Sure enough we all have friends and relatives which consider ourselves as “computer experts”. Of course what most of them mean is that we can install, update anti-virus software on their Windows machine… If you’re helping out someone to “use the Internet”, then you’re probably better off having the person use as much online services as possible (GMail, writely, …), it really does lower the number of “support” calls you receive.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could remotely grab the user’s desktop and really \*show\* him around how “to fish”?
SparkAngels is a free social service allowing you to do just that.
The software can startup along with the OS, is really cross-platform (no need to be using the same OS as the person you’re helping), and installs transparently with Java Web Start. Establishing a session is easy as sharing a 9-digit number. A user behind a corporate proxy can help but cannot be helped for security reasons.
By default, the person helping can only show where the person should click but the person being helped can also give full access (mouse + keyboard) to his computer. The screen sharing process can be halted at any time by both parties. The person helping can see the other person’s mouse allowing “yes, that’s it” or “no, not there” compliments. You can also swap roles. These are the little things that make this a nice teaching tool.
The application is Java-based (Swing, Java 5, Java Web Start) and seems to use the
java.awt.Robot API to replay one’s actions on the other computer. Performance really depends on both ends’ network connections and I would guess high-speed internet is required. You can set the software to picture only part of the screen and use black and white to help performance out a bit. And, as I said, this is cross platform, so I used it to connect a mac and a windows XP box. There are a few rough edges left, but it looks very promising.
The English version is coming soon I hear.