Remote Assistance

The next best thing to being there



You are visiting an office in Texas and need immediate help with a computer application. Because of the problem’s complexity, you figure a phone call won’t resolve the issue. You need a live visit from an expert. The only problem is he or she is in New Jersey.

Coming to the rescue is a built-in Windows XP feature called Remote Assistance. The application allows someone in one location to help solve the problem by:

Communicating through a chat or audio connection.

Viewing the remote computer screen.

Taking control of the computer—temporarily and with the user’s permission.

We’ll describe how to set up and run Remote Assistance in a typical scenario: Sales-tax rates are changing and Emily, a CPA in New Jersey, tells her client, Ned, in Texas, that she will send him a file with the new rates, walk him through part of the process and then finally take control of his computer and install the new rates onto his accounting program.

Here’s what you need to know before you start: The connection can be via the Internet, an intranet or a virtual private network. You must be able to exchange e-mail with attachments or communicate with Windows (MSN) Messenger. For security purposes, the two of you should exchange in advance a password with at least eight characters containing mixed-case letters and numbers. Since Emily will use this password to access Ned’s computer, it shouldn’t duplicate any of his passwords to protect his security. Finally, if they plan to talk to each other via their computers, they’ll need microphones at each end.

To prepare his computer, Ned clicks on Start, Control Panel and then left-clicks on System and the Remote tab and places a check in the box Allow Remote Assistance invitations to be sent from this computer and clicks Advanced (see Exhibit 1).


When the Remote Assistance screen opens, he again places a check at Allow this computer to be controlled remotely and sets the maximum time such invitations can remain open (see Exhibit 2). Emily doesn’t have to do anything to her computer.


Ned now invites Emily to connect to his computer by clicking on Start , Help and Support and Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance (see Exhibit 3). When the Remote Assistance screen appears, Ned selects Invite someone to help you.


Ned now is presented with a screen (see Exhibit 4) that provides three ways to invite help: Use Windows Messenger, use e-mail, or Save invitation as a file (Advanced). If Ned and Emily both use Windows Messenger, Ned can click on that to chat with her. If he uses a MAPI-compliant e-mail system (such as Microsoft Outlook), the request can be sent directly via e-mail (rather than being saved and attached). In this case Ned clicks on Save invitation as a file (Advanced). Emily had advised him to use this approach because it will work with most e-mail programs.


When the screen in Exhibit 5 appears, Ned fills in his name as it will appear on the invitation, sets the time for when the invitation will expire and clicks on Continue .


Then Ned enters the agreed-upon password and clicks on Save Invitation (see Exhibit 6).


Ned is automatically returned to the main Remote Assistance screen where a confirmation message shows the location of the saved invitation. He then starts his e-mail program and sends the invitation to Emily as an attachment.

To ensure that only known experts access your computer, it is important that you follow all the controls that are built into Remote Assistance, such as exchanging a strong password and limiting the maximum time that an invitation remains open. If at any time you are uncomfortable with what an expert is doing, remember that you can end the session by hitting Stop Control or Disconnect. For maximum security, when you are finished you should uncheck the boxes by Allow Remote Assistance invitations to be sent from this computer (Exhibit 1) and Allow this computer to be controlled remotely (Exhibit 2).

When Emily receives and opens Ned’s e-mail, she saves the attachment to her desktop, double-clicks on it, enters the password and clicks on Yes (see Exhibit 7).


To protect his computer, Ned checks to make sure the invitation is still open and that Emily’s password is correct. He clicks on Yes. That evokes a screen that asks Ned if he wants to start the session. He clicks on Yes (see Exhibit 8).


When the session starts, a dialog box opens on Ned’s computer and the Remote Assistance console opens on Emily’s computer (see Exhibit 9). A dialog box on the left side of the screen allows Ned to chat with Emily. Emily’s console is a two-panel window that allows her to chat with Ned and to view his desktop in real time. Toolbars on the right side of Ned’s dialog box and on top of Emily’s console allow each to manage the session.


Ned’s Screen

Emily’s Screen

Once connected, Emily and Ned chat by typing in the Message Entry box. Emily then sends the file with the new tax rate information by clicking on the Send a File button on the toolbar at the top of her screen and following the prompts. Emily’s screen will show a dialog box indicating that she is sending the file. Since she is connected to Ned’s computer, she also will see the box that appears on Ned’s screen instructing him to save the file (see Exhibit 10). Ned then prints a copy.


Through a chat message, Emily suggests they switch to audio and clicks on the Start Talking button at the top of the screen. Ned clicks Yes on his dialog box that asks if he wants to use a voice connection.

Emily now instructs Ned how to pull up his accounting program’s sales-tax maintenance screen. At this point, Ned asks Emily to demonstrate the steps for the tax updates by taking control of his computer. So Emily clicks on the Take Control button at the top of her screen. Ned clicks Yes on the dialog box, granting her permission (see Exhibit 11).


Ned can retake control anytime by clicking Esc or the Stop Control button on his toolbar (see Exhibit 12). If control is returned to Ned, the session continues but Emily can only view Ned’s desktop.


Emily, now in full control of Ned’s computer, demonstrates how to update the sales-tax rates. When done, she relinquishes control and invites him to do the next update. Confident that Ned now understands the process, they end the session.

As you can see, Remote Assistance is a powerful tool—saving time, trouble and money. We recommend you give it a full test—linking with another computer in your office or across the continent. And the time to do it is when you’re not rushed or facing an emergency. If there are kinks to work out (see “ For Experts Only”), you want to be sure you have the time to take care of them.

  For Experts Only

Remote Assistance works best in an open environment—that is, where the computers have a direct connection to the Internet or, for internal users, an intranet. When computers sit behind firewalls or routers, there may be some difficulty in making the connection.

When problems occur, try to establish Remote Assistance via Windows Messenger, which often creates a path through these devices. If this fails, it may be necessary to adjust the Remote Assistance invitation and the router or firewall. This would be necessary because a router assigns Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to computers sitting behind it rather than the IP address assigned to the router, which has the actual Internet connection. The correction would involve modifying the invitation so it has the router’s address rather than the computer’s local IP address. For more information, go to

Another concern is that a router has blocked port 3389, which is used by Remote Assistance. To get around this, tweak the settings on the router from port 3389 to the IP address of the computer on the internal network that uses Remote Assistance. Consult your router documentation for information on port forwarding.

Simon Petravick
, CPA, and Coleen S. Troutman, CPA, are associate professors of accounting at Bradley University, Peoria, Ill. W. Peter Schroeder is a student in Bradley’s combined undergraduate/graduate accounting program. Their e-mail addresses are , and , respectively.


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