Alternate pay-for-help services

We tried a couple of online services that claim to solve your computer problems for a fee. Can they do it? Yes. Are they worth the price? We think so.

We used common problems that we think any small-business or home user might encounter. The fact is, computers are complex, there are lots of different setups, the manuals are awful, and most people still need help. They often ask their friends, but they wouldn’t let amateurs work on their car, so why does it seem safe to have amateurs mess with your computer?

The first service we tried was Joy wanted two computers to share the same printer. HelpMeRemote solved that problem in less time than it would have taken a technician to come to our office even if we were just a few blocks away. In about 10 minutes on the phone, HelpMeRemote technicians set up the two computers to use the same printer. Then they set them up to share data.

These are typical user requests, the company said, but it can also help with problems involving common programs, like Microsoft Office, Norton Security Suite and QuickBooks. Its technicians helped a woman who hadn’t been able to get her QuickBooks accounting program working for over a month. She had spent an hour on the phone with Microsoft (expensive) and an hour and a half with tech support at Intuit, the company that makes QuickBooks. No luck. HelpMeRemote solved the problem in a few minutes.

One hour with their technicians costs $79 (all prices U.S.) if you sign up for a service contract. Otherwise it costs $30 for 15 minutes. With the service contract, the support minutes can be spread throughout the year. Other pricing plans and additional information can be found at the Web site:

You can talk to the technician while he or she is working on your computer through a remote control program, and this is very useful. He can tell you what he’s doing while he fixes the problem, and if you pay attention and have a good memory, or take notes, you can deal with it yourself if it comes up again.

Another great service is Computer Overhauls.

We had just connected a new high-speed wireless router from Netgear and weren’t sure of the setup. Even though we weren’t using the wireless feature and had connected our computers directly to the router with Ethernet cables, we were concerned that we were broadcasting our private information all over the building. It turned out we were.

The router had shipped with few instructions, and it didn’t need any because it worked right out of the box. But it was not at all clear how to get to the security controls.

Computer Overhauls told us how to find our Internet Protocol address and what to change in that address to bring up our router’s command screen. Once that came up we could turn off the wireless feature and stop broadcasting our information to the world. We figured half the building was piggy-backing on our wireless connection.

Lots of people call Computer Overhauls to complain that their computer is slow. The company’s president told us the problem was often that they were running too much anti-virus and firewall software. Since firewall protection is included with Windows XP, and often also comes with a router, you don’t need anything more. For anti-virus protection, he recommended Grisoft’s AVG, which you can download for free from Users have praised it as well.

Computer Overhauls has several pricing plans, and you can check them out at its Web site: Basic service is $49 to solve a single problem.


— A tinkerer’s delight. Buy some gallium and cast it into whatever shape you want, then give it to somebody and watch it melt in their hand. The site shows you how to make dozens of gadgets, and with each one you learn something along the way. For instance, you can make a high-voltage alarm in five minutes using a couple of Coke cans and some aluminum foil.

— A handy real estate search engine with “heat” maps that colour in the most expensive or popular areas in red, and cooler regions in yellow or green. Type in a zip code and get a list of everything for sale, with thumbnail photos. You can see if a home is considered expensive for its zip code or compare it to other neighborhoods in the area. Some listings have detailed price histories going back five years.


According to Lyra Research (, a set of replacement cartridges for the $500 Brother HL-2700CN costs nearly 20 percent more than the printer. Replacement cartridges for the $400 Lexmark C510 cost 10 percent more than the printer.

Many printer producers make most of their profit selling replacement ink and toner cartridges, rather than from selling the printers themselves. Hewlett Packard has been noted in many places for this practice. Lyra Research noted that the best deal on replacement cartridges was for Okidata’s C3200N color laser; those sold for only half the printer price.

FREE CONFERENCE CALLS offers a free service for making teleconference calls. We recently participated in a conference using this service, and it worked fine. We were able to see the hosts’ computer screen, but not the hosts themselves. None of us paid a connection charge. We could download and play back the conference for free.

Readers can search several years of columns at the “On Computers” Web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at and Joy Schwabach at

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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