Having seen you upgrade your RAM, sweep your system for malware and then relax with a copy of PC Advisor, do friends and family members assume you know everything there is to know about technology? What’s more, do they expect you to sort out all their PC problems? We thought so.

It’s all very flattering, of course. But sometimes the troublesome PC isn’t close at hand. Giving PC advice via email or over the phone can be incredibly frustrating. It’s not always possible to make a reliable diagnosis and, since you can only bark instructions over the phone, you won’t know whether they’ve been understood or followed correctly.

If only you could see what they were up to and the messages that the system pops up in response to probing. It would be better still if you could delve in and control the computer yourself.

Remote assistance creates exactly this experience, letting you control the poorly PC and view its onscreen read-outs as if you were sitting in front of it. The PC could be at the end of the street, in another town or even on the other side of the world; location doesn’t matter.

One way to set up this arrangement is to use Windows’ own Remote Assistance utility, but this is complex and ill-suited to novices. Many potential users simply give up in frustration.

A more intuitive option is CrossLoop, which does everything Windows Remote Assistance can do without the headaches. It’s free and a piece of cake to set up.

With CrossLoop running on both the problem PC (the host) and your own PC (the guest), you can gain remote control of another user’s desktop, as we describe in the following steps. You can run programs, open documents, download drivers, alter settings and even delete files.

The program works by establishing a connection via the CrossLoop server. This employs 128bit Blowfish encryption, meaning it’s safe from hackers and other ne’er-do-wells.

Here, we’ll show you how to install, set up and use CrossLoop. For demonstration purposes, we’ll be using our Vista PC to control an XP system, although any combination of Windows Vista, XP and 2000 will work.

Using a friend’s PC as the host is an ideal way to familiarise yourself with remote assistance. This way, you’ll be comfortable using the software when you come to troubleshoot computer problems for real.

1. CrossLoop needs to be installed on both the host (the PC you wish to control) and guest (the PC you’ll be working from) systems. To get started, download it from CrossLoop.com.

Step 1

Step 1

2. Double-click the Crossloopsetup.exe installation file. Setup is a quick, straightforward process: you simply have to accept the default settings (assuming you’re happy with them) and agree to the licensing restrictions.

Step 2

Step 2

3. Fire up CrossLoop. A pop-up window will offer to create an account or let you log in, but this is optional. To ignore this stage and start using the program, simply click the cross at the top-right corner of the dialog box.

Step 3

Step 3

4. You’ll now see a window with two tabs: Access and Share. Since you’re going to be the guest, you’ll be using the Access tab. Your willing friend, the host, will be using the Share tab. Obtain and enter the Access Code that’s written under your friend’s Share tab on to your own Access tab.

Step 4

Step 4

5. Next both parties need to click Connect. The host will be prompted to give permission for the CrossLoop session to begin, and for the guest to share control of the host’s computer. Click Yes. If either PC throws up security warnings (such as from a firewall), permission will need to be granted for these.

Step 5

Step 5

6. As the guest, you’re all set to start accessing your friend’s PC. A large window will display your friend’s desktop (minus the wallpaper). You can now control the PC as if it were in front of you. If the desktop is too big to fit your screen, use the scroll bars to adjust the viewable area.

Step 6

Step 6

7. Experiment with the setup. Download and install a piece of harmless software or an updated hardware driver. Type a message in Notepad, or demonstrate how to open the Registry. These are the sort of tasks you’d perform if assisting someone. Your friend won’t be ‘locked out’ during the session.

Step 7

Step 7

8. Some people might be wary about giving you control over their PC. That’s easily solved. At any time, the host can click the View Only icon (second from the right) under the Share tab. You’ll then be able to look but not touch. This is still useful for watching owners’ actions and seeing what they’re doing wrong.

Step 8

Step 8

9. If required, you can reverse roles. Get your friend to click the Switch Control icon on his or her Share tab. This will end the current session and automatically start a new, reversed one. It’s as easy as that. You’ll each get a confirmation box to check you’re happy about the switch. Click Yes.

Step 9

Step 9

10. Either party can end a CrossLoop session at any time. A new access code will be generated every time the program launches, preventing previous guests from reconnecting without permission or hassling you with requests – the old access code will be completely useless.

Step 10

Step 10

All that, said and done, there's more to remote access software (and to life) than using it to troubleshoot problem PCs. Click here to learn how to share files using CrossLoop.