Windows XP’s Remote Assistance feature allows users to request help across the network from tech support personnel or other experienced users. The helper can view the requesting user’s desktop “live” and, with the user’s permission, can remotely take control and perform tasks on the user’s computer to troubleshoot and fix problems.

But what if there are problems with the Remote Assistance feature itself? Here are some tips on how to identify the most common problems that can occur with Remote Assistance and how to rectify them so users can take full advantage of this new feature.

Configuration problems
Most problems with Remote Assistance are due to faulty configuration, on either the requesting user’s or helper’s computer.

  • If a user is unable to send a request for assistance, make sure the computer is configured with the proper settings. In the Start | Control Panel | System applet, on the Remote tab, verify that the check box to allow Remote Assistance invitations to be sent is selected, as shown in Figure A.
  • Figure A

    • If a user is unable to send a remote assistance request and is using Windows XP Home Edition, ensure that he or she is logged on with the Owner account.
    • If a user can send a request for remote assistance but the helper is unable to take control of the desktop after he or she connects, click the Advanced button found on the Remote tab in Figure A, and ensure that the checkbox to Allow This Computer To Be Controlled Remotely is selected, as shown in Figure B.

    Figure B

    This option is disabled by default, and if a helper attempts to take control when it has not been enabled, he or she will get receive this message: Remote Control Of This Computer Is Not Allowed.

    Problems sending assistance requests
    Outside of configuration issues, there are a number of factors that can affect a user’s ability to send assistance requests via the various supported methods. In the sections below, I will explain how to correct such problems when using Windows Messenger, Outlook or another Simple MAPI mail client, or saved files.

    Problems sending requests via Windows Messenger
    To send a request using Windows Messenger, a user must have Windows Messenger service installed and must have a .NET passport account and password. Both the requester’s computer and the helper’s computer must be connected to the Internet to access the .NET passport service.

    If a user receives the error message shown in Figure C when attempting to send a request, check his or her .NET account and password information. If the user doesn’t have a .NET passport, use the .NET passport wizard to obtain one.

    Figure C
    You must have a valid .NET account and password to send a request via Windows Messenger.

    The steps for setting up a .NET password depends on the type of network the computer is on:

    • If the computer belongs to a domain, click Start | Control Panel | User Accounts, select the Advanced tab, and then click the .NET Passport Wizard button.
    • If the computer belongs to a workgroup (a peer-to-peer network with no Windows domain controller), click Start | Control Panel | User Accounts. If you have Administrator rights to the PC, click your account name. Then click Set Up My Account To Use A .NET Passport to start the wizard.

    The wizard will walk you through the steps to obtain a .NET passport. You will need a valid e-mail address. If you don’t have one, you can use the wizard to obtain a free MSN e-mail account. Also, any MoneyCentral, MSN, or Hotmail accounts are already .NET passports. Many people have such accounts and don’t know they are already .NET capable.

    If you have a valid .NET passport and you are connected to the Internet but are still unable to send a request via Messenger, this may be because the .NET service is temporarily busy or down. Wait a while and try again, or send your remote assistant request via another method.

    Problems sending requests via e-mail
    If a user is unable to send an assistance request via e-mail, ensure that he or she is using Outlook, Outlook Express, or another e-mail client that supports Simple MAPI as his or her e-mail client. Also, make sure the helper’s e-mail address has been entered correctly.

    If a user attempts to use an e-mail client that does not support SMAPI, he or she will not be able to send the request directly via e-mail using the Ask A Friend For Help function in the Help And Support center. However, a user can select the Save Invitation As A File option instead of the e-mail option, save the remote assistance invitation as a file, and send the file as an e-mail attachment or put the file in a shared folder that the helper can access across the network.

    Problems sending requests via a saved file
    If the port used by Remote Desktop is changed, it’s possible for an invitation file created with a Windows XP Professional machine using the Remote Assistance request wizard to contain an incorrect port number. In such a case, the helper will not be able to establish a remote assistance session.

    However, it’s possible to edit the invitation file to correct this problem by following these steps:

    1. Open the invitation file in Notepad or another text-editing program.
    2. Under the section that begins RCTICKET=, you will see a number following a colon, such as :3389. Change this number to the correct port number for the Remote Desktop.
    3. Save the file.
    4. Send the file to the helper as an e-mail attachment or make it available for the helper to access in a shared network folder.


    When you create an invitation file, it is automatically saved to your disk with the .msrcincident extension so you can locate it easier on the hard drive.

    Problems sending and receiving offers to assist
    Generally, the user who needs help initiates a remote assistance session by sending an invitation. However, it is possible for the helper to initiate the session by sending an offer to assist. But the helper can only do this if the user’s computer is set up to receive such offers; Windows XP Professional computers don’t have this feature enabled by default, so you need to enable it before the computer can receive offers.

    If a helper is unable to send an offer of assistance, check the remote user’s local Group Policy settings. See the article “Virtual support with XP Remote Assistance” for detailed instructions on how to configure the user’s local group policy.

    Note that the group policy setting for accepting offers of remote assistance is available only in Windows XP Professional, not in Windows XP Home Edition. Also, offers can be sent and received only between computers that are members of the same domain. If the computers do not belong to the same domain, the assistance session must be initiated by a request from the user.

    Other communication and connection problems
    Other things that can prevent you from being able to connect and communicate over a Remote Assistance session could be related to firewall problems, licensing issues, or terminal services settings. In the next few sections, I will explain such problems and their solutions.

    Firewall-related problems
    Remote Assistance uses the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which is part of Windows terminal services technology that uses TCP port 3389 to communicate. If this port has been blocked on the network’s firewall, users will not be able to use Remote Assistance across the firewall. An administrator must open port 3389 to allow Remote Assistance communications to pass through.

    If a user has set up the built-in Personal Firewall feature on a Windows XP computer that is multihomed—one that has more than one network interface—the helper may not be able to establish a remote assistance session in response to a request to assist. This connection problem also applies when one of the network interfaces is a modem. This happens because the firewall port will only be opened on the network interface that is first in the binding order. Microsoft has released a fix for this problem, which is available from the Download Center. For more information about using the Personal Firewall with a multihomed computer, see Q308210 in the Microsoft Knowledge Base.

    Network Address Translation (NAT)
    If the user is on a network that uses Network Address Translation (NAT) or Microsoft’s Internet Connection Sharing (ICS), which is a “light” version of NAT, he or she will not be able to initiate a Remote Assistance session via e-mail. In this case, try using Windows Messenger Service to send the assistance request.

    Licensing issues
    Windows XP’s licensing protections may cause problems if the user’s computer and the helper’s computer had Windows XP installed by the same OEM or if the OSs were installed using volume licensing. When this occurs, a user cannot establish a Remote Assistance session; instead he or she will get a message that says You Have Been Disconnected From <computername>, where computername indicates the name of the computer from which he or she was disconnected. This can be corrected by installing a free fix available from Microsoft’s Download Center.

    Terminal Services settings
    The XP Remote Assistance feature uses Windows Terminal Services technology, as does the Remote Desktop feature, which is available on Windows XP Professional and Home but not supported in Windows XP Home.

    Some Terminal Services settings can affect a user’s ability to use the Remote Assistance feature, as in the following situations:

    • If the number of allowed terminal connections is set to zero, a user will not be able to establish a remote assistance connection.
    • If a maximum time limit for terminal sessions has been set and terminal services is configured to terminate the session when that time limit is reached, a Remote Assistance session will be abruptly disconnected when a user reaches that time limit.

    Problems with voice communications
    The novice user and helper can also communicate during the Remote Assistance session using live voice communication. If the voice communication doesn’t work, check the following:

    • Ensure that both computers have full-duplex sound cards.
    • If the Remote Assistance is used across the Internet or another WAN connection, make sure the connection speed is at least 28.8 Kbps. Note that even if you have a 28.8 Kbps or better modem, your connection speed could be lower due to “dirty” phone lines or other factors.
    • If sound quality is poor and you have a 64 Kbps or faster connection, click Settings in the Chat window and select the High Quality Sound option.
    • Remote Assistance works best with a reasonably high-speed network connection. This probably will not be an issue over a LAN, but if you are using Remote Assistance over the Internet and the connection is too slow, the computer may hang up during the session.

    The Windows XP Remote Assistance feature makes it much easier for administrators, tech support personnel, and experienced users to provide help to other Windows XP users across a LAN or WAN. But for this feature to work efficiently and effectively, you must make sure the proper settings are enabled. If problems persist, look for causes in some of the areas I’ve identified.