Remote desktop clients/servers for assisting the elderly
March 22, 2010 4:50 PM   Subscribe

Seeking suggestions for remote desktop services to assist an elderly computer user.

My grandfather gets easily confused with basic computer usage, but email remains an important form of communication for him. I'm looking to lessen the amount of time (and frustration for all involved) my dad spends assisting grandpa with small things. For example, which he has been previously trained to use to check email (as a holdover from the old AOL browser) had a small site redesign, which threw everything into chaos for my grandfather. Instead of trying to describe over the phone which button he now needs to click, it would be great to show him or to just do it for him. All that would be needed is to "take control" of his computer to assist with internet browsing, word processing, and file navigation.

This comparison chart gives a good start, but I'm looking for any personal accounts of assisting users like this.

I would also like to have multiple people access this one computer (not at once), and everyone will be using windows computers. (XP and up, I believe) Tools like a pen to circle things on the other person's screen, would also be great.

Cost doesn't really matter, though ease of setup does. Something like $30-$50 a month would be well worth the savings in my dad's blood pressure. Thanks!

Oh, and to clarify, any software that needs to be installed on my Grandfathers' end would be done on a future visit.
posted by fontophilic to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I use LogmeIn to help my dad out. Had no problems with it. Haven't tried any other programs. My dad is in UK, me, Canada. I run XP and he is on Vista.
posted by Frasermoo at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2010

I do this sort of thing for my parents who are not quite elderly but who are easily confused. I've used LogMeIn and Skype and really if your grandfather is already using Skype at all, this would be perfect. It does desktop sharing, is free, can be used by anyone, and has voice chat as well. You'd have to make sure it runs on everyone's machines and that you have a fast enough connection to do desktop sharing, but I've found it super easy. Side benefit: you can do video/audio chat with him which is a pleasant way to transition something you probably already do [phone calls] to doing on the computer in a fairly painless way.
posted by jessamyn at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2010

I recommend TeamViewer. Its free for personal use and can be installed so that he does not need to do anything to initiate the connection, you can simply take over when needed.

I work in computer support, the kind where sometimes you have to tell someone to hold the mouse and move it down and left to find the start button, this program is easy enough for most of my clients to deal with.
posted by mtyn at 5:01 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had good results with RealVNC (free version) for this. Specifically, here's what I've done:

1. Set up a account for myself so that my computer has a DNS host name associated with it regardless of what my ISP does with my IP address.

2. Set up the RealVNC service on people whose computers I need to support.

3. Set up a desktop shortcut that does the equivalent of "add new client" using my host name. It says something like "Connect to FishBike" on the shortcut.

Then when I need to support them:

4. Open incoming VNC port on my router.

5. Run "listening viewer" on my computer.

6. Instruct person on other end of the line to double-click "Connect to FishBike"

I like to do it this way because then all the complicated stuff is at my end of the connection, and I don't have to leave any ports open on their router (since leaving a VNC server port open to the Internet is not a safe thing to do). It also means they don't have to worry that I, or someone else, will connect to their computer without telling them, since they always have to initiate the link.
posted by FishBike at 5:03 PM on March 22, 2010

I use Team Viewer to support grandparents on Macs and Windows. It works very well and the setup is pretty harmless. It's also very easy for them to read me the connection numbers off the screen so it's not as confusing as adding contacts and accepting calls and whatnot.

I should also mention that I've only used it in conjunction with a regular phone call for the voice connection.
posted by advicepig at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2010

I have also used TeamViewer and recommend that over VNC because of its ease of use and setup.
If you go to you can get a version that does not install on the system.
posted by Drasher at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2010

I use CrossLoop all the time with my users and it works great and is pretty simple.
posted by tresbizzare at 6:41 PM on March 22, 2010

I use LogMeIn Free to remote desktop into my home and work computers. I've also used it to do tech support for my FIL. It's cross-platform and you don't have to fiddle with connections or firewalls. You sign up for an account, set it up on both computers, and you're good to go. If your granddad doesn't use a password to get into his computer LogMeIn makes you set one up. It also has a chat function but I've never used that.
posted by calistasm at 7:26 PM on March 22, 2010

Nthing TeamViewer. I asked a similar question a year or so ago after Fog Creek's Co-Pilot dropped Windows 98 support. Now my mother is on XP anyway and I look back on actually paying money for this facility with bemusement.
posted by galaksit at 10:35 PM on March 22, 2010

I just use plain ol' Windows Remote Desktop to help Mom out once in a while. It's built into Windows XP, and you can fire it up through Windows Messenger.
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:35 PM on March 22, 2010 is another free to use desktop sharing app.
posted by anti social order at 12:30 PM on March 23, 2010

Nthing LogMeIn Free. I installed it on my mother's laptop, and that combined with Skype has allowed me to show her a great many things without feeling the frustration of describing something (and dealing with Windows in both French and English is way easier when you don't have to guess at the translation of options, you can read them just off the screen at the same time as they do).
I can take over whenever, she doesn't need to do anything but sit back and watch, and then do the things for herself with me watching and making sure she has got it right.
posted by tweemy at 2:25 PM on March 23, 2010

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