If you’re in the tech support business or are even the designated “family tech support representative”, then you probably know how frustrating it can be to try and resolve a computer problem over the phone with a user who isn’t very computer literate.
Enter TeamViewer, a remote support tool that’s more than just simple screen sharing. It’s free, doesn’t require Java, and actually works great. Let’s take a look.
Deceptively Simple Support
TeamViewer (available for OS X, Windows and Linux) is a complete remote support tool that’s primary focus is ease of use. There’s no network configuration, no ports to forward and you can even use it without installing it – just download and run. Unlike other support tools, you don’t need to log in to a website to start a remote session and it isn’t dependant on Flash or Java.
Supporting a user is easy, they simply download the TeamViewer app from the TeamViewer website and launch it. TeamViewer then displays a 9 digit ID that is unique to that computer (it doesn’t change) and a randomly generated passcode.
As the support agent (that’s you), you’ll also run TeamViewer and enter the 9 digit ID and the passcode that’s displayed on their screen. Enter the 9 digit ID, the passcode that’s generated and that’s it – you’re now sharing the user’s screen!
If you manage a number of different computers on a regular basis, whether it’s several friends or family members or you’re the support guru for your company, TeamViewer lets you save those ID numbers in a favourites list. You just need to ask the user for the passcode that’s generated. You can take this a step further and use the option of specifying a custom passcode by installing TeamViewer. This means the passcode is permanently set so it doesn’t change, meaning you can remotely log in whenever needed without user interaction. If you need to manage a number of different computers or servers, it makes accessing them quick and easy.
TeamViewer’s screen sharing requires far less bandwidth than apps such as Apple’s Remote Desktop (not to mention far less setup) and even iChat / Messages. Skype does offer screen sharing but the user would still need to register for an account, with TeamViewer there’s no registration needed.
Beyond Screen Sharing
One of the most common tasks when you’re in tech support is updating software and drivers. Most of the time, you can download the driver onto the user’s computer whilst screen sharing, but what if you have a specific file that isn’t available online?
TeamViewer also includes a fully functional file transfer facility that again, requires no additional setup, it’s all baked right in. You can select any file from either your Mac and send it to their computer – or vice versa – navigate their filesystem and receive a file from them.
The File Transfer window could be a little more refined as it looks more akin to an FTP client such as Fetch but as TeamViewer is designed to work across different platforms (such as OS X, Windows and Linux), some limitations in the user interface are expected!
Keep in Touch
There’s a chat facility which makes remote support much easier. Sometimes it can take a good 10–15 minutes to complete a task so asking the user to stay on hold whilst you do that isn’t the best way to keep them happy! However, asking them to keep watch on the screen for any messages you might leave or instructions to follow means they can still keep working on other things whilst you resolve their issue.
The Chat facility is two-way, so if they have a question then they can ask you too. Just keep in mind that if they start using the chat box then that will stop you from using the keyboard.
Add to this the built-in VoIP service so you can directly talk to your user without making a separate phone call as well as being able to use video chat too.
Different Versions for Different Uses
There’s three different versions of the app that you and your users can download.
- Full Version – For starting and receiving support
- QuickSupport – A simple “run-only” version that only allows incoming connections
- Host – Useful for servers as you can specify your own passcode and it runs in the background all the time, allowing for unattended support (since there is no user to start it)
For non-commercial use (such as supporting friends and family), it’s completely free to use. For commercial use, the costs do jump considerably.
A standard business license costs from £439 for a single license to make connections. So if it’s just you as the support person then that’s the total upfront cost. There are no recurring fees though paid upgrades are available when new major versions are released (but you don’t have to upgrade straight away).
If you’re looking after a team of support people then the costs can spiral considerably if you want each of them to be able to make connections simultaneously. However, there is no limit to how many computers and users you can support. Whether you want to support 50 or 500 computers, you only pay for a commercial license and per support person.
The pricing structure of commercial use can skyrocket depending on your requirements so it may not work out economical, but if remote support is something that could make support more efficient for you and your team, especially if you’re supporting a large number of computers or users, then it might be a small price to pay.
TeamViewer makes support incredibly easy to do. For personal non-commercial use it’s an absolute no-brainer. It’s far quicker than Skype or Messages, requires no setup other than running (or installing) the app and to get started requires no registration whatsoever.
For business use, it’s not so clear-cut. Whilst there are definitely many features that would make user and unattended support easy for any company, the high upfront cost may be enough to deter the powers that be who wield control over the IT budget. It’s still worth remembering that there isn’t a recurring fee and some competing services such as GoToMyPC charge for each user or computer you want to support – TeamViewer doesn’t.