Providing support by phone is far more effective when the person at the other end can see your screen. I’m in a position now to work with your computer remotely at your request – any time, anywhere.

Remote computing has been around for a while, but it’s only recently that it has become ubiquitous for small businesses and individuals. (Large businesses have relied on terminal services and Citrix and the like for years, but computing has always been a whole different world at that level.)

PCAnywhere was the pioneer; it allowed remote control of another computer way back in the early days of DOS and modems, and continued to be the only widely-known method of remote control through much of the 90s. It was neglected and never got a badly needed overhaul to make it friendly to use, and web services like GoToMyPC began to take its place.

The web services continue to be a good way for individuals to get remote access to their desktop computers, but they require a monthly subscription and software installed and running on the computer being controlled.

Windows XP Professional and Vista Business have built-in software for remote control, Remote Desktop. Businesses running Small Business Server have all their workstations set up with Remote Desktop; SBS Remote Web Workplace uses Remote Desktop to allow SBS users to work remotely with their own office computers, and administrators use it to support all the workstations from the server.

It’s not as easy for others to take advantage of Remote Desktop, because it’s blocked by most firewalls and routers until some configuring is done. (Microsoft introduced slightly different technology, “Remote Assistance,” in Windows XP but you’ve probably never heard of it because it’s virtually impossible to run through a firewall or router.)

And then magic happened recently when web services began to appear like LogMeIn Rescue and WebEx Remote Support. You sit at your computer and download a very small piece of software, which reaches out to a remote support person in a way that does not alarm your firewall. The support person is able to see or control your computer as if he or she is sitting there. When the session ends, the software leaves your computer; no permanent change is made and no opening is left for any uninvited intruders.

Businesses that purchase expensive software are now more likely to have the vendor offer to do the installation by getting on the company server remotely. I’ve had software vendors doing sales presentations and training in remote sessions set up on the fly. Dell was reportedly going to provide support in remote sessions, although I have yet to run into that in the real world.

There’s a new link for bruceb remote support at the top of the bruceb favorites page. If I’m at my desk, I can be looking at your computer thirty seconds after you invite me, helping out or doing housekeeping or solving a problem. I’m running LogMeIn Rescue and it’s working like a charm.

This is marvelous technology, it’s fun (the first time you see your mouse moving around on the screen is always interesting), and it lets me be more effective at getting your problems solved efficiently. Cool!

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