can be a real hassle if the requestor is using NAT, and/or a cable modem router/firewall, and/or a 3rd party software firewall. The easiest way I have found to get around this is using UltraVNC’s SingleClick add-on. It is a lot easier to ensure you can listen on port 5500 than trying to talk someone else through configuring their router(s) and firewall(s), especially if they are the type of person who has to call you for help in the first place.
    My implementation for work: http://staff.cs.tamu.edu/palermo/help
  3. Remote Assistance built into XP and Vista works well if you have it preconfigured. TCP port 3389 has to be listening and routed to the requestor’s PC, and you have to have a remote assistance invitation, or be a admin on the same domain as the requestor. Also, you have to know the requestor’s IP address (yes, a quick visit to www.whatismyip.com fixes this, but just one more thing to talk a person through)
  4. MSN messenger, Netmeeting (called Windows Meeting Space in Vista), Skype, and other instant messenger programs have remote assistance (also called desktop sharing) functions built in, but if you don’t already use one of those, then do you really want to create yet another login & password to remember?
  5. Other commercial options like webex and GoToMeeting exist for remote support, but they range from slightly pricy to price gouging. These may be excellent options for enterprise level support, but not for personal or small business use.