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Remote Mac support made even easier with Mac HelpMate 3.0


A little over a year ago, I was searching for a way to expand my reach as a Mac consultant. I had heard quite a bit from other Apple Consultants Network members about Mac HelpMate, but really didn't know much about it. After a free test drive, I ended up purchasing Mac HelpMate and its companion software for standalone Macs, Auto HelpMate. Since then, supporting users anywhere within or outside of the Denver area without having to hop into my car and drive to a client's house has become a reality.

Mac HelpMate works by creating a secure, user-initiated connection between a support professional and the user through a gateway server run by the brains behind the application, Apple Certified System Administrator Dean Shavit, who invented the Mac HelpMate service three and a half years ago.

The application is easy for my clients to set up, since there's a ZIRO (zero-interaction roll out) tool that I have on my company web site. One click, and my clients are sharing their screens with me, without having to install software or enter a password or code. The standalone application is used both by the support client and the support professional, and it runs on any Mac OS between 10.3 (Panther) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard).

I celebrated my first year of Mac HelpMate usage by re-subscribing to the service ($600 annually with a $100 discount to members of the Apple Consultants Network) and by upgrading to the new Mac HelpMate 3.0. The new version provides full compatibility with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, as well as a number of powerful new features.

Among the new features added to Mac HelpMate 3.0 are the ability to use Apple's Screen Sharing system (formerly you had to use a separate VNC viewer application), two types of secure, zero-configuration file transfer, and the ability to access the command line on the remote computer without having to do it through screen sharing. Auto HelpMate, which I use to monitor remote servers, has been upgraded to version 1.4. Updating these remote servers to the new version is simple, since the web-based Connection Manager used for monitoring purposes provides a button for boosting the software on the remote machines to the new version.

The Connection Manager can now provide even more information about each machine being supported through Auto HelpMate. Asset management and System Profiler information are now available, so pulling up specs or AppleCare data for any machine is a piece of cake. It is even possible to create a tab-delimited report of random selections of machines, all machines, or machines by group or site for import into help-desk systems or a spreadsheet. Admins can get alerts via SMS text message or email if a machine is down, if the IP address for the machine changes, or even if the warranty is about to expire. The alerts are also available for other recipients (a business owner or home user, for example) as well.

Supporting the support professionals is the reason behind the new Community Portal for Mac HelpMate. While it's still a work in progress, the portal is planned to be a single destination for Mac HelpMate users who have questions about the inner workings of the software or who need access to training videos and documentation.

Mac HelpMate doesn't just monitor remote machines and allow screen sharing; it also has a full suite of diagnostic, troubleshooting, and optimization tools built in. I often find these tools helpful when clients call with concerns about "slow" Macs, as I can run some of the standard tools remotely and often get the machines to speed up without having to make a physical site visit.

I had asked Shavit earlier in the year about the possibility of an iPhone-based tool for Mac support professionals, and his response was that most individuals who have tried this usually find out that it's much more difficult than it sounds. I agree -- I tried the LogMeIn Ignition client and found that even over a Wi-Fi connection, trying to control a Mac on the limited screen real estate of an iPhone isn't a lot of fun. However, now that the work involved in developing and testing Mac HelpMate 3.0 is over, Shavit mentioned that his development team is planning an iPhone-based support solution.

While it isn't a tool for everyone, Mac HelpMate is well worth the price for anyone who is in the business of supporting a distributed collection of Macs. Version 3.0 brings an entirely new level of usability and functionality to what was already a stellar support product.

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