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Google Chrome Remote Desktop and 3 other ways to offer tech support from afar

remote desktop google chromeEarlier this week, Google announced that its remote desktop extension, Chrome Remote Desktop, had graduated out of beta. This simple, free browser extension enables users to connect remotely to other computers. 

Yet what seems most innovative about this tool is not its capabilities, but its marketing. Instead of presenting Chrome Remote Desktop as a networking tool for high-powered tech corporations, Google’s envisioning it as a means to bring relatives closer together. Google project manager Stephen Konig said earlier this week in a blog post that the add-on will “make you the family hero,” empowering you to fix your parents’ computer woes with a few clicks of the mouse. That being said, we feel the need to point out that there are plenty of moms and dads out there – as well as grandparents – that are total digital pros. Still, most families have a few bewildered Luddites that could be spared hours of frustration with the aid of a remote connection.

We’ve compiled a few ways to use Google Chrome Remote Desktop, as well as a few other programs, to lend a hand to a technophobe friend or family member in need. Hopefully, with these tools, your days of uninstalling 15 browser search bars for the umpteenth time will come to an end.

Chrome Remote Desktop

We covered the original beta release of Chrome Remote Desktop more than a year ago, and now that Google has ironed out the tool’s quirks and beefed up its features, we’ve got to say that the extension looks pretty promising. Highlights include copy-and-paste abilities between the two machines, as well as a live audio feed (in Windows only) for sharing music, conference calls, or the latest video of a cat learning to play the clarinet.

How to Use Chrome Remote Desktop as Tech Support

1. Make sure Chrome is the default browser on both machines. If your tech-challenged relative remains suspicious of all “Internets” that aren’t Internet Explorer, you can always change the desktop shortcut to the IE icon to keep them reassured (not that we endorse such nefarious methods!).

2. Check operating system compatibility. Chrome Remote Desktop can run on Windows Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8, as well as Linux and any OS X 10.6 and above.

3. Add the Chrome Remote Desktop add-on to Chrome on both computers.

4. Open a new tab and click the “Chrome Remote Desktop” icon. You’ll need to authorize the extension, connect it to a Google account, and grant it permissions.

5. From here, you can choose to establish a short-term connection, called “Remote Assistance,” or a long-term one, called “My Computers.” For family tech support, you’ll most likely want the former.

6. You and your host should both click on “Get started” under “Remote Assistance.” At this point, you’ll choose “Access,” while your host will choose “Share.”

7. On your host’s computer, Chrome Remote Desktop will generate a 12-digit access code for security reasons. Your host will need to email or call you to give you the number.

8. Congratulations! Once you’ve successfully connected, you’ll see your host’s desktop right within your browser and will be able to interact freely.

At this point, you have access to a wide range of possibilites. You can download and install an anti-virus program for the uncle who just admitted he doesn’t have one, or you can run a full system scan if you think something might be causing problems. You can try to troubleshoot why your cousin can’t seem to connect to her wireless router, or you can even help your grandmother upgrade to Windows 8. Just take care of business, and then hit “disconnect.” You’ll feel like a tech support wizard, and you’ll be able to print out coupons reading “One free remote help session” to give out as gifts for the holidays.

Read on for more tips and tricks to help out your favorite tech-challenged family members.


If Chrome Remote Desktop doesn’t suit your needs, you can give TeamViewer a shot. It’s a remote access program that’s free for personal use, and includes support for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, and Android. A few advantages that leap out include a dedicated interface, instead of requiring you to use it in a browser. The interface allows for instant drag-and-drop file sharing between computers, which is a major plus. You’ll still need to download the program on both machines, and exchange a password and ID number with your partner.


Simply put, Zim is a free wiki creator for your desktop. It boasts huge potential for helping the technologically impaired, many of whom feel intimidated by the idea of performing everyday computer tasks. You can use the Zim wiki platform to create a series of how-to lists tailored to your relative’s needs, such as how to create an Mp3 playlist or how to scan a photo. Best of all, you can link wiki pages within Zim to one another, just like in any other wiki, so you can create instructions that link to other series of instructions. Once you create one wiki page about how to reply to an email, your grandfather will never again need to call you to ask you how to reply to an email.


Geared toward the elderly and other first-time computer users, PointerWare revamps a computer’s desktop into four large, user-friendly buttons, including “Mail” and “Photos.” It’s basically a Jitterbug phone for your computer. While it’s Windows-only and rather pricey ($149), it does come with a nice text-to-speech feature for the visually impaired, as well as the ability to record MP3 messages and send them as emails “just like a voice message.” The design may be a bit cringe-worthy, but the program does offer increased connectivity for those who might not otherwise have access, especially in assisted-living facilities. Alternatively, Eldy, a piece of British-based software, offers similar (if slightly less intuitive) features for free.

Do you have a tried-and-true way of helping relatives with computer programs? Let us know in the comments.

[Image Credit: Knight Foundation]

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Mika Turim-Nygren
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mika Turim-Nygren writes about technology, travel, and culture. She is a PhD student in American literature at the University…
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