The workday doesn't end at 5 p.m. anymore. Chances are, you take files home with you to work on using your home PC, and then you tote them back to your office the next morning. In the course of shuttling files back and forth, you've likely run into a particularly frustrating snag at least once — the file you need the most is the one you forgot to bring along.
Remote-access software can save the day. We looked at four services that promise to help you reach your PC's precious documents and programs, or share its functions with others, at any time.
Two services, GoToMyPC and LogMeIn Pro, offer similar benefits: For a monthly fee you can take remote control of a configured computer from just about anywhere. Symantec's pcAnywhere charges just one fee, and offers many IT-friendly features best suited to managing multiple machines in the same network. Finally, Microsoft's free SharedView application allows you to share views of your individual applications or your entire desktop with colleagues you invite, or even to permit other people to take control of your PC.
Symantec's pcAnywhere is typically the favorite of IT departments in larger businesses, and setting it up can take a little techie know-how. But its one-time cost, as compared to the recurring monthly fee charged for services like GoToMyPC and LogMeIn Pro, could make it an attractive option for smaller companies and for on-the-go professionals.
A single license runs $US200, and allows you to connect to one computer (the host) from another. (Both PCs must have the pcAnywhere software installed.) Symantec offers volume pricing and other licensing options for large installations, and thin clients that allow for remote-control connections without full administration options are available for Linux and Mac computers.
Once pcAnywhere is installed and set up, you can fire it up to connect to another computer. If that host is on the same network, it will be located in a 'Quick Connect' list.
If the host is not in the same network, you'll need to know its network name or IP address. In addition to a full remote-control session, where you can see and control a host's desktop as if you were at the PC, you can choose to transfer files or perform remote-management tasks such as file or Registry edits without starting a full remote-control session. Many of the available features, such as setting up remote-command queues, are particularly useful for help-desk or IT users.
When you connect to a host, you see a prompt for a user name and password, both of which you choose when you first set up the host. You can select an existing Windows log-in, but you can't have a blank password. Also, though you can configure a host to set up an encrypted session every time or to switch to encryption during remote control, encryption isn't enabled by default.
pcAnywhere could prove effective for people who want to remotely manage many PCs in the same network, and it's a definite option for large networks with their own IT staff. But it's probably not the best package for connecting to one or two PCs at home or at work across the Internet, as it requires you to open a connection through your home or company firewall directly to the host. Business networks with many pcAnywhere hosts can set up a gateway server (at additional cost) that can act as an intermediary.