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Updated: August 8, 2010 12:04 IST

The tech helper: Accessing your PC remotely

DPA
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There are now so many ways to access your main computer on the road that the difficulty lies in figuring out which one is right for you.
AP
There are now so many ways to access your main computer on the road that the difficulty lies in figuring out which one is right for you.

Going on the road with your data used to mean making lists of files and equipment that you couldn’t forget. No more. With the right setup and know-how, you can leave your main computer and all of its files at home, accessing it on the road from any internet-connected computer. In fact, there are now so many ways to access your main computer on the road that the difficulty lies in figuring out which one is right for you. Read on to find out.

Ques: I used a free trial of GoToMyPC to access my home computer from the road. I like the service, but I don’t use it enough to buy a subscription. Are there free alternatives out there?

Ans: GoToMyPC may be the most recognisable name in the remote control space, but it’s certainly not the only one. And yes, free alternatives do exist.

Representative of the free remote control alternatives is LogMeIn.com (https://secure.logmein.com). It’s also one of the easiest to use. Just sign up for an account with an e-mail address, allow the service to install a small host application on the computer you will be accessing from afar, and you’re ready to go. You’ll be able to access your main computer through any internet-connected computer by going to LogMeIn and typing in your user name and password. Your main computer will then be one button-click away. With LogMeIn, everything takes place within a web browser. You’ll see your remote computer’s desktop, just as you left it, and have access to all of its files and e-mail.

There are, however, always limitations with the free versions of third-party remote control solutions. With LogMeIn, one limitation is that you cannot transfer files from the remote machine to whichever one you’re using to access your main computer. You could get around that, however, by using your remote computer to e-mail files to whichever account you have access to. Another limitation is that the free version of LogMeIn will not “wake” your computer up if it’s asleep, so you’ll have to remember to disable any automatic power-down feature before you leave home.

Other popular, free remote control solutions include TeamViewer (http://www.teamviewer.com) and Yuuguu (http://www.yuuguu.com).

Research the limitations of the free versions of all of these products to see which one best suits your needs.

Ques: I would like to access my PC from the road, but I do not want to rely on a third party for access. Can you name some solutions?

Ans: Sure, there are plenty of remote control software programs that, once installed, establish a one-to-one connection that allows you to control your PC from another machine over the internet. These include Symantec’s pcAnywhere (http://www.symantec.com/norton/symantec-pcanywhere), RealVNC (http://www.realvnc.com), TightVNC (http://www.tightvnc.com), and UltraVNC (http://www.uvnc.com). VNC, by the way, stands for “virtual network computing.” However, if you’re running Windows computers at home, the best remote access solution that cuts out third parties is probably Windows Home Server (http://bit.ly/q85Fb). Designed primarily as a media streaming and automated backup solution for all of the computers in your home, Windows Home Server also allows you easy, web-based, remote access to all of the PCs in your house, with no limitations. You can of course transfer files, use the clipboard, and even hear sounds from your remote computers, if you wish.

The easiest way to get Windows Home Server is through the purchase of a pre-configured box such as the HP MediaSmart server (http://bit.ly/Y0fF). Or if you have an extra computer around the house, you can just buy the OEM version of Windows Home Server at an outlet such as Newegg.com and set it up yourself. With Windows Home Server, you can even stream audio and video stored on your server to whichever computer you might be running remotely. You’ll find directions on setting up remote access through Windows Home Server in the Getting Started Guide included with the product.

Ques: I run a Macintosh computer at home, but the computer I use on the road runs Windows. Will I be able to access my Mac remotely?

Ans: Yes. Most remote control solutions - including the free ones mentioned earlier - are platform-independent. The critical component is the software that’s installed on your host machine - the one you’ll be accessing from the road. If the remote control service provides host software that’s compatible with your Mac, then you’re good to go. All you’ll need is a web browser running on any machine to access your home computer.

Ques: My employer blocks GoToMyPC and other remote control solutions. Is there a way for me to work around that?

Ans: First you should find out why your work is blocking access to your home computer via remote access packages. Chances are good that it does so to protect non-public information from escaping its systems. If that’s the case, then it’s probably a good idea to follow the principle of the guideline and not circumvent the restriction, even if it is possible.

However, if accessing your home machine in principle is not disallowed, then a web-based solution such as the one offered by Windows Home Server will often work. The secure URL which you will use to access your home server will frequently not be blocked the way a publicly available remote control service will.

Have a tech question? Send it to jaydougherty.dpa@gmail.com.

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