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Allowing Others to Connect to Your Computer Remotely

You'll appreciate XP's Remote Assistance function if you've ever endured the friendship-dissolving stress of giving or receiving tech support over the phone. Remote Assistance lets you invite a friend or technical expert—anyone you trust who's running Windows XP—to help you by connecting to your PC over the internet or a network. That person can swap messages with you, view your screen, or (with your permission) use his mouse and keyboard to control your computer.

Remote Assistance relieves novices of having to explain problems in jargon they haven't learned and lets experts cut the chatter and work on the novice's machine directly. Experts can even install software, update hardware drivers, and edit the registry.

Before starting a Remote Assistance session, set invitation and time limits.

To configure Remote Assistance:

  1. Choose Start > Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > System > Remote tab. or Press Windows logo key+Break; then click the Remote tab.
  2. If it's unchecked, check Allow Remote Assistance Invitations to Be Sent from This Computer ( Figure 3.10 ).
  3. Click Advanced to open Remote Assistance Settings ( Figure 3.11 ).
  4. If you're the novice, and you don't want the expert to control your computer, uncheck Allow This Computer to Be Controlled Remotely. Even with this box checked, you must approve each request for control of your computer explicitly.
  5. Use the two Invitations drop-down lists to specify the maximum duration of Remote Assistance invitations. The default setting is 30 days.
  6. Click OK in each open dialog box.

Figure 3.10 If you're paranoid, uncheck this box to turn off Remote Assistance.


Figure 3.11 If you're concerned about security, you can shorten the maximum expiration period to a few minutes or hours. This setting affects the invitation-expiry choice in Figure 3.23.

In a Remote Assistance session the two connected parties—the novice and the expert—must:

  • Be using Windows XP (either Home or Pro edition)
  • Be on the same local area network (LAN) or have active internet connections
  • Not be blocked by a firewall (see "Securing Your Computer" in Chapter 12)

The order of events in a Remote Assistance session is:

  1. The novice sends the expert an invitation via email or Windows Messenger.
  2. The expert accepts the invitation.
  3. Remote Assistance opens a window that shows the novice's desktop to the expert.
  4. The expert views the novice's desktop and exchanges messages with the novice or, with permission, takes control of the novice's computer.
  5. Either party disconnects to end the session.

It's faster and easier to send an invitation via Windows Messenger, but you can use email instead. I'll describe both methods separately. Each step is marked by Novice or Expert to indicate who does what.

To get Remote Assistance by using Windows Messenger:

  1. (Novice) Sign in to Messenger (choose Start > All Programs > Windows Messenger, or see Chapter 15).
  2. (Novice) In Messenger, choose Actions > Ask for Remote Assistance ( Figure 3.12 ).
  3. (Novice) Specify the expert to invite; then click OK ( Figure 3.13 ). Messenger invites the expert and opens a Conversation window ( Figure 3.14 ).
  4. (Expert) When an invitation pops up in your notification area ( Figure 3.15 ), open Messenger and accept the invitation ( Figure 3.16 ).
  5. (Novice) Windows displays a message box when the expert accepts your invitation; click Yes ( Figure 3.17 ).
  6. (Expert) The novice's desktop appears in a Remote Assistance window ( Figure 3.18 ).
  7. (Novice/Expert) Both of you can communicate via Messenger ( Figure 3.19 ).
  8. (Expert) To ask permission to take control of the novice's computer (rather than just view the novice's desktop), click Take Control on the toolbar.
  9. (Novice) To relinquish control of your PC to the expert, click Yes in the message box that appears ( Figure 3.20 ).
  10. (Novice/Expert) To cancel control, either of you can press Esc or click Stop Control. Canceling control still lets the expert view the novice's desktop. To sever the connection (so that the expert can't see the novice's desktop), click Disconnect.

Figure 3.12 Windows Messenger makes it easy to extend a Remote Assistance invitation.


Figure 3.13 If the expert's email address isn't listed on the My Contacts tab, click the Other tab to enter it.


Figure 3.14 Wait for a response. If you change your mind or fix your problem while you're waiting, click Cancel (or press Alt+Q) to revoke the invitation.


Figure 3.15 When the expert receives an invitation, his Messenger taskbar button flashes and this invitation pops up on his screen.


Figure 3.16 To accept the invitation, the expert clicks Accept (or presses Alt+T) in Messenger.


Figure 3.17 Just to be sure, Remote Assistance makes you confirm the connection one last time.


Figure 3.18 To compensate for screen-size and resolution differences, the expert can click Actual Size or Scale to Window. Actual Size requires scrolling but usually displays a better image than Scale to Window, which distorts the novice's screen proportions to fit in the expert's Remote Assistance pane.


Figure 3.19 Novice and expert can use Messenger to communicate via instant messages, voice, files, or any of the methods described in Chapter 15. You also can bypass Messenger and just pick up the phone.


Figure 3.20 Click Yes to let the expert use his mouse and keyboard to control your computer. You'll see ghostly pointer movements, self-typing text, and self-opening windows as the expert fixes your problem.

To get Remote Assistance by using email:

  1. (Novice) Choose Start > Help and Support.
  2. (Novice) Click Invite a Friend to Connect to Your Computer with Remote Assistance. The Remote Assistance Wizard steps you through the process of inviting an expert via email.
  3. (Novice) Click Invite Someone to Help You.
  4. (Novice) Type the expert's email address in the Type an E-Mail Address box; then click Invite This Person ( Figure 3.21 ).
  5. (Novice) Type your name and a description of the problem; then click Continue ( Figure 3.22 ).
  6. (Novice) Set up your security options and make sure that you're online; then click Send Invitation ( Figure 3.23 ).
  7. (Novice) If a warning message appears, click Send. Remote Assistance tells you if your invitation was sent successfully.
  8. (Expert) When the invitation arrives from the novice, open the attachment to accept the invitation ( Figure 3.24 ).
  9. (Novice) When the expert accepts the invitation, a message box like Figure 3.17 appears; click Yes to start a Remote Assistance session.

Figure 3.21 If you instead click Save Invitation As a File (Advanced), Windows saves the invitation as a .MsRcIncident file on your hard drive. You can transfer this invitation file over a network or via floppy disk or USB flash drive instead of emailing it.


Figure 3.22 Remote Assistance adds your message to the boilerplate text that it generates in the email invitation to be sent to the expert. Your name appears in the Subject line.


Figure 3.23 If the expert doesn't respond to your invitation within the specified time period, the invitation expires. If you're unconcerned about security, you can specify a longer time limit. To set the maximum expiration period, see Figure 3.11.


Figure 3.24 The file rcBuddy.MsRcIncident is attached to the email invitation. The expert opens (double-clicks) this file to accept the invitation, sending a message back to the novice.

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