When friends call you with computer trouble, you try to help. But no matter how much you know about PCs, correcting a problem can be a challenge when you're talking to someone who doesn't know a taskbar from a USB port. So we've put together the definitive guide to providing IT support for those closest to you. We'll show you the tweaks, the tricks and the freebies that will make you the most popular geek in town.
3. IT support from far away
Tech support gets harder when the unhealthy PC is too far away for hands-on work. Your trusty flash drive won't help you help your brother in Fortwilliam - unless, of course, you live in Fortwilliam (or maybe Inverness, at a push).
The basic rules mentioned on the first page of this article apply with even more force at a distance. You know less when you aren't making a house call, and people who communicate with you primarily by phone think nothing of calling with a question and expecting you to drop everything.
If they do so, and if the question is difficult, set up a telephone appointment for a later time. And make it a time when both of you are sitting at computers - preferably computers loaded with the same OS.
Since you can't see the error message on their screen from where you're sitting, teach them to make screen shots. In XP and Vista, have them proceed as follows: Press the Print Screen key, select Start**All Programs**Accessories**Paint, press Ctrl-V. Then get them to save the file and email it to you.
If a screenshot isn't sufficient, have your distant supplicant create and send you a report or two. Here are some useful report tools:
You met this program earlier as an essential tool for your forays into local heroism. Although it can't create a single, overall report for long-range use, it can create individual ones for the various general categories it covers (Hardware, Configuration, and so on).
Have your friend or relative download and run the program (remember, it doesn't have to be installed), selecting a category in the left pane and then selecting File**Save as.
Then direct the helpee through the 'Save as' dialog box to create the report you want emailed you. The easiest way to do proceed is to open PC Wizard on your own PC so you can guide the lost soul step by step.
Now owned by Trend Micro, this beloved freebie (beloved by the geek set, anyway) scans a PC for dubious settings that may (or may not) indicate the presence of malware and then creates a log file that your remote correspondent can send to you.
This log file has a pretty high techiness quotient. Fortunately, just as you are willing to help your friends, others are prepared to help you. Contributors to volunteer forums will read your HijackThis reports and offer suggestions.