The Easy, Quick, Fairly Guilt Free Way To Ask For Help With Your Mac

We have all been there, us newbies. Learning to use our Macs. Trying to do the things we want or need to do when we hit that brick wall. Something we don't know how to do, or something goes wrong and we don't know how to fix it. Most of us try to solve the problem using our limited skills and knowledge. We just KNOW that everyone else already knows the solution. But it is like trying to order a hamburger in France when you don't speak French. It ain't gonna happen.

Maybe you can make an appointment at the Apple store and carry your Mac in, but you really hate to do that every time you have a little question. If you are lucky you have a friend or family member who can help you. (If you are really lucky you belong to a Mac User Group and have lots of friends who can help you).

But the guilt rears its ugly head when you keep calling them over to help. And what happens when you are a night person like I am? If I run into a problem at 11:00 PM who would I dare ask to come over and help me solve it? I say this even though I know at least four people who I can guarantee would still be up, working on their computers, who would gladly help.

All this rhetoric is to explain that there is a wonderful solution to this problem that exists if you have Leopard or Snow Leopard installed on your Mac. Using iChat, you can allow someone to take over your desktop from their location and look at the problem and, if possible, fix it for you. I have written about this in the past, but recent interactions with new users has made me aware that a lot of people don't know about this attribute.

To use it, both of you must be set up to use iChat and know each other's iChat IDs. Here is how you set up your account.

Open iChat. It is included with your operating system and you will find it in the Applications folder. If it is not already on your Dock, and you use your Dock, you should drag it there for convenience.

Click to open it and you will be asked to set up an iChat account using AIM, MobileMe or To use MobileMe or you need to have a MobileMe account. AIM stands for AOL Instant Messenger. When signing up for an AIM account you are not signing up for AOL, nor are you incurring any fees.

  • Choose iChat > Preferences > Account Information.
  • Click the Add (+) button (bottom left corner) and choose the type of account you want from the Account Type menu.
  • Enter your screen name and password. (If you choose MobileMe or use your full email address and established password) If you choose AIM, make up a screen name and password. Note: there are millions of AIM users so you may have to try several screen names before you find one that has not been taken.
  • Click Done.

If you chose to create a new AIM account, at this point you are switched over to the AIM Web site and required to provide additional information. You have the option of creating an AIM email address or using an existing email address. This is important should you ever loose connection with AIM, which does happen infrequently. If you choose "Use an existing email address as a Usename" you just enter an existing email address, choose a password, enter your zip code, your birthday (for verification purposes should you forget your password) and your gender (for the same reason).

Then scroll down and fill in one of those boxes with all the strange letters that prove you are a real person (also known as a CAPTCHA) and hit the Complete button, and you should be able to go back to iChat and see your new ID listed under your accounts.

Now the hard part is done and you are ready to proceed. Open iChat and click on iChat > Preferences > Audio/Video. Set the Microphone to Internal microphone and the bandwidth limit to "None" unless you are aware of limits that are set by your internet provider. You should put a check in the box next to "Repeat ring" so you will be alerted when invited to an audio or video chat.

Click on the General, Messages, and Alerts tabs and set your preferences to your specifications.

Just two more steps. Select Apple Menu > Preferences > Sharing and put a check in the box next to "Screen Sharing." Contact your friends and give them your iChat identities so they can add you to their Buddy list and give you their iChat identities.

When you get their iChat identities you can add them to your own Buddy list by choosing Buddies > Add Buddy and entering their information. Then to send them chats you just have to click on their name. You will know if they are actively on line and available to chat because there will be a green dot next to their name.

NOW, when you need help you check and see if they are on line. If they are, you start a chat and see if they can help. If they are not, you can email or call and see if they are available to help.

There is an option under Buddies to "Share My Screen." They have an option to request to share your screen as well. No one can access your screen unless you give permission. Make sure your sound is turned up because the two of you will be able to talk while you screen share.

So back to those four people who I know will be up at 11:00 or 12:00 when I run into a problem. I don't mind iChatting them for help, just like I don't mind someone iChatting me for help that time of night. It is all for the greater good. Try screen sharing, it is a great Mac feature.

If you are interested in other tips for beginners you might be interested in my beginners manual.

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