Remote PC Repair, Part 2: Comparing the Possibilities
Nov 6, 2007 4:00 AM PT
After the initial warranty period has expired on a desktop or laptop computer, consumers, SOHO (small office/home office) users and SMBs (small- and medium-sized businesses) may find themselves stranded when computer woes strike. Without costly warranty extension plans or an IT department, there is little to do but pay up.
An alternative to costly local repair shops and third-party service contracts is getting technical help from a growing number of online and phone-based repair services. Remote PC repair centers -- Internet-based tech support Web sites -- are fast becoming an oasis for computer users and small companies that lack IT departments.
Part 1 of this two-part series on remote PC repair considers no-warranty options. This installment compares a few remote repair possibilities.
"Remote PC support service is beneficial for small businesses with fewer than 10 computers. This is the marketing niche -- consumers and the work-at-hope population," David Gerhart, CIO of My Computer Works, told TechNewsWorld.
Like much of the computing market involving consumers and SOHO workers, remote PC repair services mostly cater to the installed base of users of a particular computing platform. The realities of the marketplace, therefore, provide Microsoft Windows users the lion's share of service and support.
Few remote support centers exist for Mac and Linux operating systems beyond the traditional user discussion forums and dedicated developer communities. Some centers have limited support for Mac issues, and even fewer sites offer meaningful help for Linux users. Finding remote PC repair help for Linux problems is especially challenging because of the wide range of free and paid distributions.
"Usually, if you are running Linux, you better have a contact handy to help you out if there are issues," Matthew Dworkin, a Geek Squad technician at a Best Buy store, told TechNewsWorld.
However, it is possible for consumers and SOHO users -- even adherents to Mac and Linux platforms -- to find help without outsourcing tech support to long-term IT providers. The same type of system adjusting that IT staffs provide through a master console connected to a network can now be applied to individual users of any platform.
"Service technicians across the world have the same powers and abilities that users sitting in front of the desktop themselves have. So now, as long as you can connect to the system itself, you can perform the same troubleshooting on a Windows machine -- if you have appropriate administrative access -- that previously was only available remotely to Linux users," Dworkin said.
Still, there are limits to a remote operator's ability to hop onto a computer and fix Linux or Mac problems in the same way one can with Windows -- mostly because both of those non-Windows platforms are so customizable, he explained.
Consumers and SOHO users seeking a remote PC repair service can easily find a bevy of choices by plugging the term "remote PC repair" into any Internet search engine. One such search revealed more than 10 pages of hits.
Be aware, though, that not all remote PC repair Web sites operate the same way. They charge a wide range of prices, and all do not offer the same service solutions and guarantees of satisfaction. However, these online service centers for ailing computers generally deliver what they promise, assured Gerhart.
Here are three companies that offer remote PC repair service -- each one employs a different approach. These are a representative microcosm of the types of Web sites waiting to fix your ailing PCs.
Onforce Be With You
The concept behind community support offered through forums is taken one step further with remote dispatch services such as OnForce. Onforce is an online community of more than 10,000 IT service providers located near every major ZIP code and in many towns across the country.
OnForce is an online marketplace for on-site technology services. Computer users can enter a ZIP code to view available certified, independent repair technicians in their vicinity and contact the technician to arrange a service call. The Web site lists the technicians' services and skills.
Potential customers can also view recent work orders posted on the site. In addition, they can post a work order for requested repairs and include the price they want to pay for the requested repair work. On average, work orders are about US$100 per service call.
The system is set up so that the IT service provider does not get paid unless the customer is satisfied with the job. The computer owner must say the work was completed to the specs of the job detailed for the system to close out the work order.
Live PC Help
PClive.com offers around-the-clock phone support by calling a toll free number or clicking on the Request Online Support button on the Web site.
"The combination of phone support and online assistance solves 98 percent of our calls," Bob O'Dell, CEO of PCLive.com, told TechNewsWorld. "We can't resolve hardware failures but can aid the inexperienced consumer."
The bulk of his customers each day are consumers frustrated with manufacturers and stores that do not provide adequate support, said O'Dell.
Typical support issues PCLive handles are computers that are running slowly, screens flooded with popups, and error messages that do not go away. Other frequent services involve setting up new programs and answering thorny questions.
PCLive technicians remotely access computers to fix problems. The cost is $49.95 per session.
My Computer Works
The service approach of MyComputerWorks.com is based on the notion that you can't offer a warranty on the user, Luke M. Ford, president of My Computer Works, told TechNewsWorld. "There is a big need in this space to handle instruction."
His company uses a subscription model to keep customers coming back when they need help. Much of the service his technicians dispense is based on setting up peripherals like iPods for legal downloading, he said. The firm also receives a lot of calls to fix printer configurations and get other devices working.
Technicians remotely access a customer's computer from the Web site using an encrypted line. The technician talks directly to the customer via a standard telephone line while the remote session is in progress. This procedure is faster than talking the customer through the steps manually, explained Ford.
Even though hardware failure cannot be fixed with a remote session, technicians do assist customers with identifying and ordering replacement parts. Customers who prefer not to order parts will at least learn what the problem is and get an idea of the cost before going to a local repair shop.
My Computer Works charges $69.95 to activate a service account and includes a remote 3.5 hour tune-up session. Unlimited support costs $19.95 per month.