Oh, sure, you may be a high flying enterprise architect, DBA, infrastructure engineer, or coder, but your friends and family all think: you work in IT. You love IT. And, "you must want to take care of my consumer grade tech needs because you love IT so much." Riiiight. How can you satisfy them and still have time for summer fun?Your family dynamic probably doesn't allow you to totally skip out on helping out; you're a go-to geek. The key to retaining any semblance of your own free time is to teach family & friends to help themselves.
Remote assistance tools are an essential part of teaching friends and family how to be a little more self sufficient. After all, if your "customers" use their own PC, their own desktop, browser, and so on, when they go to do whatever it is on their own, they're better situated for familiarity and thus success. Yes, I know that Dad will still want to call you every time Acrobat Reader offers updates, but maybe if you let him click OK, or walk him through it with you watching benevolently, this will translate into fewer calls. Or at least you hope so. At the very least, you'll save on gas rather than having to drive over there. :)
Here are a couple of good multi-platform remote help tools I've checked out recently. Yes, I know there are more Windows-only remote help tools, but the ones below will work whether or not Mom is using a Mac. All of these tools use outbound connections brokered by third-party servers, and therefore will not require firewall configuration, because after all, you don't want to spend your weekend tweaking ports on routers. And, like the best things in life, they're free.
- The beauty of Copilot is that it's free when you're probably free: the weekend. Help mom and dad move their mouse, balance their checkbook, and more. Even though it's VNC under the hood, it runs like GoToMyPC -- through outbound connections that are brokered though the Copilot servers. Copilot costs for non-weekend users, with pricing starting at $5 for a day pass, and going up as high as $24/month, so if your free time isn't on the weekend and you don't want to pay for the privilege of assisting relatives, you may want to look elsewhere.
My favorite thing about Copilot, though, is that you download it, click on it, and start assisting. No install program needed. I also liked that there was an easy-to-find technical description of the technology behind it, something that any Go-To Geek wants to know!
- TeamViewer offers free non-commercial use of its tool & services. You'll still have to have Mom & Dad click through an annoying install, but, remember, it's free. I really like its simple EULA, too. Unlike CrossLoop and Copilot, TeamViewer doesn't use VNC as a platform -- they've moved on to a proprietary engine. This will make your inner geek unhappy, but I doubt Mom or Dad are going to be purist about open source or the GPL, so just enjoy, support, and be happy that TeamViewer (did I mention that it's free?) is one of your options.
- CrossLoop offers a business model where paid helpers share their fees with CrossLoop. But since when did Mom, Dad, or your siblings ever pay you? Ah hah! A cross-loophole that you can shamelessly exploit, if you & your relatives can put up with running through a relatively quick client install. Unlike the two other tools, CrossLoop doesn't support PowerPC, but it should work fine on Windows and a newer Intel Mac. I only realized that CrossLoop was based on VNC because I scrolled through the huge EULA, which includes the GNU Public License.
Whichever one you choose, these tools will help you zip through your remote assistance session, teach your relatives how to be a little more self-reliant, while leaving you with beer money and time to hit the pool.
Jonathan Feldman is an InformationWeek Analytics contributor and reluctant Go-To Geek who works with IT governance in North Carolina. Comment here, write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell his mom what a nice boy he is, or visit with him at GMIS 2009
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