If you’re the type of person who knows how to fix Macs, then sooner or later you’ll be getting a call from somebody in trouble. A friend in need with a broken Mac is a friend indeed, and you can earn a lot of brownie points by fixing your friend’s Mac remotely.

Read next: How to remotely access a Mac from an iPad, for free

It’s not always possible to pop round and help a friend or family member out, but these days it’s easier than ever to help them remotely. An OS X feature called Screen Sharing enables you to help troubleshoot a Mac problem right from the comfort of your own Apple Mac. With Screen Sharing you can view your friend’s screen, and highlight the buttons and icons they need to tap to fix it.

In this feature we’re going to look at how to fix a friend’s Mac remotely from your own Apple Mac computer.

See also:

How to use System Preferences in Mac OS X Yosemite

Set up Family Sharing

Fixing problems with Mac WiFi

How to access a Mac remotely, access files wherever you are

How to troubleshoot a friend’s Mac from afar

You can troubleshoot a friend's Mac using the new Screen Sharing feature in Messages and FaceTime. Screen Sharing has been a feature of iCloud, and before that MobileMe, for a number of years. But in OS X Mavericks, Apple extended this to include your friends. With Screen Sharing you do not remote control the other Mac directly, but you can view the display and highlight parts of the screen while talking your friend through the fix.

In this feature we’re going to assume that a friend has just called you up and asked you to help them fix their computer. In our case we’ve got a friend who’s accidentally inverted the colours of the screen, and we need to get them to go into Accessibility Settings and change it back.

Troubleshoot a friend’s Mac: Both sign up for Apple ID and iCloud

In order for this to work you both need to sign up for Apple’s iCloud and iMessages service. Click on System Preferences > iCloud and make sure you’re signed in (if not enter your Apple ID and Password and click Sign In. Click on Create Apple ID if you don’t have one. Your friend will also need an Apple ID, and you need to know what it is.

Make sure you are talking to them on the phone, or using FaceTime and ask them to click System Preferences > iCloud and read out the email under their name (it often, but not always, is an iCloud.com email address).

Troubleshoot a Mac remotely: use Screen Sharing’s Observe Mode

Activate Screen Sharing

Once you’re signed in to iCloud and have your friend’s Apple ID you are good to go. Follow these steps.

  1. Open Messages on your Mac. Tell your friend to open the Messages app on their Mac too.
  2. Click New Message and Enter their Apple ID into the To field (you can also click on them in the Messages Sidebar if you have previously been using Messages to chat to them).
  3. Click Details in the top right-hand corner.
  4. Click on the Share Screen icon (it is shaped as two small rectangles).
  5. Choose Ask To Share Screen from the Drop Down Menu.
  6. The other person gets a notification asking to share their screen. Tell them to click Accept. If you are not in their contacts they will also have to click on Accept in a warning screen.
  7. A window appears on your desktop displaying their screen. Meanwhile an icon appears in their Menubar with alert saying “[person] is viewing your screen.
  8. Click on the window (displaying their screen) using your mouse to highlight part of their display with a spotlight circle. This can be used to point out parts of the screen that they need to click on.

Use this highlight while talking to them on the phone, or FaceTime, to guide them through the operating system and show them which buttons to click and menu options to choose.

Use Observe Mode to highlight parts of the screen

Using Screen Sharing is a much simpler and more effective way of helping somebody troubleshoot their Mac.

Troubleshoot a Mac remotely: use Control Mode in Screen Sharing

Switch to Control Mode to directly control the other screen

If you are finding it tricky to talk the person through fixing their problem, you can take direct control of the screen.

  1. Ask the other person to click on the Screen Sharing icon in the top-right and choose the Allow [person] to control my screen.
  2. In your Screen Sharing program, click on View > Show Toolbar in the menu.
  3. Click the Control Mode icon (a cursor inside circles).

You can now click on the windows and icons inside Screen Sharing and control the other Mac directly. This enables you to fix any problems of the Mac yourself. In Control Mode you may find the performance is based upon the speed of both your network, and the other person’s internet connection. So you may have to be patient (by default Screen Sharing adjusts the quality depending on the performance of the network).

When you are finished click on the Screen Sharing icon in either Mac and choose End Screen Sharing.