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Supporting Windows 7 Users with Remote Assistance

Contents
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  1. Understanding Remote Assistance
  2. Implementing and Managing Remote Assistance
  3. Summary
  4. Additional Resources

Implementing and Managing Remote Assistance

Remote Assistance is a powerful and flexible feature that can be used in many different ways to support users within large enterprises, medium-sized businesses, and SOHO environments. This section outlines how to initiate Remote Assistance sessions from both the UI and the command line. This section also demonstrates how to use Remote Assistance in an enterprise Help Desk environment involving two common scenarios:

  • Helper offers Remote Assistance to a User who telephones the Help Desk with a problem.

  • User creates a Remote Assistance invitation and saves it on a network share that is monitored by Help Desk personnel.

For information on other scenarios for implementing Remote Assistance, including sending invitations with Windows Mail and Windows Messenger, search for the topic “Remote Assistance” within Windows Help and Support.

Initiating Remote Assistance Sessions

Remote Assistance sessions can be initiated from either the UI or the command line. A significant usability enhancement, from the perspective of support personnel, is that Offer RA is no longer buried within Help And Support as it is in Windows XP, but instead is easily accessible now from the graphical user interface (GUI).

Initiating Remote Assistance from the GUI

Initiating Remote Assistance sessions from the GUI can be done using the following methods:

  • From the Start menu, click Start, point to All Programs, select Maintenance, and then select Windows Remote Assistance.

  • Click Start and type assist in the Start menu search box. When Windows Remote Assistance appears in the search results under Programs, click it.

Either of these actions will open the initial Remote Assistance screen, shown in Figure 22-2.

Figure 22-2

Figure 22-2 The initial screen of Windows Remote Assistance

When this initial screen appears, you can do either of the following:

  • Solicit Remote Assistance from someone by clicking the Invite Someone You Trust To Help You option, which displays the How Do You Want To Invite Your Trusted Helper? screen, as shown in Figure 22-3.

    Figure 22-3

    Figure 22-3 The screen for soliciting Remote Assistance from someone

  • Accept a Remote Assistance invitation from someone or offer Remote Assistance to someone by clicking the Help Someone Who Has Invited You option, which displays the Choose A Way To Connect To The Other Person’s Computer screen, as shown in Figure 22-4.

Figure 22-4

Figure 22-4 The screen for offering Remote Assistance to someone

The How Do You Want To Invite Your Trusted Helper? screen (see Figure 22-3) lets you select from the following methods for soliciting Remote Assistance:

  • Save This Invitation To A File Selecting this option lets you save your Remote Assistance invitation file to a folder on your computer or to an available shared folder on the network.

  • Use E-mail To Send An Invitation Selecting this option starts your e-mail client application, creates a new message, and attaches the invitation file to the message. Note that if you do not have an SMAPI-compatible e-mail client application on your computer, this option will be unavailable.

  • Use Easy Connect Selecting this option creates and publishes your Remote Assistance invitation file to the cloud using PNRP and displays a 12-character password that you must communicate OOB to your Helper for him to accept your invitation. If, however, you previously used Easy Connect to establish a Remote Assistance session with the same Helper, the Helper can accept your invitation without any password required.

The Choose A Way To Connect To The Other Person’s Computer screen (see Figure 22-4) lets you accept a Remote Assistance invitation from someone or offer Remote Assistance to someone. The following options are available on this screen for accepting a Remote Assistance invitation from someone:

  • Use An Invitation File Selecting this option lets you browse your local file system or network share for the Remote Assistance invitation from someone who needs your help. You will need the password associated with the invitation, which must be provided OOB by the User who needs help.

  • Use Easy Connect Selecting this option lets you browse the PNRP cloud for the Remote Assistance invitation from someone who needs your help. The first time you use Easy Connect to help this individual, you will need the password associated with the invitation, which must be provided OOB by the User who needs help. For subsequent times that you use Easy Connect to help this individual, the password is not required.

To offer Remote Assistance to someone, click the Advanced Connection Option For Help Desk link at the bottom of Figure 22-4. Additional steps for soliciting and offering Remote Assistance are described in the scenario sections later in this chapter.

Initiating Remote Assistance from the Command Line

Remote Assistance in Windows 7 and Windows Vista is implemented as a stand-alone executable called Msra.exe. You can initiate Remote Assistance sessions directly from the command line or by using scripts. The syntax and usage for this command is explained in Table 22-3.

Table 22-3. Syntax and Usage for Command-Line Remote Assistance (Msra.exe)

OPTION

SUPPORTED ON

DESCRIPTION

/novice

Windows 7 Windows Vista

Starts Remote Assistance as Novice (User) in Solicited RA mode and presents the user with the choice of either sending a Remote Assistance ticket using a SMAPI-enabled e-mail application such as Windows Mail or by saving the invitation as a file. After this choice has been made, Windows Remote Assistance opens on the User’s computer in the Waiting For Connect state.

/expert

Windows 7 Windows Vista

Starts Remote Assistance in the Helper mode and presents the choice of either specifying the location of a Remote Assistance ticket to open or specifying the User’s computer name or address (Offer RA). The computer name can be either a host name (if the User is on the local subnet) or an FQDN (DNS name), and the address can be either an IPv4 address or an IPv6 address. Unsolicited Remote Assistance without an invitation requires preconfiguration of the remote computer being helped.

/offerRA computer

Windows 7 Windows Vista

Starts Remote Assistance as Helper in Unsolicited (Offer) RA mode and uses DCOM to remotely open Remote Assistance on the User’s computer and then connect to the User’s computer to initiate a Remote Assistance session. The User’s computer can be specified using either its computer name or address. The computer name can be either a host name (if the User is on the local subnet) or a FQDN (DNS name), and the address can be either an IPv4 address or an IPv6 address. This method is demonstrated in more detail in the section titled "Scenario 3: Offering Remote Assistance Using DCOM" later in this chapter.

/email password

Windows 7 Windows Vista

Starts Remote Assistance as Novice (User) in Solicited RA mode and creates a password-protected RA ticket that is attached to a new Remote Assistance invitation message opened by the default SMAPI-enabled e-mail client (which by default is Windows Mail). The password must be six characters or more and must be relayed separately to the Helper. The e-mail client application launches a window with the invitation file attached. The User must enter the e-mail address of the Helper in the To field to send the message to the Helper.

/saveasfile path password

Windows 7 Windows Vista

Starts Remote Assistance as Novice (User) in Solicited RA mode and creates a password-protected Remote Assistance ticket that is saved at the path specified. The path can be either a local folder or network share, and the User must have appropriate permissions on the destination folder to create the file. The path must include a file name for the ticket. (The .MsRcIncident file extension will be automatically added to the file name.) The password must be six characters or more. Use of this method is demonstrated in more detail in the section titled "Scenario 2: Soliciting Remote Assistance by Creating Remote Assistance Tickets and Saving Them on Monitored Network Shares" later in this chapter.

/openfile path password

Windows 7 Windows Vista

Starts Remote Assistance as Expert (Helper) in Solicited RA mode and opens a previously created Remote Assistance ticket that was saved within the path specified. The path may be either a local folder or network share, and the Helper must have appropriate permissions on the destination folder to open the file. The path must include the file name of a valid ticket that has the .MsRcIncident file extension. The password must be the same password that was used by the User to secure the ticket when it was created.

/geteasyhelp

Windows 7 only

Starts Remote Assistance as Novice (User) in Solicited RA mode and with the Easy Connect option already selected. After the Remote Assistance invitation has been posted to the PNRP cloud, the User is presented with a 12-character password that she must communicate OOB to the Expert (Helper), which the Helper can then use to accept the invitation and initiate the Remote Assistance session.

/offereasyhelp address

Windows 7 only

Starts Remote Assistance as Expert (Helper) in Offer RA mode and with the Easy Connect option already selected. The Helper is presented with a dialog box for entering the 12-character password that was communicated OOB to him by the Novice (User), which is needed by the Helper to accept the invitation and initiate the Remote Assistance session.

/getcontacthelp address

Windows 7 only

Starts Remote Assistance as Novice (User) in Solicited RA mode with the Easy Connect option already selected and with the Remote Assistance history contact specified by address already selected. You can find address for a contact in your Remote Assistance history by opening the RAContacthistory.xml file located in the \Users\Username\Appdata\Local folder on your computer. The format for address is a 40-character hexadecimal string with .RAContact appended to it.

/offercontacthelp address

Windows 7 only

Starts Remote Assistance as Expert (Helper) in Offer RA mode with the Easy Connect option already selected and with the Remote Assistance history contact specified by address already selected. You can find address for a contact in your Remote Assistance history by opening the RAContacthistory.xml file located in the \Users\Username\Appdata\Local folder on your computer. The format for address is a 40-character hexadecimal string with .RAContact appended to it.

Scenario 1: Soliciting Remote Assistance Using Easy Connect

In Windows 7, the simplest way for home users to request assistance from others is to use Easy Connect. (Easy Connect is not intended for enterprise environments because it requires global P2P connectivity to work.) In the following scenario, Tony Allen, a Novice user, requests help from Karen Berg, a friend who is an Expert user. Tony solicits Karen’s help for the first time by starting Remote Assistance on his computer and selecting Invite Someone You Trust To Help You followed by Use Easy Connect. At this point, Windows Remote Assistance displays a password, as shown in Figure 22-5.

Figure 22-5

Figure 22-5 Tony’s computer displays the password needed for Karen to connect using Remote Assistance.

Tony telephones Karen, indicates that he wants her to help him using Remote Assistance, and gives her the password. Karen now starts Remote Assistance on her own computer and selects Help Someone Who Has Invited You. Windows Remote Assistance opens and displays the dialog box shown in Figure 22-6.

Figure 22-6

Figure 22-6 Karen needs Tony’s password to connect to his computer using Remote Assistance.

Karen enters the password Tony has given her and clicks Enter. Karen’s computer searches the PNRP cloud for Tony’s Remote Assistance invitation and displays Attempting To Connect in the Remote Assistance status bar. When the invitation has been found, the status bar message changes to Waiting For Acceptance. At this point, a dialog box will appear on Tony’s computer asking if he would like to allow Karen to connect to his computer and view his desktop (shown in Figure 22-7). Tony has two minutes to respond to this dialog box before the offer times out and the dialog box disappears, which will cause a message saying “The person you are trying to help isn’t responding” to appear on Karen’s computer.

Figure 22-7

Figure 22-7 Tony must allow the Remote Assistance connection to occur.

Tony clicks Yes and the Remote Assistance session begins. At this point, the desktop properties of Tony’s desktop may change (based on configurable settings) to optimize the network bandwidth used by Remote Assistance for screen updates on Karen’s computer. Karen can now request control from Tony, send files to Tony or receive files from him, chat with Tony, or disconnect the session. Tony can send and receive files, chat, or pause or disconnect the session.

If Tony needs help again from Karen on some future occasion, the steps involved are simpler. Tony starts Remote Assistance and selects Invite Someone You Trust To Help You. Remote Assistance displays the history list of recent contacts Tony has used before as Helpers, as shown in Figure 22-8.

Figure 22-8

Figure 22-8 Karen is listed as a contact in Tony’s history list.

Tony clicks Karen’s contact info in his history list. This time, instead of a password being displayed, a message appears, indicating that Tony should tell Karen he needs her help (shown in Figure 22-9).

Figure 22-9

Figure 22-9 No password is needed on subsequent requests for help that use Easy Connect.

Tony telephones Karen and asks her to start Remote Assistance on her computer. Karen does this and selects Who Do You Want To Help (shown in Figure 22-10).

Figure 22-10

Figure 22-10 Tony is listed as a contact in Karen’s history list.

Karen clicks Tony’s contact info in her history list. Karen’s computer searches the PNRP cloud for Tony’s Remote Assistance invitation and displays Waiting For Acceptance in the Remote Assistance status bar when the invitation is found. Tony then clicks Yes, and the new Remote Assistance session begins.

You can also use the new command-line switches for Msra.exe in Windows 7 to simplify the Easy Connect experience even further. For example, if Tony frequently needs help from Karen, Karen (the Expert user) could create a shortcut on Tony’s desktop that executes the following command:

msra.exe /getcontacthelp address

Here, address is the value of the ADDRESS attribute in Karen’s Remote Assistance history contact information on Tony’s computer, which is stored as an XML element in the RAContacthistory.xml file located in the \Users\TALLEN\Appdata\Local folder on Tony’s computer. The contents of this file might look like the following:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<RAINVITATIONCOLL>
<RAINVITATIONITEM NAME="KBERG" COMPUTERNAME="KBERG-PC" AVATAR="Qk1QgA...[lots of
characters]..."
PUBLICKEY="BgIAAAC..."
ADDRESS="5823b8d7b47af2c1cd94f32535a79d8f0569e7d0.RAContact"
TYPE="1"
TIME="20090320170235.779000"/>
</RAINVITATIONCOLL>

Using this example, the shortcut Karen creates on Tony’s computer should execute the following command:

msra.exe /getcontacthelp 5823b8d7b47af2c1cd94f32535a79d8f0569e7d0.RAContact

Karen can then create a similar shortcut on her own computer using Tony’s Remote Assistance history contact information, which is stored as an XML element in the RAContacthistory.xml file located in the \Users\KBERG\Appdata\Local folder on Karen’s computer. After this is done, Tony can request assistance by simply double-clicking the shortcut on his desktop, and once he has informed Karen of this, Karen then double-clicks the corresponding shortcut on her own computer, and when Tony agrees to allow the connection, the session is started.

Scenario 2: Soliciting Remote Assistance by Creating Remote Assistance Tickets and Saving Them on Monitored Network Shares

Another way that you can use Remote Assistance in an enterprise environment is by having users create invitation files and save them on a network share that is monitored by Help Desk personnel. This way, when Help Desk determines that a new ticket has been uploaded to the share, a support person can call the user on the telephone to obtain the password for the ticket and then use the ticket to establish a Remote Assistance session with the user who needs help.

To make the procedure easier, administrators can first deploy a script on users’ desktops that uses command-line Remote Assistance (via Msra.exe) to create the invitation file and save it on the network share. For example, let’s say that users’ invitation files should be uploaded to \\FILESRV3.contoso.com\Support\IncomingTickets, a folder in the Support share on the file server named FILESRV3. The following script, named SubmitTicket.vbs, could be deployed on each user’s desktop to accomplish this task.

dim strPassword
dim strUser
dim strTicketName

strPassword = InputBox("Enter a password for your ticket")
Set WshShell = Wscript.CreateObject("Wscript.Shell")
strUser = WshShell.ExpandEnvironmentStrings("%username%")
strTicketName = strUser & "-" & Year(Now) & "-" & Month(Now) & "-" & Day(Now)  & _
   "-" & Hour(Now) & "-" & Minute(Now) & "-" & Second(Now)
strRA = "msra.exe /saveasfile \\FILESRV3\Support\IncomingTickets\" & _
   strTicketName & " " & strPassword
WshShell.Run strRA

When the user double-clicks this script to run it, an Input box appears asking the user to provide a password to be used to secure the invitation. After the user supplies a password, a new Remote Assistance ticket is created and saved in the target folder on the file server. The name of the ticket is unique and consists of the user’s name followed by the date and time, such as tallen-YYYY-MM-DD-HH-MM-SS.MsRcIncident. When the support person monitoring the share has obtained the ticket’s password using an OOB method such as a telephone call, the support person opens the ticket. After the user grants consent, the Remote Assistance connection is established.

To monitor the IncomingTickets folder in the network share, Help Desk personnel can use the file-screening capabilities of file servers running Windows Server 2008. To do this, perform the following steps to create a passive file screen that monitors the folder and sends an e-mail alert to a Help Desk alias whenever a new ticket is uploaded to the folder:

  1. Install or upgrade the File Server role on the Windows Server 2008 computer where the Support folder is located.

  2. Start the File Server Resource Manager console from Administrative Tools, right-click the root node, and select Configure Options.

  3. Specify the DNS name of the IP address of a Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) host that can be used to forward alert e-mails that are generated by the file screen you will create.

  4. Click OK to close File Server Resource Manager Options and expand the console tree to select File Screens under File Screening Management.

  5. In the Action pane, select the Create File Screen option.

  6. Click Browse to select the Incoming folder for the File Screen Path.

  7. Select the Define Custom File Screen Properties option and click Custom Properties.

  8. Choose the Passive Screening option so that uploaded tickets will only be monitored and not blocked by the screen.

  9. Click Create to create a new file group called RA Tickets, and click Add to add files of type *.MsRcIncident to the group.

    httpatomoreillycomsourcemspimages784353.png
  10. Click OK to return to the properties sheet for the new file screen and select the check box for the RA Tickets file group you just created.

    httpatomoreillycomsourcemspimages784355.png
  11. Click the E-mail tab and specify a support alias (such as support@contoso.com) that will be notified whenever a new ticket is uploaded to the folder. Configure a suitable subject and body for the message.

  12. Click Create to create the new file screen and then choose the option to save the screen without creating a template.

  13. Test the new file screen by opening a command prompt on a user’s computer and then typing msra.exe /saveasfile path password, where path is the UNC path to the Incoming folder within the Support share on the file server, and password is any password of six or more characters that you specify.

Scenario 3: Offering Remote Assistance Using DCOM

Before you can offer Remote Assistance to other users, your user account must be authorized as a Helper on the User’s computer. You should use Group Policy to do this in an enterprise environment. (See the section titled "Managing Remote Assistance Using Group Policy" later in this chapter for information on how to do this.)

After a support person (or group of individuals) has been configured as a Helper for all Windows 7 computers in a domain or organizational unit (OU), the support person can offer Remote Assistance to users of those computers when they need assistance. For this scenario, let’s say that Tony Allen (tallen@contoso.com) is a Windows 7 user who needs assistance with an issue on his computer. Tony telephones the Help Desk department, and the call is taken by Karen Berg (kberg@contoso.com), who asks Tony for the name or IP address of his computer. Tony provides Karen with his fully qualified computer name (TALLEN-PC.contoso.com) or IP address. Karen then offers assistance to Tony by starting Remote Assistance on her computer, selecting Help Someone Who Has Invited You, clicking Advanced Connection Option For Help Desk, and entering the name or IP address of Tony’s computer (shown in Figure 22-11).

Figure 22-11

Figure 22-11 Karen offers help to Tony using an unsolicited RA.

The experience is even easier if Karen needs to offer help to Tony again on some future occasion. Karen simply starts Remote Assistance on her computer, selects Help Someone Who Has Invited You, and clicks Advanced Connection Option For Help Desk, and the name or IP address of Tony’s computer is displayed in her Remote Assistance history list (shown in Figure 22-12).

Figure 22-12

Figure 22-12 The history list makes it easy to start Remote Assistance sessions with users that were helped before.

Karen then clicks Tony’s computer in her history list and clicks Next, and when Tony accepts the offer, the session begins.

Managing Remote Assistance Using Group Policy

In an enterprise environment, Remote Assistance can be managed using Group Policy. The policy settings for Remote Assistance are all machine settings and are found in the following policy location:

Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\System\Remote Assistance

When these policy settings are written to the registry on targeted computers, they are stored under the following registry key:

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\WindowsNT\Terminal Services

Remote Assistance policy settings are summarized in Table 22-4.

Table 22-4. Group Policy Settings for Remote Assistance

POLICY

DESCRIPTION

Solicited Remote Assistance

Enabling this policy allows users of targeted computers to use Solicited RA to request assistance using e-mail, file transfer, or IM. Disabling this policy prevents users from using Solicited RA. The default setting is Not Configured, which allows users to change their Remote Assistance settings using the Remote tab of the System item in Control Panel.

If the policy is Enabled, you can further configure whether Helpers can be prevented from sharing control of the User’s computer, the maximum ticket lifetime, and the method used for sending invitations by e-mail. (Windows 7 does not support the MAILTO method—select SMAPI instead if the targeted computers are running Windows 7.) Ticket lifetime applies only to Remote Assistance invitations sent by e-mail or file transfer. The default ticket lifetime when Group Policy is not being used is six hours.

If this policy is Enabled, you must also enable the Remote Assistance exception in Windows Firewall to allow Solicited RA to work.

In an unmanaged environment, this setting can also be configured using the Remote tab of the System CPL in Control Panel.

This policy is also supported on Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003.

Offer Remote Assistance

Enabling this policy allows designated Helpers to use Offer RA to offer assistance to users of targeted computers. Disabling this policy or leaving it Not Configured prevents Offer RA from being used to offer assistance to users of targeted computers.

If the policy is Enabled, you can further configure whether Helpers can view or control the Users’ computers, and you must specify a list of Helpers who are allowed to Offer RA to the users of the targeted computers. Helpers can be either users or groups and must be specified in the form domain_name\username or domain_name\groupname.

If this policy is Enabled, you must also enable the Remote Assistance exception in Windows Firewall to allow Offer RA to work. (In Windows 7, the Remote Assistance exception is open by default for the domain firewall profile.)

This policy is also supported on Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003. See the Explain tab of this policy setting for more details.

Allow Only Vista Or Later Connections

The default Windows 7 invitation file includes an XP-specific node for backward compatibility. This node is not encrypted and allows Windows XP computers to connect to the Windows 7 computer that created the ticket. Enabling this policy causes all Remote Assistance invitations generated by users of targeted computers to not include the XP node, thereby providing an additional level of security and privacy. Disabling this policy or leaving it Not Configured leaves information such as IP address and port number unencrypted in Remote Assistance invitations This policy setting applies only to Remote Assistance invitations sent using e-mail or file transfer and has no effect on using IM to solicit assistance or on using Offer RA to offer assistance.

In an unmanaged environment, this setting can also be configured by clicking Advanced from the Remote tab of the System Properties dialog box.

This policy is supported only on Windows Vista and later platforms.

Customize Warning Messages

Enabling this policy causes a specified warning to be displayed on targeted computers when a Helper wants to enter Screen Sharing state or Control Sharing state during a Remote Assistance session. Disabling this policy or leaving it Not Configured causes the default warning to be displayed in each instance.

If the policy is Enabled, you can further specify the warning message to be displayed in each instance.

This policy is supported only on Windows Vista and later platforms.

Turn On Session Logging

Enabling this policy causes Remote Assistance session activity to be logged on the targeted computers. For more information, see the section titled "Remote Assistance Logging" earlier in this chapter. Disabling this policy causes Remote Assistance auditing to be disabled on the targeted computers. The default setting is Not Configured, in which case Remote Assistance auditing is automatically turned on.

This policy is supported only on Windows Vista and later platforms.

Turn On Bandwidth Optimization

Enabling this policy causes the specified level of bandwidth optimization to be used to enhance the Remote Assistance experience over low-bandwidth network connections. Disabling this policy or leaving it Not Configured allows the system defaults to be used.

If the policy is Enabled, you must specify the level of bandwidth optimization you want to use from the following options:

  • No Optimization

  • No Full Window Drag

  • Turn Off Background

  • Full Optimization

If No Optimization is selected, the User’s computer will use the Windows Basic theme with full background, and during a shared control session, the Helper will be able to drag full windows across the User’s screen. Additional optimization turns off effects to allow a more responsive experience for the Helper.

This policy is supported only on Windows Vista and later platforms.

Configuring Remote Assistance in Unmanaged Environments

Users of unmanaged computers can enable and configure Remote Assistance using the Remote tab of the System CPL in Control Panel (shown in Figure 22-13). Enabling or disabling Remote Assistance and configuring its settings this way requires local administrator credentials on the computer, so a UAC prompt will appear when the user tries to do this.

Figure 22-13

Figure 22-13 Configuring Remote Assistance from the Remote tab of System in Control Panel

Note that settings changes made this way will affect all users on the system. Clicking Advanced lets you specify whether remote control of the computer will be allowed during a Remote Assistance session, what the maximum lifetime of a Remote Assistance invitation can be before it times out (the default is six hours), and whether invitations supported only by Remote Assistance in Windows Vista or later versions will be created (see Figure 22-14).

Figure 22-14

Figure 22-14 Advanced configuration settings for Remote Assistance

In managed environments, when the following Group Policy setting is Enabled, the Control Panel settings for configuring Remote Assistance become unavailable (appear dimmed):

Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\System\Remote Assistance\Solicited Remote Assistance

Additional Registry Settings for Configuring Remote Assistance

Additional behavior for Remote Assistance can be configured by modifying certain registry settings. Specifically, per-user registry settings for Remote Assistance are found under the following key:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Remote Assistance

These settings are changeable when in the Waiting To Connect mode or when in the connected mode from the Settings button.