Providing PC support remotely to family and friends

I take the role of “computer-problem-fixer” in my family very seriously. πŸ™‚ I love tinkering and troubleshooting so helping out doesn’t feel like a burden to me. So, I thought I’d do a post on how I’m able to assist my family members and friends from afar.

One of the things I’ll tell you right away is to assume that your computer jargon will be that: jargon and not understood by the non-techie. That said, do the following and you’ll be less likely to be frustrated:

  1. If you absolutely must direct the person being helped over the phone, spell out each step using specific terms (right- or left- click versus just telling them to ‘double-click’, position of the windows/prompts, etc) and depending on the skill level, feel free to spell out letters (this comes in handy when collecting usernames and/or passwords), use colors, and directional language (bottom-left panel/windows/alert-box, top-right, etc) to get the job done. It might sound silly, but if someone’s not as used to using computers as you are, they’ll need all the pointers they can get. From a recent memory, I lost an hour of time because the asker omitted a space between their Windows username and Logmein kept rejecting my login!
  2. If we’re talking about removing badware from the person’s computer, I strongly recommend using a remote service. I like to see what’s going on and reduce the chance that something crucial gets overlooked.

For this article, I’ll writing about my experiences with the following services: Logmein, Windows Remote Assistance (for XP, Vista, Windows 7), Windows Remote Desktop and Microsoft SharedView.



Short and sweet verdict: If you’re called up out of the blue and have never touched the asker’s computer, this may be a lot of pain, but once you get over the installation and connection part, you’re good!. That said, there are a couple of steps to get things going:

  1. you’ll have to get the asker to sign up for the website.
  2. install the Logmein software (increasing support time and risk of something else going wrong)
  3. Get the asker’s username and password to the Logmein website. With the Logmein free version (compared to the Pro version of Logmein), there’s no way to temporarily “invite” someone to work on your computer. The alternative would be to have the asker to install the Logmein software on their computer and input your credentials so that on the web interface, you can take remote control of the asker’s computer. Obviously, I recommend against doing that.
  4. The better alternative is to have the asker provide their credentials after they’re done installing so you can log in to the website and take control of their computer that way.
  5. I’ve done this and I highly recommend you already set up your relatives/friends who you think might need help) with Logmein before they need help. πŸ˜› And write down their username/password combination to the Logmein website AND their Windows username/password combination too! Trust me, in S.O.S situations like this, anything that can go wrong, will.
  6. Go ahead and fix what’s broken.

Windows Remote Assistance

Short and sweet verdict: no installation process especially if they’re on the Windows operating system and requires a bit of attention to detail on the asker’s part. That’s *always* the tricky part when assisting people. That said:

  1. On Windows XP, go to this Microsoft knowledge base article. Please read the article which explains how to get access Windows Remote Assistance in-depth. Briefly, fire up XP’s Help & Support and look for the tool under the “Ask for help” section. When in doubt, search for “remote assistance”. For Windows Vista and 7, hit “start” and type “remote” and you should see this image:
    Quick Tip: Read this link to learn how to enable remote assistance on Windows XP. On Windows 7, right-click on the “My Computer” icon and go to “Properties”. Click “Advanced System Settings” and navigate to the “Remote” tab. Refer to this image for more:

    With Windows Remote Assistance on Windows 7, you have the option of saving the invitation file to a .msrcincident file which can be opened by PC’s running other versions of Windows or using Easy Connect which can only be used with another Windows 7 computer. I was not able to get Easy Connect to work with this persistent “can’t connect to global peer-to-peer network” message. Microsoft has a tool on their website called the “Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool” which “checks your Internet router to see if it supports certain technologies.” See image below:

  2. Anyway, get the asker/use to fire up Windows Remote Assistance and invite you using your email address with a time limit of ~ 4hrs (arbitrarily chosen). Get them to email you this file and once you have received & opened it, walk them through the expected prompts. In my case, I had pictures of what it would look like on the asker’s machine so that I could talk them through accepting my request to take over their computer.

Windows Remote Desktop

Short and sweet verdict: Involves advanced concepts like port forwarding, public IP addresses and such. πŸ˜› I can’t speak too much on this and the biggest reason being I haven’t given it a serious shake to properly configure and gain access to a test system. On a private/home network, it’s easy, but on a public network behind an ISP, things are trickier. This FAQ by Microsoft on using Remote Desktop has pointers to helpful info and this article by on setting up remote desktop does a great job of giving you a detailed walkthrough on using remote desktop. Good luck! πŸ™‚


Short and sweet verdict: involves the asker & you signing up for a Windows Live account, downloading & installing the software but otherwise easy-to-follow steps with some attention to detail.
I found out about Microsoft SharedView through reading Scott Hanselman’s list of tools he uses. I downloaded & installed it, but never got a chance to use it until a couple of days ago. It’s billed as a collaboration tools and thus, should serve very well as a means to work on a relative’s computer, no?

  1. If you don’t have a Windows Live account (if you have a Hotmail account, you’re good to go), go ahead and sign up for one. Get the asker to sign up for one as well.
  2. Download & install the SharedView program.
  3. Start a session. Refer to the image below (first image show what it looks like when I’m connected to the asker’s computer and the second image shows how to start a session).


As always, corrections and comments are welcome. For my personal home network, I use Logmein Free. For assisting others, I’ve used a combination of Windows Remote Assistance and SharedView. Your mileage may vary. There are other ways of assisting people remotely, but that’s beyond the scope of this “short and sweet” article. Thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

Holy Hannah!

I’m sure you knew what I was really going to say, but I’ll go ahead and say it again: holy fuck. If you suffered from the dreaded error C00D11B3 where neither Windows Media Player nor MCE can play DVDs with protected content, you are in luck if you read this page. By trial and error, I discovered what the problem was. The first clue was in the errorΒ  message in which I was told that “Windows Media Player cannot play this DVD because there is a problem with digital copy protection between your DVD drive, decoder, and video card. Try installing an updated driver for your video card.” The first time I got this message, my heart dropped. I updated my Nvidia Geforce 8600M GS graphics drivers and when that didn’t work, I took the drastic step of reformatting my computer. Thankfully, I was able to play DVDs in Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center …. for awhile. However, after installing my slew of programs, the problem of DVD playback surfaced again. This time, I had a very good idea of the culprit: Logmein’s driver. You see, I’m running the Logmein Pro version on my laptop and there is an option to “blank the monitor” whenever the laptop is being remote controlled.
Well, when this checkbox is ticked, Logmein installed a “DPMS” driver which somehow integrates into the generic PnP (plug and play) monitor on the laptop. So, if you go into the device management console and rightclick the entry under “Monitor”, you’ll find that the provider of drivers for the Microsoft device is now Logmein!! I’m surmising that the decoder (msmpeg2vdec.dll) will not play nice with this DPMS driver and so I uninstalled the entry under “Monitor” which was the generic PnP monitor with the DPMS installed. I was a little scared of taking this step because I thought the screen would go dead or something. However, I discovered a neat command that makes Windows find drivers: scan for hardware changes.

Windows MediaSimply rightclick on “Monitor” or on your computer’s name and click “Scan for hardware changes”. Windows will then install the original drivers for your monitor and ta da!!Β  I’m able to play back DVDs on Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center. I can’t tell you how many hours I put into Google into trying to find what was causing my PC to go crazy and I feel like I hit the daily double. lol. I definitely am glad that I stayed away from free codec packs because by and large, I think Windows is a system that makes sense although it would help if she weren’t so reticent in letting you know what you did wrong i.e. “hey Jane, you recently installed some mirror drivers that aren’t from us?, et cetera”

Enough of my blather. I need to go to bed. πŸ™‚