How do I… Configure Windows XP Remote Assistance?

Microsoft Windows XP's Remote Assistance feature enables users to call for help. The application proves particularly helpful when clients in remote locations require support. Follow the steps in this How do I… to configure and enable Windows XP's Remote Assistance for your clients.

The days of traveling to each client system to troubleshoot problems are over. A wide variety of third-party remote administration options – from PC Anywhere to Log Me In to VNC and others – are available. But often Microsoft's native Windows XP assistance tool is all that is required. Follow these steps to configure and enable Windows XP's Remote Assistance.

Sending a remote assistance request

Windows XP's Remote Assistance feature enables users to call for help. The application proves particularly helpful when clients in remote locations require support.

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Before an administrator can render assistance, the end user must send a Remote Assistance request to the administrator. Clients should follow these steps to send a Remote Assistance request:

  1. Click Start.
  2. Click Help and Support. (Figure A)

Figure A

Access Remote Assistance from within the Help And Support Center.
  1. Select the Invite A Friend To Connect To Your Computer With Remote Assistance link (found beneath the Ask For Assistance heading). The Remote Assistance menu appears.
  2. Click the Invite Someone To Help You link. Two options appear; users seeking help can either send an invitation through Windows Messenger or Microsoft Outlook. (Figure B)

Figure B

Users can request assistance using Windows Messenger or Microsoft Outlook. Remote clients can also create a Remote Assistance e-mail attachment (Save Invitation As A File (Advanced)) they forward a support technician using another e-mail client.
  1. To use Microsoft Outlook, the user needs to enter the administrator’s e-mail address in the provided box; for convenience, an Address Book shortcut icon also appears (users can click the icon and select the appropriate e-mail recipient from the resulting menu). The Remote Assistance – E-mail An Invitation menu appears.
  2. Users can enter their name in the resulting From box and provide a message describing the assistance they require; when done users should click the Continue button. The next screen will appear enabling users to specify security settings. (Figure C)

Figure C

The remote user must can his or her name and a message for the support technician.
  1. Instruct users to set remote assistance invitations to expire in an hour (or less). Also require users to set a strong password. Users should check the Require The Recipient To Use A Password checkbox and enter a complex (mixed alphanumeric and special characters) password. Once a password is entered and confirmed, clients can click the Send Invitation button to forward the Remote Assistance request to an administrator or support representative. (Figure D)

Figure D

Remote users should set reasonable expiration periods for their Remote Assistance requests and use strong passwords.
  1. Upon sending the invitation, users will often subsequently receive a Microsoft Office Outlook message stating that a program is trying to access e-mail addresses stored in Outlook. Instruct users to check the Allow Access For box (enabling access for one minute) and click the Yes button.
  2. The dialog box will then state a program is trying to automatically send e-mail on the user’s behalf; instruct clients to click Yes (only when sending Remote Assistance requests). A confirmation message will appear stating that the request has been sent successfully. While awaiting a response, clients may click the View Invitation Status link (from within the Help And Support Center) and review the invitation’s status and details. Users can also expire, resend or delete an invitation.

The administrator will then receive an e-mail message. Within the e-mail message will be an attachment (RcBuddy.MsRcIncident).

Creating a remote assistance e-mail attachment

Note that clients can also save a remote assistance invitation as a file (that can subsequently be forwarded using another e-mail application). To save an invitation as a file:

  1. The end user should click Save Invitation As A File (Advanced) from the Remote Assistance menu instead of entering a Microsoft Outlook e-mail address or using Windows Messenger.
  2. Next the client should enter his or her name and set the invitation’s expiration period and click Continue.
  3. The client should specify a strong password and click Save Invitation. The Save As window will appear.
  4. The client requiring assistance should specify a location for the remote assistance file and click Save.
  5. Windows will save the remote connection file (named RAInvitation.msrcincident by default) to the location the end user species; the client will then have to forward it to the administrator or support technician.

Accepting the remote assistance invitation

Once the remote assistance invitation is received, administrators can follow these steps to render assistance:

  1. To accept the Remote Assistance invitation, the administrator should double-click the attachment. Before doing so, it’s a good idea for the administrator to confirm the user, in fact, sent the request. When doing so, the administrator can learn the password the client entered for the remote assistance request.
  2. Upon double-clicking the attachment, the administrator will have to supply the password and click OK. (Figure E)

Figure E

The staff member who responds to the end user’s remote assistance request must enter the password, then click Yes, after double-clicking the e-mail attachment.
  1. The client will receive a dialog box stating that the administrator wishes to connect to the user’s desktop. The client must click Yes to enable the connection. (Figure F)

Figure F

Once the support tech responds to the remote assistance invitation, the remote user will receive a dialog box; the end user must click Yes to enable the remote connection.
  1. If the administrator wishes to take control of the user’s system, the administrator can click the Take Control icon that appears at the top of the Remote Assistance window. (Figure G)

Figure G

The Take Control icon appears at the top right of the remote assistance screen.
  1. Once the administrator or support technician has clicked Take Control, the end user will see a dialog box stating that the user providing the assistance would like to share control of the computer to help solve the problem. The user must click Yes to permit the support tech with access. When the remote user clicks Yes, the staff member providing support will receive a confirmation message stating the helper is now in control of the user’s desktop. To surrender desktop control, the administrator need only press the Esc key; the end user can terminate the administrator’s control at any time by pressing the Esc key (or disconnecting the session using the Disconnect button from the Remote Assistance menu).

Having the ability to view or actually control a remote user’s desktop drastically simplifies troubleshooting and repair operations. All the end user must do is send the Remote Assistance request to an administrator. The administrator or support tech needs only to connect to the remote system and perform diagnostic actions and repairs. The user and support tech can exchange chat messages with one another using the provided window.

Confirming proper firewall configuration

Occasionally Remote Assistance connections fail to connect. A typical culprit, ironically, is Windows’ own firewall. Note that the Windows Firewall (installed by default with Windows XP Service Pack 2) must be properly configured to enable connectivity.

Follow these steps to confirm Windows Firewall isn’t blocking Remote Assistance connections:

  1. Click Start.
  2. Click Control Panel.
  3. Click Windows Firewall.
  4. Select the Exceptions tab.
  5. Ensure the Remote Assistance box is checked. (Figure H)

Figure H

Unless Remote Assistance is enabled on Windows XP Service Pack 2 systems, the Windows Firewall may block the requests.