This holiday season, fix your loved one’s computer without having to visit them
Take control from afar.
You’re at a family gathering when your grandparents start talking about their computer issues. Stop avoiding eye contact—you can troubleshoot whatever problem they might have from the comfort of your own desk chair.
When you download a screen sharing application to multiple machines, the software lets you access one computer while seated at another. This comes in handy if you want to help friends or family with their tech problems, but you can’t make it to their physical location. And many of these programs boast two-way audio and video options that make the experience almost as good as visiting in person. We’ve picked out four free screen-sharing apps, all of which work on both Windows and macOS. Read on to decide which one is best for you.
Microsoft’s free video-calling software doubles as a very decent screen sharing program. Although you can’t directly interact with your friend’s desktop or take control of their computer yourself, you can view their screen as you both continue speaking, which makes the troubleshooting process more straightforward. And with the recent revamp of its appearance, Skype is easier to use than ever.
First, find the operating-system-appropriate version of the app at skype.com and download the program onto your computer and that of your less-tech-savvy friend. Next, both of you must the app and create a Skype account, complete with email address and password. Then add your friend as a contact: Click the Contacts icon (it looks like a person) and type the relevant email address or Skype username in the box at the top. With that, your setup is complete.
Now, whenever your friend starts complaining about a computer issue, open your home computer click the video-camera icon on the contact page to initiate a video call. Once the video feed goes live, hit the plus button down by the call options and choose Share screens. From here, you can continue chatting while you watch them demonstrate the tech issue in question. Ask them to carry out any troubleshooting steps you think are necessary, and see how their machine responds. When you’re done, go back to the normal two-way video feed by choosing Stop sharing from the same menu as before.
Chrome Remote Desktop
This extension for Google Chrome can go beyond the confines of the web browser to share anything on a computer screen with someone else. Chrome Remote Desktop gives one user full control over the other computer for an experience almost like sitting in front of your friend’s machine yourself—albeit with a bit of a time lag. And its strict security measures ensure no bad actors can use it to seize control of your machine without permission.
To set up the extension, on both computers, head to the Chrome Remote Desktop download page. Once installed, Chrome Remote Desktop appears as an app on Chrome’s New Tab page.
With setup complete, get into contact your assistance-seeking friend with a phone or messaging app. Tell them to launch the browser add-on, click Share on the splash screen that opens, and tell you the access code that then appears.
At your end of the connection, launch Chrome Remote Desktop and click Access rather than Share. You must enter the access code, and then a window will pop up on your friend’s machine, requesting them to confirm the connection again.
Once your machines are connected, you can see everything on the other person’s display and control their machine with your own mouse and keyboard. To cancel the connection, just close the Chrome Remote Desktop or click Stop Sharing.
Businesses large and small use the professional TeamViewer collaboration tool, but it’s simple enough for anyone to use. And for personal, non-commercial use—like helping out your friends with computer problems—it’s free. As well as seeing what’s on your friend’s screen, it lets you control the other computer.
Start by downloading and installing the TeamViewer client on both computers, using the link at teamviewer.com.
Hop on the phone and ask your friend to fire up TeamViewer. They should see an ID and password on screen, which they need to pass on to you. With those details, you can connect to your friend’s computer. To use this basic screen sharing, you don’t need to sign up for a TeamViewer account. That said, the account does let you save a list of computers you’ve previously connected to.
On your own machine, launch TeamViewer, enter your friend’s ID in the Partner ID box, check the Remote control box, and click Connect. A new pop-up window will appear for you to enter your friend’s password. Then the program will connect your computers.
You’ll automatically see what’s on your friend’s screen, and to control it as well, click inside the TeamViewer window: It will transfer your mouse clicks and keyboard taps. Along the top of the screen, you’ll find some extra abilities like file sharing. When you’ve (hopefully) fixed the problem, you can click the cross icon to stop screen sharing.
AnyDesk is another free, straightforward screen-sharing program that doesn’t require any user registration. Like the others, it protects the screen sharing with strict security measures to keep both machines safe. In addition, it gives the person whose machine is being manipulated a little more control, with abilities like setting whether or not the other person can hear the computer’s sound or move its cursor with a remote mouse.
To get started, you and your friend need to download and install the client application from anydesk.com. Start with the free version—you can decide whether to upgrade to a paid version once you’ve tested it out.
Again, set up a line of contact with your friend. Get them to open the AnyDesk client and look for the address—a long code made up of letters and numbers—that appears on the screen. Your friend can click Send invitation to email you the code, or they can type it into a text message or read it on a phone call.
Over on your version of AnyDesk, type the code into the Remote Desk box and click Connect. Your friend has to approve the connection by clicking Accept on the pop-up window that appears. Then you’re up and running. If you’re not already on a call of some kind, you can use a chat box in the AnyDesk interface. Either participant can stop the session at any time: Your friend can click Disconnect, or you can close the AnyDesk window on your machine.
If you like the experience, you can also pay $79 or more per year for higher-end versions of AnyDesk, which include features like support for connecting several computers at once.