If you ever let it slip that you’re even vaguely computer savvy, chances are you’ll find yourself being coerced into providing free tech support for an ageing relative or technophobic friend.
Although this can be a satisfying experience as you ride into town armed only with a USB flash drive and heroically save the day, it can also be time-consuming and often inconvenient. Chocolate Hobnobs and a cup of tea don't really cut it after a few of these outings.
So harassed technical support engineers thought of a better way. One that involved no travel, minimal contact, and the foreknowledge that they’d have to buy their own biscuits: remote access software.
It allowed them to monitor and interact with PCs over the internet rather than in person. But the software was often complicated, expensive, and aimed solely at the business market.
Microsoft has included Remote Desktop Connection in Windows since XP, but only in the more expensive versions such as Professional, Business, and Ultimate. This meant supporting your poor old mum was still something of a challenge.
Recently though, Google, the purveyor of all things free, has seen fit to include a useful remote desktop app into its burgeoning Chrome eco-system. It's still in beta, but offers comprehensive access to a remote PC, is a doddle to get running, and costs....nothing.
The fact that it isn't out of beta is no problem - you could level that accusation at many of Google’s offerings - as it has proven reliable whenever we've used it.
Setup is mercifully straightforward and requires no knowledge of IP addresses or other technical details, which makes things far simpler for the person being assisted.
Simply install Google's Chrome browser, go to the Chrome Web Store, install the App, click on it, answer a couple of very simple questions, and you’re up and running. No hassle, no cost, no train rides to Aberystwyth.
If your friends or relatives keep calling, maybe the real issue was never their computer at all. In that case you should download that other great free app...Skype. As Stephen Hawking once said, ‘It’s good to talk’.
How to use Chrome Remote Desktop
Step 1. To use the Remote Desktop App you’ll need to be running Google’s Chrome browser (free from chrome.google.com). Once Chrome is installed, launch it and click on the shopping bag-style Chrome Web Store icon.
Step 2. Use the search bar in the upper left corner to find Remote Desktop. It will appear at the top of the results as Chrome Remote Desktop BETA. Just click on the blue ‘Add to Chrome’ option to install.
Step 3. You’ll now be presented with a warning that the app wants access to all your data and website information. It sounds bad, but it’s more to do with how the program works than a privacy trap. Click Add.
Step 4. Returning to the home screen we see that a Remote Desktop icon has been added to main area. This will now appear each time you open a new tab or window. Click on the icon and let the fun begin.
Step 5. The first time you run Remote Desktop you’ll see another message asking for access permissions. Agree to this and you’ll be taken to the main menu where you have a choice of either Remote Assistance or My Computers.
Step 6. Choose Remote Assistance and you’re offered two further options - Share your computer or Control another one. Bear in mind the other computer involved will need to have Remote Desktop installed, and the owner should follow all of the above steps too.
Step 7. If you want to do a spot of remote technical support select Access. This prompts you to enter a code number. To generate this, the person you’re helping will need to choose Share instead of Access and then tell you the number to enter.
Step 8. Enter the single-use code and Chrome will establish a connection with the target computer. The app displays a message to let the target know what is happening, and as you navigate around their system they can watch what you’re doing.
Step 9. Once you’ve finished fixing the problem or given some tutelage simply click on the blue drop-down tab at the top of the window and then select disconnect. Now sit back and bathe in the glory of your tech prowess.