We’ve all been in the situation. Your mother calls you with a computer problem and you know it’s going to take at least an hour to walk her through the steps over the phone. Then she yells at you when you sigh out of frustration. If […]


We’ve all been in the situation. Your mother calls you with a computer problem and you know it’s going to take at least an hour to walk her through the steps over the phone. Then she yells at you when you sigh out of frustration.

If you have parents who use Macs then these calls happen less often but they still happen and usually at the worst time. This is how I use iChat and Snow Leopard’s Screen Sharing app to remotely control my parents computer and quickly solve their dilemmas.

Apple’s Screen Sharing is based on VNC and it is very powerful. Generally to remotely control a machine, you need to configure the host machine and open ports on the firewall. The genius behind Apple’s solution is that they use iChat to initiate the session and no other configuration is necessary. If you can talk them through setting up iChat for their account, you’re home free.

Of course you’re going to need a compatible iChat account such as a .mac, AIM or Gmail account. I use Gmail since it’s free and my parents raised a frugal son. They also have a Gmail account so we’re on the same page as far as chat providers go. If you’ve never used iChat with them before you need to help them setup their account. Apple has made this pretty simple but if you can do it in person it’ll be easier on everybody. Next time you’re over, quickly setup iChat with their info so in the future you can get right into it.

The bonus of using audio and video to help them makes this a rather pleasant experience. If you have the hardware, get a video chat going and start the magic. When you’re in iChat, make sure you see them in your Buddy List. If not, do the following.

  1. In iChat logged in under your Gmail account, add them as a buddy.
  2. If you both have a video icon, start up a video chat. You can also do an audio chat or just talk to them over the phone.
  3. Now request to take control of their screen by going to either the Buddies menu or the Start Screen Sharing icon in iChat.
  4. They will see a request dialog similar to this where they can Accept or Deny your offer.
  5. After they accept your Screen Sharing request, you now have control of their machine. Fix their issues and they will think you’re a god.
  6. When you’re finished you can end the Screen Sharing session by clicking the iChat icon in the menu bar and selecting End Screen Sharing.

This is such a great tool that you have try it out to see how slick it is. I thank Apple for making such a perfect solution. No opening ports on their router or third-party software to install. Just a clean simple solution utilizing something you probably already use with them. Give this a try the next time you get that dreaded phone call and I promise you’ll be thankful.

  1. Very useful. Thank you very much. I had not thought of this before.

  2. Any suggestions on how to do this with parents being on Vista and my machine being on Snow Leopard?

    1. @Richard
      Something similar to this approach, I’d use Skype: http://www.skype.com/intl/en/allfeatures/screensharing/

  3. Thank you.
    It’s so simple, my Mom can do it.

  4. While this solution appears to work wonderfully – some parents are even incapable of setting up chat and don’t want walk through these steps. Thats why I like to install logmein.com on their computer. It sits silently until I have to break in. :) Then I don’t need permission and she can just let me fix the problem while she waits.

    1. @Micah, I agree. I use logmein.com (the free version) with great success. It just always runs in the background and anytime, day or night, I can connect to my parent’s computer and work out a situation for them. In fact, I just got off of such a session less and 30 minutes ago, where I was called on to resolve an error. I love it.

      iChat’s feature does look pretty cool, with the exception of having the person on the other end have to “approve” you to take over.

    2. Peter Kennedy Monday, January 18, 2010

      I use logmein quite a bit. It’s great if you’d like to control another computer without the other person there to authorize the screen-share but If you’re going to install logmein, you may as well set up the iChat app.

      iChat vs. LogMeIn:

      * iChat provides faster and more stable screen-sharing
      ~ this is because it’s a native Mac app
      ~ LogMeIn uses a Java-based browser app which is sluggish

      * iChat allows for easier communication during screen-sharing
      ~ with iChat, during screen-share both parties can communicate via chat as you work to a resolution.
      ~ with logmein, you are usually required to use the phone. technically, you could open up a notepad or something to communicate between both parties but that’s just a workaround

      * LogMeIn allows for iPhone control through LogMeIn Ignition
      ~ there is no iPhone control through iChat (Apple, this would rock. you listening?)

      * LogMeIn allows for cross-platform control while iChat only allows screen-sharing between Macs.
      ~ Skype would work in this case

      * LogMeIn allows for control of another Mac or PC without the host user needing to be present. iChat requires authorization before screen-share can commence. Technically, if you want to completely take it out of the hands of your folks, you can use a script activated via Twitter or the Mail.app for authorization. Sorry I don’t have an exact link. But I’ve seen this done before…

      e-mail me @ pskennedySOS@gmail.com if you have any more questions.

  5. I use this feature of iChat to help my parents who live on the other side of the country. Has always worked great. It is a very handy feature.

  6. A great solution that I use regularly is Adobe’s free ConnectNow (http://connectnow.acrobat.com).

    It allows you to create an account and then simply send the person you’re helping a link. Once they install a very light (and cross platform) plugin, you can do screen sharing and take control.

    Very handy. Very free. Good stuff.


  7. teamviewer is it! easy and very handy and also available for mac!

  8. Though not as straight forward, this can be done without using iChat: http://www.denis.lemire.name/2007/09/16/leopard-screen-sharing/

  9. I highly suggest TeamViewer. I use it all the time for family and clients. Best of all, it’s free.

  10. Good tip. I use this method for some of my customers. I also use Team Viewer from http://www.teamviewer.com. It’s a great app for remote support.

    1. I’ll definitely check it out.


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