Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you’re a geek. People come to you for tech help, whether you like it or not. It could be family, friends, or maybe your significant other. Whether or not you help them is up to you, but Soluto is one tech company that is trying to make your life easier.
We first covered Soluto back in June 2010. A lot has changed since, and Soluto recently launched a new web-based version to great fanfare. In a nutshell, it’s a truly innovative tool that lets you help people remotely without taking control over their PCs, and without even having to wait for them to tell you something is wrong. Oh, and it’s free.
The new version came out on December 13th, and I was using it for a few days before that. Rather than be a part of the launch hoopla, we decided to give it some time and really use the new Soluto in real life, and come back with some in-depth observations. For the latest (if not the greatest, yet) in remote tech support, keep on reading. Oh, and I’ve stashed some invites further down the post, in case you need them.
So What’s This Soluto Thing, Anyway?
Soluto is a web app that lets you monitor up to five computers for free, keep them updated and secure, remove crud, and make their users happy. To do its magic, it does require each user to install an “agent” on their system. This agent sends data to the server, but also lets the user help themselves if they want to.
Meet the Soluto agent:
I won’t go too deep into the agent here, but you can see what it does above. It lets you uninstall or disable browser add-ons (for Firefox, Chrome and IE), remove or delay apps taking up previous boot time, and resolve common crashes. Near the bottom-left you see the new bit, the one that says “You’re taking care of this PC”. That’s because I took the screenshot on my own PC, and I manage it with Soluto. When one of my users sees this screen, it says “Erez Zukerman is taking care of this PC”. So, every one of your users has this thing installed.
I Thought You Said It’s A Web App?
I see you’ve been listening! Here’s the web-based part, where you’ll be managing your users:
Those girls under “people I help” are real people; names have been changed to protect the innocent. The part you see above lets you pick users to help, and is just a part of the UI. The full screen looks like this:
If I had to sum it up in two words, they would be “coming soon”. Soluto chose to release the product early, and the fact that most of the UI on the front page doesn’t work yet is just one sign of that decision. It’s not necessarily a bad decision, just one you should be aware of when you use Soluto right now.
Helping Your Fellow Users
Now let’s see what Soluto can tell us about a single computer. First, the overview:
I don’t actually have a luxuriant mop of curly hair, but I couldn’t find a way to change my avatar. The rest is true – you can see that this user (me) uses Chrome, searches with Google, has 89 apps running in the background, and even their motherboard, Windows version, and PC “strength”. But that’s only scratching the surface. For each user, Soluto lets you see Frustrations, Apps, Background Apps, Internet, Protection, and Hardware.
Let’s quickly run through these, starting with Frustrations:
This part of the app lets you see a beautiful timeline of “frustrations”. You can see when apps were non-responsive or crashed for the user. This is awesome because it lets you catch things before the user gets really upset – they’re not ready to call you just yet, but you already see lots of lags or crashes on their timeline.
Next, app management:
This is a part that is beautiful in theory. It’s a list of apps installed on the user’s machine that have more recent versions. Theoretically, you click the Update button, and Soluto pushes a remote update and installs the new version for the user, without them having to do anything. In real life, I couldn’t make this work. Hopefully, Soluto will fix this sometime soon.
Moving on, boot time and background apps:
The next part shows a beautiful list of apps that start on boot. Many apps have explanations (Soluto doesn’t expect you to know every app a user might install), and you can remove them from the boot process, or just delay them so they start once the computer is already up. This worked when I tried it.
Next up, Internet stats:
This part of the app lets you change the default browser, disable browser add-ons, and more. Note that it doesn’t let you access browsing history, or even see the user’s currently set homepage. Soluto is very careful about users’ privacy, and no part of the app lets you see screenshots, files, or any other personal data about the computer you’re monitoring. Slick.
You can see if a user’s firewall is on or off, as well as their anti-virus and Windows Update status. You should be able to push a Windows update remotely, but this failed when I tried it.
You can see exactly what hardware a user is using, their hard drive status, and even temperatures of components. Mega-slick, and works.
The bad: Soluto was made available very early. Many parts of the app haven’t been implemented, and many other parts just don’t work. As updates are not done in real-time, sometimes it can take days to realize that the Windows update you pushed just isn’t going to work.
The good: Soluto is a truly unique concept. The UI kicks ass (no Flash, no HTML5, and it’s gorgeous). The parts that work, work. And it’s free for up to 5 computers, and will stay that way.
Bottom line: I think Soluto will only get better in time. It has been getting better since it was released, and despite its currently raw state, it’s a product I believe in. I say, get in on the ground floor. This is going to be big.
Oh, and about those invites. The company told me they might open the service fully, but they’re not quite sure yet. So when you go to Soluto and it asks for an invite code, just tell them makeuseofsentme. Then once you’re in, test drive the service for yourself then let us know what you think of it in the comments below.