Factsheet: Providing remote support.

I often get calls from friends, family and colleagues with computer-related issues. The biggest problem is trying to relay instructions to them and to get them to communicate back the results. Often a job that would take me 2 minutes can take a half hour call. So what software is available to resolve this and how do you set it up?

The solution in question is known as remote desktop software. Windows itself ships with this capability, but in my experience it has not always benn 100% reliable to connect, and there are a variety of other options available that do the job quite nicely.

Instant Messaging Software

Firstly, if you use Skype and only need to see their screen (or show them yours) without passing control there is a little-known feature that will allow you to share your screen. Here's how to do it:

  1. Run Skype and start a call to the person
  2. Once connected click on the Share button and select either the window you want to share or 'Show entire screen'


Dedicated Remote Desktop software

When you need complete control of a PC remotely then only dedicated remote desktop software will do, and there are several products out there. Again, Windows allows remote desktop connections if you have set it up correctly, but for quick ad-hoc sessions on a remote computer you don't know it will be difficult to tell someone how to set it up. GotoMyPC have done a great job in marketing themselves as the solution to use when you want to access your office PC from home, but they charge a monthy fee of around £10. Fortunately there are free alternatives available, with LogMeIn and TeamViewer being my two personal favourites. They serve slightly different purposes. I have LogMeIn installed on various computers, including my home system. Assuming that the computers are switched on (or can be woken up remotely using 'Wakeup On LAN') I can immediately access them remotely using only a web browser or iPhone/iPad. The free version simply allows for a remote connection, but the Pro version offers remote file sharing, remote printing, remote Windows Update notifications and much more. TeamViewer is my weapon of choice when I want to connect to a friend's computer. It's quick and easy to install, and once done they've got a one-click Panic Button to get help. They just run TeamViewer, which provides them with a 9-digit number and pass code. They simply read that out to me and I'm connected in literally 2-3 seconds, with full remote control of their PC.

teamviewer-quicksupportInstalling TeamViewer

The TeamViewer software needs to be installed on both computers e.g. your PC and the one that you want to connect to, however there are two versions available.

Firstly, visit www.teamviewer.com.

Next, decide which version you are going to download.

  • For your PC (e.g the the PC that will be controlling the other remotely) you will need the full TeamViewer software, so visit www.teamviewer.com and click 'Start full version, it's free'
  • The remote PC that is going to be controlled can also have the full version on, but if they are only ever going to be the recipient and never outwardly connect to another PC then they can click on 'Join Remote Control Session'

Once the application is downloaded click whatever is needed for it to run (and this will differ depending on what operating system and web browser you are using) - just click whatever the 'positive' answer is e.g. Run, Accept, Yes etc.

If you run the full version you'll need to go through about 5 screens to set the app up, but you can accept all of the default options. If you opted for the second option above then you should see the window on the right! Then it's just a case of reading these numbers out and they'll be connected to you in seconds.


Gone are the days when a slow dialup internet connection meant that remote connections were next to impossible to use. Even with modest broadband speeds you can get a rock solid, fast connection, and can even transfer files between PCs. So next time you spend 20 minutes (or much more) on the phone to friend/relative/colleague (delete as applicable) saying 'Click this. Now what does it say on the screen...' invest just a minute to install a remote desktop connection.



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