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How to Configure a Mac to Make Remote Support a Breeze

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More and more of our friends and family are getting a Mac, whether it’s as their first home computer or they’ve switched from a Windows PC. This means that, as Mac aficionados, we’re usually the first one our parents call when something isn’t working right. In this guide, I’ll show you how to set up their Mac in such a way that any remote assistance needed can be done quickly and easily.


First Question: Why?

If you’ve ever worked in IT support, even for an hour, your friends and family make the assumption that not only can you fix any of their problems but that you’d be happy to, as well! It’s inevitable, I’m afraid and after working as a Genius for a number of years, I somehow also became the IT support person for the whole family.

But let’s face it, you can’t really say no to fixing your parent’s computer queries, can you? Instead, let’s make our lives easier by preparing a family member’s Mac with some useful tools and settings so that if anything does happen, you’re in a much better to fix it, and fix it quickly!

Tip: Before we continue, this guide will assume that you have physical access to the Mac. In addition, always make sure to ask the owner’s permission before making any changes. Once you explain why you’d like to make any of the following changes, they’ll likely be more than happy to let you continue!


The Plan

I’m going to use an example Mac that we’ll assume is my parents’. They’re not very computer savvy and only really use it for internet access, email, word processing and organising photos. Provided the Mac isn’t experiencing some kind of hardware fault, we’re going to want a way to see what they’re seeing with some form of remote access (so we can see the problem ourselves and fix it), run updates and installs without needing them to be sat at the computer to enter their password and also give them some additional support information for the times that you’re either not available.

With the above in mind, here’s our plan for our parents’ Mac:

  • A second administrator account for us to use
  • Remote access in the form of screen sharing (in this case we’ll be using TeamViewer)
  • Configuring software updates to download automatically
  • Make sure there’s a good backup plan
  • Providing AppleCare contact information and the location of the nearest Apple Store

1. Second Administrator Account

Setting up a second administrator account means that we will always have administrator access and allows us to run updates and installations without needing your parent’s password. Additionally, if they’re experiencing problems with their user account (for example, they can’t log in), you’re still in a position to potentially fix the issue as there’ll be a second, working account that is not frequently used.

Step 1

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To add a second administrator account, we use System Preferences

Open System Preferences and then select Users & Groups

Step 2

You’ll likely need to unlock the preference pane to make changes, so click the padlock icon in the lower-left corner and enter the current user’s password. This will be the last time we need to have your parent’s enter their password as, going forward, everything we do will use our new administrator account.

Step 3

Click the + icon in the lower-left of the pane to add a new account. Change the New Account drop down option to Administrator.

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Add user accounts is very straightforward, just remember to change the account type to Administrator

At this stage, I would enter the name Administrator. You can enter whatever you wish, provided it isn’t already in use. If you like, you can override the Account Name to just “admin”, making it a little easier to enter when using the login details.

Set a very secure password! Don’t use a generic password like “password” or “admin”.

Tip: Under Password Hint, I usually include a little message that says “For support only, do not use”.

Step 4

Once you’ve completed the new account pane, click Create User. If your parents have automatic login enabled, you may be given a message asking if you’d like to disable automatic login. Keep it enabled for now but make sure to have a discussion with your parents about switching it off as it’s a big security risk and is one feature I highly recommend everyone doesn’t use.

We’ve now created our own administrator account that we can use. What this means is that at any point are we prompted to enter the user’s password (for example, installing a piece of software), we can simply enter our administrator username and password instead.


2. Remote Access

The remote access we’ll set up will be one that is very easy to use and doesn’t involve any network settings to change, as well as being completely free to use. We’re going to accomplish this by using one of my favourite apps, TeamViewer.

TeamViewer is a multi-purpose remote access tool. We can use it to screen share, send files, video chat, share presentations and more. However, we don’t need all of that - all we’re interested in is the screen sharing.

Unlike many other apps, TeamViewer is designed to be as simple as possible for the end-user (in this case, our parents). Instead of registering or creating logins, when the TeamViewer app is launched it displays a nine digit ID code and a randomly generated four digit passcode. All we need is our parent’s to tell us these two codes and we can then access the Mac directly and use their screen. The nine digit ID stays the same but the passcode is randomly generated every time for security, making this very useful.

Best of all, it’s completely free for non-commercial use.

Step 1

First, visit TeamViewer’s download page.

On your Mac, download the full version of TeamViewer. This allows us to connect remotely to our parent’s Mac as well as starting remote sessions if needed.

Step 2

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Installation is completely optional as you can run TeamViewer via the Disk Image, but installing the app will be more convenient.

Once downloaded, install the app by running the installer within the downloaded file. This will place TeamViewer in your Applications folder.

Step 3

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The 9 digit ID is unique to each Mac so it won't change every time you launch the app, but the 4 digit ID number will.

Go to your Applications folder and launch TeamViewer. Upon its first launch, you’ll be prompted to set up a permanent remote access password. This is for accessing this Mac. For the purposes of this guide, you can simply select skip as we won’t be sharing your Mac’s screen.

Step 4

On our parent’s Mac, you’ll want to download the TeamViewer QuickSupport app, listed under Additional Downloads. The reason we’re using this is version rather than the full one is simply that there’s no other options in this version, it’s only purpose is to allow a remote connection which makes it very easy to use.

Step 5

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Unlike the full version, the QuickSupport app has no installation to perform. It's only use is to allow others to remotely control the Mac it's running on.

Once TeamViewer QuickSupport has downloaded, open the DMG file where you’ll then see the app. Unlike the version we downloaded on our Mac, this requires no installation to be run. Instead, simply drag the app to the Applications folder.

Step 6 (Testing)

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As you can see, there's almost nothing to the app!

Now to test TeamViewer! Let’s launch the TeamViewer QuickSupport app on our parent’s Mac which will display our 9 digit ID and randomly generated passcode.

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With TeamViewer, you can easily connect to a remote Mac.

Launch TeamViewer on your Mac and enter the 9 digit ID we’ve got, then click Connect. At that point, the app will prompt you for the passcode. Enter the code and continue then at that point you should now be screen sharing our parent’s Mac! Whenever our parents have some problems or need some support, we can just ask them to launch TeamViewer QuickSupport from the Applications folder and provide the details we need, allowing us to instantly connect. We’re effectively now at the Mac and can do almost everything we’d need to.

Tip: Remember that if you do need to restart the Mac (for example, after a software update) then we’ll need the TeamViewer details again.

Why Remote Access?

There are two very good reasons why setting up a form of remote access is useful. The first is that we can’t often rely upon what someone tells us over the phone as being accurate. That doesn’t mean the person isn’t being truthful, it means that what the user sees may not necessarily help us identify the issue.

Your dad calls you one evening and tells you that he thinks he’s lost all of his photos. He can open iPhoto but it says it cannot find the iPhoto library. You ask him to check the trash but there’s nothing there. After a while, you decide to go and visit your parents to take a further look, assuming the Mac needs some software reinstalling or data recovery.

When you get there, you see an iPhoto library where it should be, in the Photos folder. However, it’s name has changed to some garbled characters. What has likely happened is the file was accidentally renamed when something was placed on the keyboard.

Whilst the example above is atypical, it does happen. If we had remote access and could see your dad’s screen, it would have saved you a trip.

The second reason is also related to the example above. It’s very hard to give detailed instructions to someone over the phone who isn’t computer savvy, especially when those instructions might involve using Disk Utility or, heaven forbid, Terminal. There’s no guarantees those instructions would be followed correctly and you don’t want something to go wrong or else it’ll be your head on the block!


3. Software Updates

It’s always a good idea to make sure the Mac can do as much of the work as possible when it comes to preventing problems. A very common fix for many novice Mac users is to install any updates that are needed. This should always be one of the first checks when troubleshooting a software related problem!

Whilst we can’t manage all app updates and Mac App Store purchases cannot be auto-updated (in versions of OS X up to 10.8 Mountain Lion), we can still make sure OS X is updating frequently.

Step 1

Open System Preferences and select Software Update.

Step 2

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Most of these options are the default for Software Update, but it's always worth double-checking.

We want to make sure that OS X is automatically checking for updates as well as automatically downloading them in the background. Additionally, let’s make sure that system files and security updates are installed automatically as well.

In Mountain Lion, this just means making sure all our options here are selected.


4. Backups

I’m a huge advocate of backups and since Apple provides a great solution in the form of Time Machine, there’s absolutely no reason why our parents shouldn’t have a backup. Provided they have a suitable external hard drive (if they don’t, get them to buy one) we can ensure their data is constantly backed up. Not only does that mean they have peace of mind but if they need to restore anything, they can either do it themselves or of they get stuck, we can do it using our remote access we already set up.

Step 1

Ensure you have a large capacity external hard drive. As USB drives are so cheap, it doesn’t make sense to buy anything less than 1TB. If possible, go for USB 3.0. They’re usually the same price, are backwards compatible and if our parents decide to get a new Mac in the future, the hard drive can then take advantage of the newer USB technology.

Step 2

Plug in the new hard drive. Time Machine will more than likely prompt if we’d like to use this drive for backup purposes. If it does, then confirm you would like to.

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If Time Machine doesn't automatically prompt to use a hard drive for backups, you can enable it through System Preferences.

If it doesn’t we can also open System Preferences and select Time Machine. Click Select Disk and choose the new drive we’ve just connected. Simple!


5. Further Support With Apple

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, there’s going to be a problem that we just can’t fix. Whether it’s a software problem that has us stumped or the Mac appears to be experiencing a fault, at that point it’s up to the guys at Apple to work their magic and get the Mac up and running.

Mac owners have two primary methods of getting support from Apple. The first option is calling AppleCare support. AppleCare has call centres all over the world and is available in many languages and countries. With the AppleCare Protection Plan (APP), you can call them as often as you like with the only cost being that of the phone call. However, they’re always worth calling even without APP as they’ll likely try some basic troubleshooting before continuing.

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Visiting the Apple Retail site will let you find your nearest store as well as book Genius Bar appointments.

The second option is to visit the Genius Bar at their nearest Apple Store. The Genius Bar operates on an appointment-based system, but it’s completely free to use. All appointments are free and they’ll do what they can in those 15–20 minutes to help you. If the Mac is out of warranty, they’ll detail any costs involved if you need to have it serviced. If it’s in warranty, they’ll be able to facilitate the repair without charge.

So, to make sure our parents have everything they need, we’re going to create a contact in Contacts. In it, we’ll place the AppleCare phone number, address of the nearest Apple Store and the web address for the store’s page. That way, if our parents need support from Apple, they have everything in one place.

Step 1

Let’s find our local AppleCare telephone number. Apple has a great support article for searching for any worldwide AppleCare phone number, detailing any local charges they might involve.

As I’m located in the UK, I’ll be using the telephone number 0844 209 0611.

Step 2

Now to find the closest Apple Store. This may or may not be worthwhile, depending on where our parents live. Some countries might not even have an Apple Store so if you don’t have a store close by, you can skip this section. AppleCare will always be able to provide you the location of the closes Apple Authorised Service Centre, who can do the same work as the Apple Store.

You can find the full list of Apple Stores at Apple Retail.

Thankfully, an Apple Store is located nearby for our parents, in my case it is the Apple Store Trafford Centre. As you can see in the store’s page, we’ve got the address, phone number and opening hours information. More importantly, on the top-right of the page is a blue Make Reservation button to make a Genius Bar appointment.

Tip: Instead of using the AppleCare telephone number, if you have an Apple Store that is local you can use their telephone number instead. The main switchboard includes an option to speak to AppleCare but it’ll save you the cost of the phone call.

Step 3

Open Contacts from the Applications folder, then click the + button to add a new contact.

Add the name “AppleCare” as the company name, leaving the first and last name fields empty and tick the box marked "Company". Enter the AppleCare telephone number as the main number.

Step 4

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Having a contact card with all the useful Apple support information will mean that if you're not available, our parents are still able to get support.

Add the Apple Store’s address to the contact and also the web address of the store’s page where it says home page.

Click Done. Now we have a complete contact card that contains all the useful contact information for Apple Support.


Wrapping Up

Whilst there may appear to be a lot of work involved in setting up our parent’s Mac for support, it’s actually all very straightforward. Furthermore, it makes helping them so much easier in the future when you put in this little bit of work. The only drawback is that it might work so well, they’ll come to rely on you and, worse still, tell all their friends and family about you!

Ultimately, the steps we’ve taken above ensure that a family member who is new to the Mac can be happy knowing that if something does go wrong, you’re more than prepared to deal with any problems the Mac might have.

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