When Windows XP moved to Release Candidate 1 (RC1) status, I started using the OS on several machines on my home network. Several features really make the OS useful for the home user, although I've been using XP Professional, not XP Home. But the feature that's been getting the most use and doing its best to promote domestic tranquility is Remote Assistance.

If your home network is anything like mine, your family uses it but doesn't really care how it works. As long as their applications run and the Internet connection stays up, they're happy to click along without bothering you. Of course, the moment a problem arises, your office phone rings with a request for help.

I have to admit that over the years my most common response to these calls was I'll deal with it when I get home. But with Remote Assistance, I can issue an invitation using MSN Messenger that lets me connect directly to the offending home machine and look at what's going on. My wife disables the local firewall software (we use Zone Alarm, which is easy to turn off), and I connect to the home machine by responding to the invitation.

Most of my home support concerns revolve around finding a specific program or changing the appearance of an application after my kids have meddled with it. I can usually solve these mini-crises in just a few minutes using Remote Assistance. And because the problems are often of a how-to nature, being able to view a demonstration of the problem, rather than just listening to someone talk me through it on the phone, is a big help. Computer geek that I am, I even use Remote Assistance when I'm working in my home office and don't want to run upstairs to the offending computer—although this isn't as lazy as it might seem. I can be using Remote Assistance to work through a problem while searching the Microsoft Knowledge Base for answers to problems that crop up. In effect, I have a mini-Help desk running in my household.

I've also been using Remote Desktop (a feature similar to Remote Assistance) to control a notebook connected to the stereo in the family room from another notebook out by the pool (connected over a wireless network). This setup lets me control the music I'm playing outside without having to go into the house.

In my household, getting called to dinner via MSN Messenger is pretty common. Now if I could only order pizza that way, I'd never have to leave my office.