There is little doubt that our society is becoming more mobile all the time. Telephones lines and Ethernet cables have given way to cellular phones and wireless Internet. Wireless access has become almost standard in coffeeshops and restaurants, and computers have become as portable as notepads and phones.
This trend also extends to the business sector. Nearly one out of every three workers has telecommuted within the last year, and twenty-three percent of employees report that they regularly work from home at least once a week. Increasing numbers of workers report that their workday begins during the commute, not when they set foot in the office.
All this mobility has also brought new problems to the workforce. It is common to take work home these days, and unfortunately it is just as common to leave that updated spreadsheet or new presentation on your home computer. If a spouse or roommate is at home to email work documents in an emergency, then there is little cause for concern. However, many people have recognized the need to access home or office computers remotely, and there are now many options available for remote pc access.
Windows Remote Desktop
The most obvious example is the built in Remote Desktop Connection that comes with Windows. It has the advantage of being automatically installed on any Windows machine so there is no need to purchase additional software, but it requires the client to know their exact IP address or to be on the same LAN or VPN.
The major disadvantage of WRD is that you must have an upgraded version of Windows to use it since it doesn’t come with Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Starter, or Windows 7 Home Premium. You must be using Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Enterprise, or Windows 7 Ultimate to use your machine as a host. Fortunately, there are several third party solutions that can work around this limitation for users with a more basic version.
One of the most popular options is GoToMyPC from Citrix software. GoToMyPC is a subscription service, with plans available for eighteen dollars a month or one hundred sixty dollars a year for a license for one computer. Additional licenses are slightly less expensive. There is also a 30-day free trial available to test-out the system before purchase.
Many options for remote pc access require considerable technical expertise to set IP addresses and modify network firewalls. GoToMyPC avoids these restrictions by utilizing a Web-based interface. All that is required is to install a small piece of self-installing software on the host machine (the machine you want to access remotely) and you access that computer from anywhere with a Web browser.
This also means that all connections for GoToMyPC are routed through a central service, which makes some people uncomfortable. Several of the other remote access options connect directly to the host machine without the interference of a third-party. If security is your major concern, you may want to consider a different option. File transfers between the host and client are also passed through the central server and are therefore considerably slower than with direct connection methods.
PC Anywhere was developed by Symantec, the same company who produces the popular Norton anti-virus software. It is one of the oldest remote access options and has the benefit of the Symantec support infrastructure for customer assistance. If you are interested in purchasing from a well-known brand name, PC Anywhere is a good choice.
Unlike other options such as GoToMyPC, PC Anywhere is a one-time software installation rather than a subscription service. While the $200.00 pricetag is somewhat high, it is a non-recurring fee and is therefore cheaper than subscription services in the long run. Unfortunately, there is no free trial available, so you have to fully purchase the software to test it out.
PC Anywhere has some tools that are better suited for business clients and large scale deployment than for the typical home user. For instance, there is a session logging feature that records all access instances. This is a good feature for corporate monitoring but hardly necessary for a single user. PC Anywhere also requires some technical know-how because it requires a direct connection between client and host. This means that computers behind a firewall must be specifically configured for use and any router must also be modified to allow forwarding. These adjustments are often beyond the ability of many home users.
LogMeIn is very similar to GoToMyPC with the exception that they offer a free version to basic users. It requires a small program to be installed on the host machine, but the host can be accessed by any Web browser on the client machine. File transfers between host and client are available only with LogMeIn Pro, which costs $13.00 a month or $70.00 for a year. The Pro version also allows for file syncing between computers, which is a handy feature if one is frequently modifying work files remotely. LogMeIn is frequently cited as one of the best available third-party options because of the free version. There is also a free application to access LogMeIn from iPhones or other digital phones. This is a good product to consider for beginners and basic users who don’t need a lot of the advanced features.
For those on a limited budget and a penchant for programming there are several options distributed under the Freeware licensing laws. The most prominent of these options is UltraVNC, which is open-source software that is regularly updated by a worldwide community of users and programmers.
Unlike LogMeIn or GoToMyPC, UltraVNC requires a client program to be installed on the client machine rather than just using a Web browser to control the host machine. UltraVNC is a direct connection option, so often there are some issues with connecting behind a firewall or router. However, a new update to UltraVNC allows a connection to be initialized by the host machine through a router, and the client machine can then remotely access through that connection. This is a very useful for troubleshooting or assistance applications, but obviously not very helpful for remotely accessing an unmanned machine.
Final Thoughts on PC Software Packages
Regardless of which software you choose, there are some basic requirements for all of these remote pc access options. In particular, all of the solutions require a broadband Internet connection on both machines. While many of the web-based clients will support dial-up connections, they are so slow that they are almost unusable. Even with a broadband connection video streaming is normally pretty jittery and video editing or multi-track audio editing is very difficult.
While some of the free options are appealing, the old adage about getting what you pay for is true for remote pc access software. The small cost for a monthly subscription may save many hours and frustration in lost work. Trial options and stripped-down basic services are a good start, but you may find that the reduced stress and hassle that comes with a supported third-party application makes the investment well worth it.