You might think of the OS X Messages app as little more than an instant messaging client, but it can also serve as a handy screen-sharing app. There’s no need to sign up for another online account, or download software, or look at ads before you start your sharing session.
Interested? Here’s a quick overview of why you might want to share your screen, and how to do it with Messages.
What Is Screen Sharing?
In short, screen sharing allows another user to use your computer with you. Your desktop is displayed on both your screen and someone else’s, and if the screen sharer gives permission, you can both take actions on it. It’s just like sitting next to each other at a computer, even if you’re thousands of miles away.
Showing your screen to someone else is relatively safe, but if you’re going to give someone else control, you should be sure that it’s someone you trust, as they could easily click around your computer, explore your hard drive, find passwords or financial information, and wreak all sorts of other havoc — right before your very eyes.
Why Share Your Screen?
If you’ve never done it before, you might not know why you’d want to share your screen, but there are plenty of valid reasons. One of the most useful is to show someone what’s going on when you’re trying to solve a problem. If you’re trying to open a program and you’re getting an error message, it can be a lot easier to just show someone than to try to tell them about it.
Or if you’re on the other side of the conversation, and you want to show someone how to do something, you could use screen sharing to show them rather than type out a long explanation. This allows the other person to see what you’re doing, which is a lot easier to follow than just hearing you list the steps.
Some people use screen sharing for professional collaboration — you could look at a set of slides with a coworker and make changes in real time instead of emailing back and forth about edits that should be made. Or you could run a brainstorming session and record ideas where everyone can see them, no matter where your team members are.
But there are plenty of other uses, too. You could show someone a bunch of photos from your recent vacation without having to post them online. Or share a video that you’d rather not post on Facebook. You might want to play a game that doesn’t have an online multiplayer function. The uses for screen sharing are really only limited by your imagination and friends list.
Just about anything that’s easier when someone is setting next to you can be made almost as easy through screen sharing. And now, instead of using a dedicated screen sharing app or website, you can just use Messages!
The Benefits of Using OS X Messages to Share Screens
The most obvious benefit to using Messages instead of another screen sharing service is that anyone who has a Mac can do it. Every Mac comes with Messages pre-installed, and it uses your existing Apple ID as a point of contact. Once you’ve signed in and added a person to your contacts list, you can share your screen. It’s that easy.
Messages is also flexible in that it can share your screen with people using other services: AIM, Jabber, Google Talk, and Bonjour. That covers most of the people that you’re likely to talk to, so you’ll be able to share your screen with just about everyone on your contacts list (and if it doesn’t, you can use alternatives like Skype, GoToMeeting, or Google Hangouts).
Sharing Your Screen with Messages, Step by Step
Before you get started, you’ll need to make sure that Messages is set up to use your Apple ID. You almost certainly set this up when you set up your Mac, but to double check, open up Messages and go to Preferences > Accounts.
Make sure that there’s an account in the left sidebar that says “iMessage” under your email address. (Quick note: it’s safe to assume that anyone using Messages has an iCloud account set up, so if you’re not sure, just try to share your screen and if it doesn’t work, check this.)
If both parties have iCloud set up, you’re ready to go. The person who wants to share their screen just needs to double-click on the other person in their contacts list to open a chat, then go to Buddies > Invite to Share My Screen.
Your friend will receive an invitation on their screen.
If they accept, they’ll see your screen, just like you do, in a window on their own monitor. Messages will also automatically fire up an audio chat so you can quickly communicate about anything on your screen.
From here, you can show your contact anything you’d like on your desktop, and they’ll see it just like you would. You can also offer the control of your screen to your contact by clicking on the Screen Sharing icon in the menu bar (it looks like two squares overlaid).
If your contact would like to request control, all they need to do is click the mouse icon in the top-left corner of the Screen Sharing window.
After they make this request, you’ll get a notification, from which you can accept or decline their control.
That’s all there is to it! Now you can share anything on your screen with anyone else on a Mac without having to adjust any of your system preferences.
Messages Is Better than You Think
With each new release of OS X, the Messages app gets some updates that improve its functionality, and the addition of native screen sharing is further proof of this. With support for your Facebook account and other chat services, the ability to send texts, and even running AppleScript handlers, Messages has become a very capable communication app.
Do you use Messages for screen sharing? Or do you find that other services are better? Share your thoughts below!