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Simplifying Long-Distance Tech Support

When you're the de facto tech support guy for most of your family and friends, you quickly find yourself making a lot of house calls. But if you're not being summoned to help install memory or a new hard drive, there are plenty of tools you can use to diagnose and fix computer problems from afar.

Free remote administration tools like UltraVNC and TightVNC have been around for a while now. But when you're trying to help someone who barely knows their way around a PC, it's best to keep things simple. And it's difficult to find a PC remote control program that is simpler to set up and use than LogMeIn Free.

LogMeIn Free is a simple, gratis program that lets you remotely access a Windows PC from any other computer connected to the Internet. Basically, you connect to the remote PC via LogMeIn.com's Web site, which encrypts all of the data sent back and forth between the two connected machines. Once connected, your browser window will show you an exact copy of the other machine's Windows desktop, allowing you to control the remote PC by using your own mouse and keyboard as if you were seated directly in front of the other computer.

In a remote assistance situation, just get dad, grandma or whoever you are helping to visit LogMeIn's site, download the free version of the software and install it. You can simplify things even more by creating their user account for them. There are two sets of credentials you need to use at LogMeIn. The first is the account at LogMeIn.com that you will use to administer the remote machine. Afterproviding an e-mail address and picking a password, you'll be asked to activate the account by clicking on an e-mailed link.

The second is the computer access code, which the owner of the target PC will need to choose during installation. Once you've signed in at LogMeIn.com and initiated a remote session with the target PC, the site will ask for this code.

Be sure to pick a strong password for both sets of credentials; picking easily guessed passwords -- such as words found in a dictionary -- is a really bad idea with remote administration tools, for obvious reasons. Think random letters and a few special characters, like * and $.

I've used this program to help relatives with computer problems on two occasions in the past few months, and both times the software worked without a hitch. The only trouble I had was that some settings changes or new software I installed on the remote PC required a reboot, which automatically closes the session and forces you to log in once again after the remote machine is rebooted and back online.

LogMeIn stays active -- that is, listening for incoming connections -- unless the user of the host machine actively disables the software. It might not be a bad idea to instruct your remote assistance recipient to disable the software when you're done helping out. Just instruct that person to right-click on the program's icon in the Windows taskbar and select "Disable LogMeIn."

One final note about the program: The LogMeIn software that you initially download and install is a trial version of LogMeIn Pro, which has a bunch more features than the basic LogMeIn free version. The trial will revert to the free version after 30 days, or after you've used 120 minutes of connectivity time with the remote machine, whichever comes first.

By Brian Krebs  |  October 29, 2007; 9:37 AM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker , Safety Tips  
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