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Windows 7 Remote Assistance and the Problem Steps Recorder

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It can be tough to move to a new (or substantially updated) operating system. J. Peter Bruzzese and Nick Saccomanno discuss two applications packaged with Windows 7 that will hopefully make the transition a lot easier.
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Making the transition to a new operating system is never a pleasant task. Sure there are the new bells and whistles, but inevitably things might not be quite right. It might be an unfamiliar interface, hardware that doesn't work, or the worst: a key software application is dead in the water. Many users experienced this when upgrading from Windows XP to Vista and brought out the "I hate Vista" chant. Here are two applications packaged with Windows 7 (one old, one new) that hopefully will head off some of that hate and leave it in the past.

Remote Assistance

Remote Assistance utilizes a Remote Desktop-like experience to allow you to have someone remotely connect to your machine. This had been around since Windows XP. The new twist on it in Windows 7 is a new feature called Easy Connect. By simplifying the connection process, Microsoft hopes users will actually use the application instead of complaining about the OS.

Once you have enabled Remote Assistance on the system, you can access the tools to ask for help in different ways. One way to access it is to click the Start orb, type remote in the Instant Search box, press Enter, and then click on Windows Remote Assistance. A window opens asking if you need help or want to give help (Figure 1). Another way is through the Troubleshooting link in Control Panel.

If you click Invite Someone You Trust to Help You, you will be given three choices, including the new Easy Connect feature. The idea here is that a user needs an invitation to your machine; he can't just can't come in and crash the party. So it comes down to the question of "How do you want to send the invitation?"

In past versions of Windows, you had to send an invitation file through email, wait for the person to get it, open it, accept it, and authenticate. That option still exists, but Easy Connect does away with most of that on the user end. (Note: Both computers must be running Windows 7 to use Easy Connect) Instead, you'll get a password to give to the expert helping you. No need to use email, just tell the person the password. On their end, they open Easy Connect and just type the password (Figure 2). Behind the scenes in the cloud, trust information (such as certificates and contact info) ensures you are really connecting to whom you are supposed to be connecting.

The next time you want to connect, it's even easier. That trusted helper is now in your approval list; this list also shows if they are available for you to connect to. No need to send them more passwords!

You might feel a little uneasy handing your computer over to someone remotely. What can you do to mitigate some of that concern?

  • Close any windows that have sensitive information so when your trusted helper connects to your machine, he won't see everything on your screen.
  • Share your video but keep control of your mouse and keyboard. Then, with chat or by phone, both you and the expert can look at the problem yet you stay in control.
  • Hand over control to the expert. And don't worry, if you don't like where the help is going, you can always use the "panic" key (simply press Esc to regain control of your machine). This feature alone makes setting up Remote Assistance worth it.
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