Thursday, June 14, 2007
Remote Control Made Easy and Inexpensive
"Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Reach out, call up and just say hi. Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Wherever you are, you're never too far." Sure, I'm dating myself, but that jingle has always been stuck in my head. This was the slogan of the old AT&T of 1979. Of course, since that time, AT&T was broken up, and then merged together yet again. Instant Messaging and Texting have replaced picking up the phone. However the desire to reach across the miles still remains, and anyone who has tried to provide or receive technical support over the phone knows how inadequate voice can be to communicate technical problems.
Remote control software has existed for years and programs such as Timbuktu Pro and VNC are almost as old as the AT&T jingle. The problem with those applications, though, is that you need to install a program to run them, configure it for access, and possibly configure your router and firewall to allow the program to pass through. These programs are not designed for the casual remote user because they require the person you are "reaching out to" to install and configure the software in advance. That's great for consultants or helpdesks, but what if you just want to help a friend configure their email or help them do a mail merge?
MacHelpMate allows an easy download to provide remote assistance to your friends, among a laundry list of other great features to remotely fix a computer. It works great, but it's designed for consultants and costs about $600 a year. For that price, have your friend fly you out to help. CoPilot, by Fog Creek Software, is unique because it requires a simple download in order to help a friend out and it costs $5.00 for a 24 hour "day pass". Best of all, CoPilot allows your friend to pay for it. Your friend is already getting free advice, so make them pay the cost of a venti mocha in order to help you out. With gas prices the way they are today, it's cheaper to help remotely than drive half way across town.
The software is a bit slow and depends on the speed of the Internet connection, but it really does work. I've tried it numerous times, both from Mac to Mac and Mac to PC. PC to PC allows the fastest connection and more features, though really don't PC users need lots of help? All your friend needs to do is click on a link in an email. That will download the "host" application and you'll need to download a "helper" application for your end. Double click the applications on both ends and you are magically in control of their computer. When done, you and your friend can trash the applications knowing that nobody can secretly get into your computer later. I particularly like this option, since almost any other remote control option requires you to leave software on your computer--which can expose your computer to threats by hackers.
For computer professionals, Copilot offers a monthly subscription option that starts at 200 minutes for $20.00 a month. They don't lock you into a subscription either, you can change your mind later and either upgrade or downgrade your plan as your needs change. I wonder if they offer a cell phone plan? Darn, still have that jingle on my brain! Seriously though, this company sets the bar incredibly high for customer service. Check out the owner's blog on customer service and Fog Creek's hassle free return policy: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/customerservice.html
CoPilot is the perfect software to instantly help your friends and family remotely at little or no cost to you. Support professionals will love the fact you can save money with a subscription that doesn't lock you into a yearly fee. Best of all, if it doesn't work, they'll refund your money.
Pros: Works instantly without a subscription or configuration at the remote end
Cons: Could be faster