How-To: Remotely Support Your Parents with Screen Sharing


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.

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