Did you know that with Windows XP, you can email or IM (instant
messenger) someone and ask them to fix your computer for you...from the
comfort of their easy chair and without having to wait for them to drive
over to your house? Yup!
In fact, you've been able to do this for years! Some changes have
taken place over the years in the way this access works. Mostly these changes
are due to security concerns. Years ago not many folks thought much about
hackers ripping into their systems. Now...without a firewall and 24x7 Internet
access running, you'll be under attack in about 30 minutes!
In days gone by, you could use Net Meeting to allow
someone to tap into your computer to either see what you had displayed
on your computer or to help you with a problem by taking over control of
your computer. This type of sharing is great when you want to show someone
a program that they don't own...such as for software demos. But you can also
ask someone to help you with an application problem or show you how to do
something you don't understand.
Say you're having a problem formatting a document in Word and need an expert.
You send me an email, give me permission to access your PC and you could
sit back and watch as I control your mouse from my house! I used to do this
all the time at one of my former support jobs. And Greg helped me with my
computer several times when he was back living in Ohio and I was here in
Meeting is still around. I haven't used it in years, but I suspect it's
pretty much the same. Although I believe that it's just for users
who don't have Windows XP. ( I'll have to confirm that fact.) Windows 2000
users apparently already have it installed.
With Net Meeting, you connect to other users through an ILS server. But Microsoft
has several of them available that you can plug into. And, if it all still
works the way it used to work, you can find lots of others to talk to, including
video, file sharing and voice. Much like many of the IM programs these days.
But back about 10 years ago, Net Meeting was quite innovative.
Many of the Net Meeting conversation
and application sharing features are now incorporated into the free Microsoft
Instant Messenger program. As you can see in the image below, I can
chat, start up a video camera, talk through audio, invite others into
a private, group conversation, share an application, start up a whiteboard
and we can all take turns drawing out our thoughts during a meeting or
even ask a friend to take over my computer to help me figure out a problem.
Within Windows XP, however, this feature is also incorporated into it's Help
system. Click Start > Help and Support and you'll see that you can ask a
friend for help.
Click the option to Invite a friend to connect to your computer with
Remote Assistance. A dialog box will appear to allow you to send
out your S.O.S.
If you have Windows Messenger, it'll remind you that you can just sign in
through that application and use it. Or you can use Microsoft Outlook to
send an email request to that person. Enter the email address and click Invite
And as you can see in my message above, I've given Greg lots of details about
my problem and the type of assistance I need!<smirk> Okay, so I'm just screaming
for help. Keep this in mind that...just yelling HELP!...when you need computer
assistance isn't the most productive way to go about asking for assistance.
It's a better idea to provide the support expert with a few details about
what type of problems you're experiencing...what you were doing when you
had the problem...a little history goes a long way with diagnosing a problem!
Since you don't want to allow someone to accept the invitation when you're
not at your computer, there's a timeout that you can set to expire the invitation.
Plus, you can add a password. The password is not transmitted with the message,
so you'll have to let that person know your password in some other manner.
You can IM them or send a separate email with the word included.
Then click to Send Invitation.
Outlook's newer security will warn you that some program is attempting to
automatically access your email. This is to help prevent viruses from accessing
your email. But in this case, this is what you need. So click Yes.
In fact, keep an eye on the message, as you may have to accept this message
again if it takes a little time to access your email.
You can then check your invites. Here you can see in the image below that
I currently have an open invitation to Greg to help me with my computer.
At Greg's end of the conversation, he receives my pleas for help in his email,
as shown below. It explains that he's received a remote assistance invite
from me and provides a link to a Microsoft site incase he needs more information
about how to connect.
He opens the attached request and enters the password I provided to him.
Once he enters the password and accepts my cry for help, I receive a notice
letting me know that he has accepted. It also checks to verify that I still
want to accept this connection. I click Yes.
A chat dialog opens so we can start communicating. We can now click
Start Talk and open communications through audio, assuming
we both have speakers and microphones connected and working.
To fix my computer, Greg will need to take control of my computer. This means
that he will literally be making my mouse move around the screen.
He will have full access to my system and, if I didn't trust him, he could
cause a lot of damage! That's why you're first asked if you're sure you want
to give this person control and you're reminded that you need only hit the
ESC (escape) key to instantly stop the other person's access to take control
Once I accept, Greg can begin opening system tools and files to attempt to
figure out what is causing my problem. And, of course, he graciously takes
charge! Sheesh! (His reply says: Muahahaaaaahaaa!! I have complete control!!!)
At Greg's end, he is receiving a transmission of my screen display so he can
see what's going on at my end right there on his own computer. (Sorry, it's
a bit hard to show a full screen image without distorting the text quite
a bit!) But the image below is Greg's monitor. The gray area in the middle
is my actual full screen being displayed on his monitor.
Greg receives notice at his end that he's now in control of my system, but
it also let's him know that I need only hit Esc to stop control.
He can now open various system tools to try to figure out what I did wrong this
I can watch to see what he's going to do to try to fix my latest problem.
While I watch him fiddling around in my system, we are also able to chat via
audio through our microphones and speakers so we know what's happening. Although,
if we didn't have this capability, the chat window is still there to allow
us to converse by typing back and forth.
Once he's finished working on the problem, I take back control by hitting
Esc and he's informed at his end that he's no longer top dog!
To ask another user to connect to your system
in this manner, both users must be running Windows XP. You both need
access to the Internet and both systems need to have Windows Messenger installed.
Also, you need to realize that, due to firewalls protecting
you from outside access, they can also conflict with this type of assistance
when you want someone to connect to your system. You have to open
a port on your computer, temporarily, to allow this person access. And there
are various safeguards that you may need to configure. So, depending on your
system, sadly the fix to just get help might be harder than the fix to the
But if you are interested in learning more, you can of course experiment with
a friend. And for troubleshooting, which you may need to do to
get it running, Microsoft has a site dedicated to information regarding Remote
Access. Use the links below to get more details:
One More Fun Trick
Since we won't be around for a few months to share tips, here's a fun
tip you can use to have a little evil fun!<evil smirk>
Here's an image of my current desktop...
As you can see, there are a fair amount of icons on the desktop. These help
me more easily access current working files, folders and applications. We're
used to seeing this type of display, right?
Well, if you want to have a little fun with a friend, sneak up to their computer
and change a few settings while they're off at lunch! I already showed you
how to hide the taskbar in my
previous Windows XP article on Customization . So set
the TaskBar to Auto Hide and hope they didn't read the same article!<smirk>
click on the desktop and, under the Arrange Icons option,
uncheck Display Desktop Icons, as shown below!
Imagine your colleague's surprise when they return to their computer and attempt
to click on one of their desktop icons and realize they're gone!
Plus...it's very pretty to hide away the messy desk to enjoy the view on your
Have a nice vacation and we'll catch up with you in September!
Special thanks to Greg Chapman for his ever present patience helping me put
this article together!