Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2004 / 19 Teves 5765

Virtual service calls available

By Mark Kellner | You just got a new PC as a gift. It's hooked up to the Internet, and you're cruising along. Blam! A virus has corrupted your system, or yor e-mail suddenly dies. Who are you going to call?

Ted Werth hopes it will be him, or, more precisely, his company, PlumChoice of Bedford, Mass., just northwest of Boston. The company provides "virtual" support to people who have Windows-based PCs running Windows NT, 98 or later.

For $80 an hour (also available in 15-minute increments at $23 each, for short tasks), one of Mr. Werth's technicians will contact you, log onto your computer, and help diagnose what's wrong, fixing it remotely. He said the company aims its service at home users and small businesses with fewer than 10 machines.

A fortunate nexus of the Internet's power and the spread of broadband communications makes this more possible than it would have been five years ago. Windows, especially the latest XP versions, make remote access easier, too.

The service works through secure desktop sharing software, which allows a remote technician to access a PC or network via the Web, or a fast enough dialup connection. The user controls access to their PC, as well as the length of a support session. The user can talk to the technician via telephone or a keyboard-based "chat" session directing them to problems or items of concern.

The chief advantage of a service such as this is that, as Mr. Werth said, "it gets rid of all the back and forth" of packing up a computer and taking it in for service. It's also neat to see someone fix a prolem while you watch, he added: "60 percent of the people who see this, when they start speaking again, say 'wow' as their first word," Mr. Werth noted.

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He said his typical calls after the holidays are for help with digital cameras and other "new" peripherals. But for the user who has a more serious problem, such as a virus, PlumChoice can deal with that, as well.

"Spyware [removal] can definitely take longer" than 15 minutes, Mr. Werth said, adding that the firm's technicians will typically help customers set up printers or make sure antivirus software is properly installed.

"What we're doing differently is we're trying to provide a very friendly service," Mr. Werth said.

One thing to note about the service is that hours are business ones   —   8:30 AM to 8:00 PM Eastetn Time, weekdays   —   and that it's by appointment. If you call with a problem, you'll be given a time when you'll be called back. This eliminates sitting on hold and getting frustrated, Mr. Werth said. Most calls can be scheduled within an hour or two, he added.

The firm also offers its services to companies and their "road warriors," who can then get help with systems problems while traveling. Mr. Werth said the company is also partnered with TripRevwards, letting those users redeem points gained by staying at certain hotels for service time.

My primary computer is an Apple Macintosh   —   they're far less subject to failures than Windows-based systems are - and, frankly, I'm paid to fool around with PCs. And, the firm's Web site also advises prospective customers to think about replacing a PC if it is more than four years old, since repairing problems and preventing new ones can be a hassle.

For the home-based business person   —   or if you have a relative needing dedicated computer help   —   this might be just the ticket. Having peace of mind is essential, and PlumChoice sounds like a good way to guarantee it where a computer is concerned.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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