How Desktop Sharing Works

By: Dave Roos

Real-time Collaboration

One of the most common uses of desktop sharing is for real-time collaboration. Real-time collaboration is when two or more coworkers, classmates, colleagues or friends use desktop sharing software to simultaneously work on the same project, share files and work through problems as a team.

For example, let's say you're still stuck at home with that stomach flu and you need help coming up with the text for your PowerPoint presentation. Your coworker Nancy is a whiz with words, but she's at the office.­


Using desktop sharing, you and Nancy can log into a session and she can see the contents of your computer desktop. You can open up PowerPoint and show her the pages where you need help. You can even hand over control of your computer to Nancy so that she can type her text directly into the document, rather than just telling you over the phone or sending it to you in an e-mail.

A helpful feature of many desktop sharing programs is real-time annotating of documents. Whoever is in control of the host computer has access to the drawing and annotating tools, whether it's a remote user or the person sitting at the host computer. Common annotating tools are a highlighter, a freehand drawing tool and a pointer [source: GoToMeeting].

One of the most useful applications of real-time collaboration is for remote technical support [source: Real VNC]. You don't have to be a professional tech support operator to field frequent requests for computer help. If you're the member of the family with the most computer experience, you might get several calls a week from your grandma trying to access her e-mail, your dad trying to do video calls through Skype, or your sister trying to download music files.

Rather than trying to understand their computer questions over the phone (and deciphering their vague descriptions of their desktop), desktop sharing allows you to see exactly what they're doing, and in some cases do it yourself.

Professional technical support staffers have been using similar technology for the past few years to remotely diagnose hardware and software problems. Instead of walking the caller through the solution step by step ("Close all other applications. Restart your computer. Go to the Start menu and click 'Run'…"), tech support can use desktop sharing to jump into the driver's seat and fix the problem immediately.

On the next page, we'll talk about sharing presentations.