OK, this is really rather cool. Just to remind you, I'm originally from England but am now based in Huntsville, Alabama, USA (I moved here for the nightlife :-) Meanwhile, my mom and little bro' (who is now a university lecturer and taller than me) continue to live in Sheffield, England.
Ah, how much I enjoy those marathon sessions on the telephone when my mom calls to tell me that there's "something funny" happening with her computer.
You know what it's like – we've all done it before – trying to visualize what the other person is seeing on their screen as you attempt to walk them through the steps required to determine what's wrong. I can imagine the conversation now:
Me: Right-click on your desktop.
Mom: What do you mean: "Desktop"
And it all goes downhill from there. Things are further complicated by the fact that she's still running Windows 98 and I can't remember what that little rascal actually looks like. If I could see it on my screen I would immediately say "Oh yes, I remember this, what we do is to. . ."
Now, there are a variety of products that allow you to see someone else's desktop on your own screen and to take control of their computer from afar. The problem is that – in my experience – these have been overly complicated to set up and use. Not too complicated for me, you understand, but too complicated to walk my mother through the download and installation process over the phone (if she could understand how to load this software she could fix her own #$%^ machine :-)
So I was absolutely delighted when my friend Jay Dowling pointed me in the direction of the Copilot product from Fog Creek Software (www.copilot.com). The key points to note about Copilot are that it's simple to use and it's extremely secure (after all, you don't want someone else taking over your mother's desktop whale you aren't looking).
Here's how it works. First of all you can pay as you go for $0.25 cents a minute, or you can open a monthly plan, or you can pay $5.00 for a full day, or – even better – you can take a "Free Test Drive" or you can use Copilot for FREE at the weekends (in this case, "weekends" start on Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time in the US and end on Monday morning at 2:00 a.m. Eastern time – where Eastern time is GMT minus five hours).
So, once you've signed up, you go to www.copilot.com, click the " Help Someone" button on the front page, and receive a 12-digit "invitation code" (this code can be automatically emailed to the person you are trying to help or you can read it to them over the phone). In the case of the person you are trying to help, all they have to do is to go to www.copilot.com, click the "Receive Help" button, and enter the invitation code you gave them.
This is so simple; Copilot runs on Microsoft Windows 98 or later or Mac OS X 10.2 or later; there's nothing to install, no settings to configure, no usernames or passwords to remember, and no external factors to worry about. It doesn't matter if either person (or both) are behind office or home firewalls. You can connect quickly and easily with no external settings to configure – all that is required is a 30-second or less download and you're ready to "rock-and-roll".
Here's how it works. Both of you are presented with a link to the Copilot download. You click this link, save the Copilot application to your desktop, and run it. It doesn't matter who downloads the application and runs it first – Copilot waits until its running on both machines, then it establishes a secure, strongly encrypted link between the two computers.
If you are the "helper", you see the desktop of the person you're helping in its own window on your screen. As you move your mouse within this window, the "helpees" mouse pointer moves; and, as you type, the text appears on both of your screens. If you are the "helpee", you can sit back with a great big sloppy grin on your face and watch as the helper navigates your computer, determines what the problem is, and takes the necessary steps to fix it.
This is a FANTASTIC implementation of a GREAT idea. The best thing about Copilot is its simplicity. There's no point creating a tool to fix someone's problems if the tool itself is too complicated for that person to use. Copilot is one of those products where its creators actually took the time to sit back and say: "How can we make this easy to use?" As far as I'm concerned, a lot of the developers at the big software companies could take lessons from the guys and gals at Fog Creek Software!
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me – Clive "Max" Maxfield – at firstname.lastname@example.org). And, of course, if you haven't already done so, don't forget to Sign Up for our weekly Programmable Logic DesignLine Newsletter.