Connect From Afar

Connect From Afar

Every office has its Alpha Geek. He may be just one important program ahead of the pack—or he may be able to write his own. With the range of skill levels in any office, some employees are already helping others via lengthy e-mail exchanges or trips down the corridor. A more efficient—and free—method is built right into Windows XP: It’s called Remote Assistance, and it lets a user send an invitation to a more advanced colleague for help. The advanced user can answer questions and show the junior user how to complete a task as if he were on his computer—from across the office or across the state. This person could take over the computer remotely and fix the problem.

The advanced user should be savvy and trustworthy as well as company-approved for access to the target computer. To keep out the uninvited, be sure to have a good firewall in place. The lore surrounding Remote Assistance says firewalls can interfere with it, but never take a firewall down to make a program or feature work. Don’t rely on a stopgap firewall such as Windows Internet Connection Firewall (ICF), which lacks the flexibility to configure it program-by-program and request-by-request.

Be sure to save the following instructions, because Remote Assistance does not pull this information together for you in its help doc. Go to the Windows XP desktop, right click the My Computer icon, click Properties, click the Remote tab, and check the box labeled “Allow Remote Assistance invitations to be sent from this computer.” Click the Advanced button. Check the box labeled “Allow this computer to be controlled remotely.” Click “OK.” Click “Apply.” Click “OK.”

You must also have a MAPI-compliant e-mail program, such as Outlook or Outlook Express, set up. (Outlook Express has had fewer security problems than Outlook, in case you have a choice. POP3 e-mail programs, such as Eudora, cannot be substituted.) While using Remote Assistant, make sure the Outlook Express-type program is up and running. For the moment, make that the default e-mail program. Now you’re ready for our 1-2-3.

From the Windows Start menu, choose Help and Support. Under “Ask for assistance,” choose “Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance.” Under “Remote Assistance,” choose “Invite someone to help you.”

Remote Assistance page appears, asking whether you want to contact your assistant by Windows Messenger or by e-mail. Choose e-mail, since Windows Messenger has security flaws and should be disabled. Follow the prompts to send an invitation to your remote guru. Include a password for security.

Now your colleague can respond and both show and tell you what to do, saving time and helping you learn—by example—how you can handle the problem next time.