Remote Assistance with Win XP

Remote Assistance is a feature found in both the Home and Professional versions of Windows XP. Designed for when you may have a problem you can’t solve, the feature lets you enable someone else — such as a colleague or IT support person — to assist. Ideally, your problem will be solved and you will be able to see exactly what to do if the same problem should happen again.

As you will discover, using Remote Assistance is quite straightforward — the difficult part will be finding someone to provide the assistance! In the future it is likely that Remote Assistance will replace the telephone as the preferred method for providing tech support, both in the home and in the office.

Initiating a Remote Assistance session

You will find a link to Remote Assistance on the front page of the Help and Support Center (it’s the one called “Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance” - see here for a screenshot). The Help and Support Center can be accessed from the Start menu. Note: you will need to be using an Owner account in order to initiate a Remote Assistance session.

The Help and Support Center can be customised, so the manufacturer of your computer may have added a specific link that will initiate a Remote Assistance session with its own tech support people.

When you initiate a Remote Assistance session, an encrypted file is sent to the remote user. This file is attached to an invitation, in which you can explain the problem, and can be sent via Windows Messenger or by e-mail. Alternatively, you can save the file separately and transfer it by other means.

The remote user must also be using Windows XP, either the Home or Professional version. Sent invitations can be viewed by clicking on View invitation status, and can be re-sent or deleted.

Although the invitation that is sent is encrypted, there are a couple of other safeguards you can also use to protect against someone else accepting the invitation.

The first is setting an expiration for the invitation — set to a number of minutes, hours or days. A tech support team may need an hour or two before it can process your request, and by setting an expiration of a few hours you give them enough time to get back to you while preventing them from accessing your system at a later time.

Assigning a password to your invitation adds another level of security. This password must be used by the remote user to activate the invitation. You can communicate this password verbally to guarantee that only the person you invited will be able to connect with you.

Handing over the controls

When you have invited someone to assist you and they have accepted the invitation, an appropriate communications link will be established. When the Remote Assistance session begins, each user will be able to chat with the other. It is a good idea to discuss the problem together and exchange ideas on what the solution will involve.

It will soon be made clear whether the remote user knows how to fix the problem or not. (If neither of you has any ideas on how to fix the problem, try looking elsewhere for help.)

The person providing assistance will have a large window on their PC displaying your desktop, but they will not be able to access your desktop until you give them permission. With permission, the remote user is able to control the mouse and keyboard input of your computer. It is not a good idea for both users to use the mouse or keyboard at the same time, as it will result in conflict.

With this kind of control the remote user will be able to troubleshoot any problem in the same way they would as if it was their own computer. Giving this sort of access to a remote user leaves your computer very vulnerable, so if you ever feel the need to cancel a Remote Assistance session all you have to do is press the key.

You can communicate with each other via the chat dialogue box, but you may find telephone communications to be more helpful. Talk the person through your problem and watch what they do to fix it. Then again, if you are not inte­rested in the solution, go make yourself a cup of coffee and read a magazine instead.

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Kieran McNamee

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