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When Mark Rodgers' laptop malfunctioned on a business trip before an important presentation in Vancouver, British Columbia, he raced to a computer store just before closing. Luckily, he got the problem fixed.
The consultant from New Berlin, Wis., says he was so happy he gave the store's technicians a $30 tip, and then handed a homeless person on the street $20.
Computer problems can be more distressing away from home, but most can now be solved without scrambling to find a repair shop or waiting for an outfit like the Geek Squad to arrive.
A growing number of companies are springing up that can remotely fix a software problem while a business traveler relaxes in a hotel room, goes to dinner or moves on with business.
Ted Werth, president of Bedford, Mass.-based PlumChoice, says his company was the only one offering remote repair when it began in 2002. Today, dozens of U.S. repair companies have such capability, but remote repair is the primary business of only a dozen or fewer, he says.
"Business travelers and other consumers are just beginning to learn about remote service," he says.
During the past few years, the explosion of high-speed Internet use "has made it much more possible to do effective remote repair," says Lance Ulanoff, an editor at PC Magazine.
'Kind of like an insurance policy'
A business traveler simply needs a broadband Internet connection to go to a repair company's website. No special software is needed. It can't be done, though, if a computer won't turn on.
Remote repair company Computer Overhauls operates from a two-room office in a high-rise building in Midtown Manhattan. The company, which employs five full-time and two part-time workers, has five workstations where employees can type in a few keystrokes on their computer keyboards and link remotely to a customer's computer.
Hope Jones, who runs an online bakery from New York, called Computer Overhauls while traveling in Florida for help pulling up her e-mail. The company quickly solved the problem.
Computer Overhauls is "kind of like an insurance policy," says Jones, who pays a fee each time she needs a problem fixed rather than paying monthly for ongoing support.
Wes Hodnett, a trucker in Laredo, Texas, says he's "a computer neophyte" who relies on PlumChoice to solve his problems, help load updates and give advice. Hodnett, who pays $24.99 per month for the company's service, says PlumChoice has eliminated viruses, restored corrupted data and identified a power-supply problem.
"PlumChoice has been my IT staff," says Hodnett.
Business travelers' most common problems involve Internet connectivity, e-mail access and lost files and passwords. Business travelers also commonly need help using software and linking laptops with an overhead projector.
Other common problems reported to remote repair companies: spyware infection, unresponsive printers, unrecognized DVD or CD drives, faulty hard drives and slow operating systems.
Pricing varies at each repair company. Consumers must decide whether to pay a flat fee to solve a problem or to pay by the minute or by the hour. Monthly or yearly service plans may also be available.
PC Magazine's Ulanoff believes it's usually wiser to pay a flat fee. Louisville, Colo.-based PC Pinpoint, for example, charges $29.95 for a single problem, whether it takes a minute or days to fix.
Problem often solved in under 3 minutes
Bob Wing, the operations manager for PC Pinpoint, says half of his customers' problems are solved in one to three minutes.
Business travelers may be concerned about prying eyes and loss of data when granting control of a laptop to a distant technician. But that concern may be misplaced. Customers have the option of watching on their computer screen while the repairs are made — an option they don't have when a computer is left at a repair shop.
And Ulanoff says remote repair companies have a huge stake in the integrity of their work. "If there's one report about stolen information, that's the end of their business," he says.
But, Ulanoff says, there are ways to ensure a smart choice of remote repair company. Ask co-workers for recommendations and read online reviews. Five remote repair companies were reviewed byPC Magazine on Aug. 31, 2005, and YourTechOnline.com was ranked No. 1 and PC Pinpoint No. 2.
The review can be found by typing "David Karp PC Magazine" at Google and clicking on "Who you gonna call to solve PC crises?"
A sampling of computer repair companies
The following are four companies that provide remote computer repair and their prices. Other services and prices may also be available.
Company Headquarters Phone Website Prices
Computer Overhauls New York 888-992-9996 computeroverhauls.com $25/20 minutes or $69 per problem; $24.95 a month
PC Pinpoint Louisville, Colo. 888-897-7887 www.pcpinpoint.com $29.95 per problem; $149.95 a year
PlumChoice Bedford, Mass. 888-758-6435 plumchoice.com $25 per 15 minutes; $90 an hour; $24.95 a month
YourTechOnline.com Kelowna, British 877-717-7111 yourtechonline.com $49 per 30 minutes; $79 an hour
Source: USA TODAY research
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