Ask the Mac.AppStorm Editor #15

It’s time for another “Ask the Editor” post. A big thank you to everyone who sent in their questions, it’s always a pleasure to help out the awesome community of Mac users.

Today I’ll be offering some advice about providing remote tech support to your friends and syncing your contacts across machines. Read on and see if you learn anything new!

What is the best way to help friends with their Mac problems from a remote mac?

- Peter

This is a great question Peter. As a means to convince my friends and family to see the light and leave their Windows loving ways behind, I always tell them that if they buy a Mac, I’ll provide free tech support for any questions that they have.

Inevitably, this leads to lots of phone calls. The problem of course with helping people over the phone is that you can’t really see what they’re seeing, and most people aren’t very good at explaining it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the phone with my mother, trying to walk her through some technical process that ultimately ends up in her clicking on the wrong thing and ending up who knows where.

These days when someone calls me about a Mac problem, I immediately tell them to open one application: iChat. This amazing little app has been completely neglected by Apple in recent years but it’s still an awesome utility that’s just perfect for helping someone out with a problem.

Why iChat?
There are several reasons that I use iChat for this. First of all, it’s a default application that every Mac user has whether they know it or not. This is far easier than talking someone through a download. You do have to sign up for an account, but it really only takes a few seconds and the instructions are clear enough that almost no one will screw it up.

Also, it’s easier than other solutions. Taking over someone’s screen through the Finder involves several steps with usernames, passwords, etc. It can be a nightmare if the person on the other end doesn’t know how anything works.

Finally, iChat automatically ties an audio chat in with the screensharing functionality so you can hang up the phone and use both hands to take over the other person’s computer as they sit in wonder at your magical computer voodoo. Whenever I take over a computer for my dad, the inevitable response is, “far out!”

How It Works:
Once you open up iChat and have the other person do the same, ask them for their user name (at the top of the buddy list). Once the person shows up in your buddy list, click on them in the list and hit the screensharing button shown below.

screenshot

Click on the Screensharing icon

Once you hit that button, a window will pop up on the other person’s screen asking if they’re willing to accept your hostile takeover of their computer. Once they accept, you’ll have free reign. You can use your keyboard and mouse to troubleshoot their problems or simply walk them through possible solutions as you watch.

How do I sync my address book between my lap top and desktop using Dropbox?

- Alex

Interesting question Alex, I don’t think I’ll answer it quite like you want me too! The first thing that comes to mind is that you really don’t have much of a reason to use Dropbox for Address Book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Dropbox, but there’s simply no need for it here.

The main reason for this is iCloud. It’s a free service directly from Apple and though some have reported issues, I haven’t had a single problem keeping my contacts synced with this method.

screenshot

iCloud

Setting this up is super easy. Just go into System Preferences and sign into your iCloud account using the same Apple ID that you use in the App Store.

screenshot

iCloud settings in System Preferences

Perform this action on multiple Macs and your Address Book Contacts will automatically stay synced. If you end up with duplicates, simply go to the menu bar in Address Book and click on Card>Look for Duplicates. This will help you merge any duplicate contacts.

If you’re not an iCloud fan, you could use Google or Yahoo instead. Go to Preferences inside of Address Book and click on accounts. Here you’ll be able to connect your contacts with these services.

screenshot

Syncing Address Book with Google or Yahoo

But I Want to Use Dropbox!
If after all that, you’ve decided to stick with your decision to use Dropbox to sync your contacts, then I suppose I should tell you how to do it. The problem with this method is that Dropbox only syncs the contents of your specified Dropbox folder and Address Book must pull its information from the Application Support folder. As you can see, these two principles are at odds with each other. Some Apple apps easily allow you to switch databases upon launch simply by holding down the Option key, Address Book isn’t one of them.

To make this work, you have to do some serious computer cartwheels. For starters, go into Address Book and export your Address Book archive (under the file menu) to your Dropbox folder. From here, you have to go into Terminal and create a symbolic link between this archive and Address Book. Sound complicated? Check out this tutorial to see this process step by step.

Didn’t See Your Question?

If you asked a question but didn’t have it answered today, don’t worry! I’ll do my best to get to it in a future week. I love a challenge, so feel free to ask some weird and wonderful questions…

If you’d like to submit your query, you can do so here:

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree or disagree with anything I mentioned today!


  • Sigilist

    “Finally, iChat automatically ties an audio chat in with the screensharing functionality so you can hang up the phone and use both hands to take over the other person’s computer as they sit in wonder at your magical computer voodoo.”

    And therein is the failing, for you aren’t really helping them with the problem as much as showing off. You’re not helping them solve the problem; you are simply implementing the solution for them.

    It might be true that in some cases that’s all the user wants. In that case, you are headed down a slippery slope and ideologically now leading others to follow you. There’s a better use for this software, and you didn’t get anywhere near that in your answer, though that other option is therein just the same.

    iChat (or other more direct P2P options) are good for both. But one has to decide if always doing something FOR someone else is how you really want to approach it. If so, be expected to do it more, and more, and more, and… well, you get the picture. As expatriot of IT and academia (as a teacher), there are times one has to take this approach. That are more times out in the private world where it’s a bad idea if not just a self serving one.

    What’s really cool to people who learn to do even one thing themselves, no matter how difficult is, is not when they say “your awesome”… but when they say “I’m awesome” because they did it themselves. iChat serves that function more than what you’re talking about, though there are options that are quite simple to execute that do not involved having to use one more proprietary service. And the way you describe this one, it’s probably just as good to get a program that just let’s you take over from IP to IP and skip the chat entirely.

    As an “editor,” you should have seen this up front before you started writing this take on a software that serves a better, greater purpose than what you’ve described herein.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      “Once they accept, you’ll have free reign. You can use your keyboard and mouse to troubleshoot their problems or simply walk them through possible solutions as you watch.”

      Right there in the article ;)

      Further, the people that I work with are semi-intelligent human beings. If they see me click on something and I tell them that this is how the problem is solved, in the future they know to click on that thing. Mac user see, Mac user do.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • UK

    Hi Mr. Editor,

    Perhaps you could address the question of removing apps from a Mac and especially how to remove apps downloaded from the Appstore. As a newish Mac user it seems odd to me that the only way to remove an app is to drag it to the trash. Will this really take care of all the little bits and pices connected to an app ? If an app is not completely removed can you recommend a “cleaner” app ?

    UK

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