This past January, I helped a family friend transition from an old Windows XP machine to a brand new iMac. I really wanted to try the new screen sharing features of iChat, but as I was seated at their house, it wasn’t really an option. Enter last weekend and I got a call that they had made an ISP change and required a bit of help. Yes! I immediately signed her up for an AIM account and via the phone walked her through starting up iChat. Ten minutes later, I had full remote control of her iMac with a simultaneous audio chat. I can say that it worked better than I expected. The video lags just a bit, but nothing like VNC for those who have used that. (Yes, I know Screen Sharing is actually based on VNC, but it works much better than any VNC server/client pair I’ve ever used.) I highly recommend Screen Sharing if you’re lucky enough to be helping a Mac user while using a Mac (yes, rare).
Next, I helped her to fix a problem on a business Dell laptop using LogMeIn.com. It works well, but with nowhere near the performance or polish as the Mac’s Screen Sharing. For one thing it hangs badly if the network connection goes away. One time I tried to connect while the machine was still starting up and it ended up hanging the computer’s network connection altogether requiring a second reboot. Despite those problems, it was still effective in making a remote house call possible. Connection issues aside, it worked well. My only note is that when you first add a machine, the machine is added under a “Pro (Trial)” status. Simply switch it to Free. Pro status gives you the ability to share audio and transfer files which is really only necessary if using LogMeIn as a true travelling Remote Desktop solution. For IT purposes, Free is fine.
In the end, these two tools are now on my shortlist of must haves for the remote family IT guy.