Support family and friends with Windows 10’s new Quick Assist app

A new remote-access tool in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update makes it easy to help another person with their Windows 10 computer

Among the new features that Microsoft rolled out with last month's Anniversary Update to Windows 10 is an app called Quick Assist -- a remote-access tool that is especially designed to work with Windows 10 systems. As you likely know, remote-access applications allow two computers to connect over the internet so that a person at one of them can remotely control the other. In this way, the person controlling the computer remotely can diagnose or fix a problem with it -- for example, by running an anti-malware program or uninstalling a troublesome hardware driver.

And unlike some remote-access tools such as Microsoft's older Remote Desktop Connection, Quick Assist doesn't blank out the screen of the computer being controlled remotely -- users at both computers see the desktop of the PC being controlled. That makes Quick Assist a great teaching tool: The person remote-controlling the computer can demonstrate how to use a particular program or perform a particular task.

So if you find yourself needing to provide help for a family member, friend or co-worker, and you're not available to do so in person, here's how to quickly get their Windows 10 computer connected to yours through Quick Assist.

Five things to keep in mind before starting

1. Although Quick Assist works on all versions of Windows 10 (with the Anniversary Update installed), it's not available for older versions of Windows. If either computer uses an older version of Windows, both will need to use an earlier tool called Windows Remote Assistance instead.

2. Quick Assist is not a "set it and forget it" remote desktop tool. The person who needs assistance with their Windows 10 computer must be sitting in front of it -- at least initially, to grant permission for it to be connected and controlled by the computer of the person who will help them. In fact, we recommend that both parties be present at all times. Because the person providing assistance will have full access to the other computer and everything on it, a great deal of trust is involved; it can be more comfortable for both parties if that computer is never left unattended.

[ Further reading: New Wi-Fi features in Windows 10 Anniversary Update ]

3. If you are the one who will be providing assistance to the other person's Windows 10 computer, you must have a Microsoft Online account. (This can be a Hotmail or Outlook email account.) If you don't already have one, the Quick Assist tool will let you sign up for free.

4. Quick Assist works better if each Windows 10 computer has fast and reliable internet access. If you're the one controlling the other computer remotely, a flaky or slow connection can result in sluggish performance. For example, if you click to close an application window on the other computer, it may take several seconds to see this happening on your computer's screen.

Generally speaking, if you and the other person can hold a video chat session, such as through Skype, and the image and sound quality is good (especially at your end), then the connection your computers share is probably suitable for Quick Assist.

5. Quick Assist won't stream sound from the remote computer. This shouldn't matter, unless you're trying to fix an audio issue with the other computer.

Make the connection

Assuming that you will be the one who will control the other person's Windows 10 computer over the internet, here's how to get connected:

1. Launch the Quick Assist tool. It's listed under the Windows Accessories folder -- or just search the Start menu for "Quick Assist."

2. In the Quick Assist window that appears, click Give Assistance.

launching Windows 10 Quick Assist

To help another Windows 10 user remotely, launch the Quick Assist app and choose Give Assistance.

3. Sign in with your Microsoft Online account.

4. Quick Assist generates a 6-digit security code. Give this code (by email, instant messenger, text or voice call) to the person whose computer you will need to connect to. After 10 minutes, this code will become invalid.

Quick Assist security code

When you start a Quick Assist session, a 6-digit security code is generated for the person you are supporting to enter on their computer.

5. At the other end, the person who needs your help with their Windows 10 PC needs to launch the Quick Assist tool on their computer and click Get Assistance. Then they enter the 6-digit security code you gave them, and click Submit.

6. Next, they will be presented with a "Share your screen" permissions window, where they will need to click Allow.

Windows Quick Assist -- allowing a remote user access

The person you are assisting must give you permission to access their PC.

What you see, what they see

After a few seconds or more (this depends on the connection speed between the computers), Quick Assist will display the Windows 10 desktop of the other person's computer inside an application window, which will be bordered with a yellow frame.

Quick Assist admin view

When you're assisting someone else, you'll see their Windows 10 desktop inside a yellow frame.

As with any other Windows desktop application, you can minimize this application window, maximize it to full-screen, move it around your desktop, or resize it by dragging its sides or corners. However, the desktop of the other person's computer always appears inside this application window; there's no option that lets you enlarge it to fill your own computer's screen.

To interact with the other computer, move your mouse pointer over the image of the other computer's Windows 10 desktop, and then just use your computer's keyboard and mouse (or touchpad) as you normally would when using your own computer.

From the point of view of the other computer, the person sitting in front of it will see that their Windows 10 desktop is framed by a yellow border. They will see the mouse pointer move as you control it from your computer, and they will also see the text and other characters you type from your computer's keyboard.

Quick Assist user view

The person you're assisting will see their own desktop inside a yellow frame. As you move your mouse or enter text, they will see those actions on their desktop.

They can still use their own computer's keyboard and mouse or touchpad, which will interfere with your actions if you're both doing this at the same time. If you plan to use Quick Assist to teach the other person how to do something on their computer -- for example, you perform an action remotely on their desktop, then watch as they repeat your action -- it's best to be on a phone call together so you can not only explain what you're doing, but also let them know when it's their turn to take control of their computer. (I wouldn't advise using Skype or another video streaming connection via the computers, because it sucks up bandwidth and could slow down Quick Assist.)

The person sitting in front of the other computer can temporarily pause your control over their computer at any time by clicking the "pause" icon next to "Screen sharing on" in the menu that appears at the top-center of their screen. When they click to pause, the yellow border framing their Windows 10 desktop turns gray. The pause icon will change to a triangle "play" icon, which they click when they want you to resume control over their computer.

Quick Assist user menu

The person at the remote computer can pause or end screen sharing at any time.

They can also revoke your remote control of their computer by clicking the "X" next to "Quick Assist." This completely ends the session.

Tools you can use

Back at your computer, you can (mostly) do whatever you want or need to on the other computer -- use the Start menu, run programs, do file searches, poke around in the system settings, etc. Additionally, you will see six buttons in a toolbar set on the upper-right of the Quick Assist application window.

Windows 10 Quick Assist admin tools

The Quick Assist toolbar provides additional tools for helping the other user.

The Annotate tool lets you draw on the other computer's screen. This is meant to help you emphasize things to the other person sitting at the computer you're remotely controlling. The doodles that you make are not permanent -- they will go away when you click the Exit link at the far right of the Annotate toolbar, or when the connection between the two computers is ended.

Windows 10 Quick Assist annotation

You can use the Annotate tool to highlight a particular button or menu item as you teach a user remotely.

Clicking Actual Size will display the other computer's screen in its native resolution, but this does not enlarge it to fill your own computer's entire screen. You'll have to scroll horizontally and vertically to see all the areas of the other computer's screen.

As part of your process for fixing the other computer, you might need to reboot it. If you shut down or restart the other computer by the usual means (such as by going to the Start menu, selecting Power and choosing either Shut down or Restart), the streaming session between the two computers will be disconnected. If you need to continue working on the other computer remotely, you'll need to generate another 6-digit security code with Quick Assist and the other person will have to enter it.

That's where the Restart button in the Quick Assist toolbar comes in handy. Clicking it will restart the remote PC and temporarily close the connection between the two computers, but once the remote computer has restarted, a new prompt will appear to the person sitting in front of it for them to grant you permission to connect to their computer again -- without going through the hassle of generating and entering a new security code.

Windows 10 Quick Assist Restart

The Restart button in the Quick Assist toolbar lets you restart the remote computer and then quickly reconnect without generating a new security code.

The Task Manager button will launch Windows' Task Manager utility, useful for troubleshooting performance issues with programs that are running on the other computer.

Task Manager in Quick Assist

The Task Manager button in the Quick Assist toolbar provides a quick way into the Windows Task Manager.

Finally, the Pause and End buttons work as you'd expect: Clicking Pause will pause the streaming of the other computer's desktop to your computer. When paused, the frame around the image of the other computer's desktop changes from yellow to gray. Clicking the Resume button that appears in place of the Pause button will resume the streaming.

Windows 10 Quick Assist sharing paused

When screen sharing is paused, the Pause button turns into a Resume button; click it to resume the streaming session.

Click End to stop the streaming completely. When you do so, a Reconnect button appears. If you click Reconnect, the person sitting in front of the other computer will be sent a prompt window that asks them to grant you permission to connect to their computer again.

Windows 10 Quick Assist sharing ended

If you've ended a sharing session, you can click the Reconnect button to request permission to restore the connection between computers.

This story, "Support family and friends with Windows 10’s new Quick Assist app" was originally published by Computerworld.

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