Tired of being IT support for all your family and friends? Though an automated computer repair bot might be what you’re wishing for to help Grandma or Dad with their tech issues, these free IT services and tools still require your effort--but hopefully less in the long-run.
You’ll find laundry lists of remote desktop programs everywhere on the web, so here I discuss other tools that can help you be more proactive with your IT skills. These are great to help those totally computer illiterate people you hang with, as well as to impress your wannabe tech friends. Maybe setting up the tools might spark your interest in bringing in some side-work and starting your own IT firm, or at least earn you a beer or steak dinner.
Avast for Business Basic Antivirus
The Avast for Business Basic Antivirus offering isn’t just free antivirus, it also provides a cloud-based central management console you can use to keep tabs on the virus protection of multiple remote computers. Once you add Windows or Mac OS X machines, you’d be able to see threat detection stats, initiate scans and updates, send messages to users, and restart or shutdown the computers. You can define setting templates to push your preferred Avast program settings to the computers. You can also set email alerts for security or network notifications, such as when threats are blocked or detected, or if the virus database is out of date. Of course, there is some additional functionality and features reserved for paying customers.
Summary: Their free online solution helps you ensure that your friends and family are well protected, and alerts you right away if there are any problems.
The Comodo One IT management platform is basically three tools in one: remote monitoring & management (RMM), patch management, and service desk. All are currently provided free, at least for their basic functionality, and are managed via a web-based interface. The RMM component is called the IT and Security Manager (ITSM) and allows you to remotely monitor and manage computers and mobile devices. It also includes remote desktop capabilities, remote antivirus, and application deployment. A real time remote solution is also offered to access devices and run tools without having to take over their screen.
Although ITSM provides some patch management capabilities, there’s a separate tool offered for that as well in the Comodo One platform. Additionally, there’s a service desk solution that can help track when users have issues or questions.
Keep in mind that Comodo One is also offered in a managed service provider (MSP) edition, which is more suited to support multiple customers. It might add some complexity to the GUI and configuration process, but it better supports pushing different settings to the different networks. You might consider this if you’re also wanting to support some real customers on the side.
Summary: This solution would give you some serious insight and control over your friends' computers. So if they are comfortable with that, this can really help you ensure their computers are healthy and give you many tools at your disposal if they take a turn for the worse.
ManageEngine Desktop Central
ManageEngine Desktop Central is similar to that of the RMM solution provided by Comodo. It’s provided for free for up to 25 computers and 25 mobile devices. It also supports remote desktop, software deployment, and some remote task manager and tools that don’t require taking over their screen. Patch management and an inventory system are also included. They offer a MSP edition as well, again, which better supports managing multiple networks.
Summary: This is another solution that will give you quite a bit of monitoring and management capabilities. It can certainly come in handy to help your family and friends that rely and trust your IT skills.
ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus
The ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus offering is also free, giving you a help desk solution so users can create tickets when they have an issue or otherwise need your help. The free Standard Edition lacks the asset management and other advanced features, but should be more than adequate for helping family and friends. Again, they offer an MSP edition if you think it’s necessary.
Summary: If you’re going with their Desktop Central and really feel like you need a help desk solution, consider this one.
OpenDNS is a Domain Name System (DNS) nameserver provider, an alternative to the default DNS offered by ISPs. It takes advantage of the DNS process by scanning websites before they’re displayed to the user and filters out bad sites. Their classic service is free and filters out malware and phishing sites. Creating a free Home account also gives you the ability to filter by specific content categories, such as adult or mature sites. Their preconfigured Family Shield service automatically blocks adult content, without you having to create any account.
You can change the DNS servers on individual computers or devices or apply on the router to quickly protect all devices on the network. The IP addresses for the classic service are 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52, and for Family Shield: 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11.
Summary: Consider enabling the classic OpenDNS service for all those you help for an extra layer of protection from malware and phishing sites. And for quick web filtering to protect kids, signup for an account or just use Family Shield.
Spiceworks offers free solutions (and free support) similar to Comodo and ManageEngine: network monitoring, inventory and patch management, and a help desk. There are no device limits, ticket limits, admin limits, and so on. Plus there are 4,000+ apps or add-ons, many of which are free as well. You can either scan local networks for devices or install the agent software on remote computers.
The Network Monitor and Inventory components require installing a desktop application on a PC, even though it’s a web-based interface. The Help Desk solution is available as a download too and also hosted via the cloud. If you want the other components in the cloud so you don’t have to always keep a PC up, perhaps install on an Amazon VM and then access the web GUI from anywhere.
Summary: Though the out-of-the-box functionality of Spiceworks is fairly basic compared to the Comodo and ManageEngine offerings, it should be enough for helping your family and friends, and you have thousands of add-ons to play with too.
Just like at work, being proactive with the security and maintenance of your family and friends' computers can help in the long run, and you can do it without spending a dime (just some time). As I discussed, consider utilizing Avast for Business to ensure they’re always running an up-to-date antivirus. Then switch them over to OpenDNS for additional malware prevention and adult filtering for those with kids. Even consider running a business-class remote monitoring and management (RMM) solution from the free options offered by Comodo, ManageEngine, or Spiceworks, because you've got nothing to lose and a ton of knowledge at your fingertips to gain.