I enjoyed reading Lab Notes: "Remote Control Software" (April 2002, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 24227). One of Windows XP's most exciting features is Remote Assistance. I'd been using AT&T Laboratories Cambridge's Virtual Network Computing (VNC), available for free at http://www.realvnc.com, for remote software control. However, new Remote Assistance features such as file transfer, chat, and speech convinced me to reconsider and change tools.

The main difference between VNC and Remote Assistance is immediately obvious. VNC doesn't require the user to send the administrator an invitation when he needs help, but to use Remote Assistance, a user must send an invitation to the administrator (called an Expert). Sending an invitation can be difficult for some users, so I needed to figure out how to make Remote Assistance easier for users to use. One solution would be for each XP installation to create a permanent invitation so that a user could just confirm the administrator's connection rather than having to send an invitation. However, an invitation can remain open for only 30 days.

I came up with a better solution. On a user's computer, select Run from the Start menu and enter

gpedit.msc

to open Local Computer Policy. Navigate to Computer Configuration/AdministrativeTemplates/System/Remote Assistance, click Offer Remote Assistance, and select Properties. Set Offer Remote Assistance to Enabled, select whether you want to view or control the remote desktop, and click Show to add the administrator's username to the valid expert list. (This username must be a member of the Local Administrators group). Click OK to confirm the changes, and close Local Computer Policy.

Now the administrator can offer the user Remote Assistance without the user explicitly issuing an invitation. Select Help and Support from the Start menu and click Use Tools to view your computer information and diagnose problems. Then, select Offer Remote Assistance. The user can simply confirm or deny the offer, which is easier than sending an invitation. You aren't violating any privacy policies because you can't connect to the user's computer without confirmation from the user.

For this solution to work, the user and administrator need to be in the same domain or the user needs to be in a trusted domain. For more information about configuring Remote Assistance, see the Microsoft article "HOW TO: Configure a Computer to Receive Remote Assistance Offers in Windows XP" (http://www.support.microsoft.com/?kbid=301527).