Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Don't call me, call Orchard Remote

[Ed. note: A slightly more formal version of this has been posted on one of my other blogs.]

So, you're on the phone with tech support (finally!) and the support person is asking you questions.

Sometimes they're downright insulting. (They want to know if your computer is turned on when you've already figured out the problem is a packet-switching error at your ISP's server.)

Other times they're using terminology you aren't familiar with. (Tech support: "OK, open Terminal and SSH into the...." You: "I beg your pardon?")

Oh, wouldn't it be heavenly if the tech support person at the other end of the line could see that problem you're glaring at on your screen? And even more amazing if you could turn over control of the machine to him/her and just sit back and watch while they diagnosed and fixed it?

Well, you can.

"He's was right there on my computer and could literally move the cursor!" is the way Kim Bamberg describes it.

Kim is not hallucinating. A busy Seattle wedding planner, she signed up for a new tech support service called Orchard Remote. Created by Jeff Hopkins, a former Apple Store "genius," Orchard Remote provides, yes, remote Mac tech support via the internet, logging into and literally taking control of a client's ailing computer while the client watches. Usually the Orchard Remote tech support person talks with the client by telephone or VOIP while the repairs are underway onscreen.

Remote support makes perfect sense for Jon Troxel, who runs a nautical charts company on a remote island in Puget Sound. He's nowhere near an Apple store. But instead of trying to describe his computer problems to phone-based tech support, Jon uses Orchard Remote to deal with everything from his website to his printers. Stuck while trying to modify a PDF, he logged into the Orchard Remote website and filled out a request for help. "Within minutes Jeff was on the phone and showing me how to make an adjustments in Preferences," Jon said.

Orchard Remote is in Seattle, but can serve clients just about anywhere—as long as they are connected to the internet. They access client machines using a Virtual Network Computing (VNC) software similar to that in Apple's iChat application; it works on Macs running the most recent versions of Mac OS X (Leopard or Tiger).

"As long as you can get to our website, you can give us remote control of your machine," Jeff said. He works with clients who use cable or DSL, but even has one customer on dial-up.

Service is available seven days a week, 12 hours a day. (Or more. I was amused to note that every time I emailed Jeff with a question for this article, he shot back a reply in just a few minutes.)

What problems bring people to Orchard Remote? Not surprisingly, many of the same ones that have friends who use Macs phoning me at odd hours! (You know who you are.) Glitches with email and calendars are right at the top of the list. But Jeff is game to assist with things as exotic as performance issues in Adobe Lightroom.

"Even if it's software I don't use, I know how to research it," he said.

Orchard Remote clients run the gamut from Mac-savvy business owners who don't have time to deal with technical glitches to non-technical types who get queasy at the mere sound of words like "reboot" "system preferences" and "software upgrade."

Orchard Remote currently offers unlimited support for six months for $99. The fee covers one household computer or one user with multiple computers. (Full disclosure: I have an account with Orchard Remote, and Jeff is also a client for my writing services.)

I asked Jeff if he has any advice for clients, thinking he might recommend a particular Mac book, or suggest that we get in the habit of using our applications' Help files (ahem). But his suggestion was far more basic and practical:

"Get as much RAM in your computer as you can afford," he said. "It makes your computer so much more responsive across the board."

So, guys, I'll still do triage on the occasional cry for help about lost email or sluggish internet connections. But don't be surprised if all I can do is stabilize your ailing machine and refer you to the specialists at Orchard Remote.

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