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GoToMyPC
Laptop
Spotlight on Software
Your Data, Anywhere
April 1, 2003
By David Drucker
 
Remote Access
Staying connected to your e-mail and files on the go is a cinch with these handy services and software.
Over the years, road warriors have tried all sorts of ploys to ensure that nothing important gets left behind. No more. Now you don't even have to bother to carry even the smallest subnotebook. Instead, you can rely on the near certainty that a PC with Web access will be available at or near your destination. Once online, we're but a few clicks away from having remote control over the PCs humming away at home and in the office. All you need is a strong remote access application.
There are several ways to access a PC from a remote location. We took a look at the major players in the remote access arena. Our findings were almost uniformly positive, as each of the programs and services we looked at performed as advertised. Which solution is right for you will depend on the nature and scope of the connection that must be made.
GoToMyPC – Editor's Choice
We love the simplicity, and believe it's worth the extra cost. While GoToMyPC is the most expensive remote access solution we tested, it makes life easiest for its users and, in large-scale deployments, administrators, as well.
Many PC users would gladly give up 90 percent of a program's features if it meant that the core ten percent worked perfectly and didn't require a learning curve. This is especially true in the installation and setup phase. Because of both connection and security issues, remote access programs are among the worst offenders in this regard. For that reason, many users will find that the best solution for remote access doesn't involve software at all, but a Web-based service called GoToMyPC.
Offered as an alternative to dedicated software solutions, GoToMyPC requires only that the host PC have a dedicated Internet connection that can be left on all the time. The host currently requires Windows 95 or higher, although the company plans to add support for Mac, Linux, and Solaris host systems in future releases.
The company offers two types of service: GoToMyPC Personal, for individuals and small businesses that need remote access for up to 20 computers, and GoToMyPC Corporate, which is designed to allow a single administrator to set up and monitor remote access accounts for any number of employees. Both versions look and work almost identically, differing only in the availability of a few extra features in the Corporate version.
To get started with GoToMyPC, you visit the company's Web site and sign up either for an account or a 30-day trial. The process calls for you to select a password for logging on to the system. (Your login name defaults to your e-mail address.) The next step is to download the host software, run the installation routine, and create another password that's specific to the host PC. This second password is required to access more than one host PC from a single account. The passwords are shared between the user and the host computer only; they are never transmitted or stored on GoToMyPC's servers.
The GoToMyPC host software can be set to load with Windows and run in the background all the time. Other options are to load it manually as needed or have it run when a specific user logs onto Windows. In theory, the hardest parts of setting up a host computer for remote access are configuring the IP address or DNS name and configuring the firewall and network, if applicable, to allow the communication to go through. With GoToMyPC, none of that is necessary.
Rather than wait to receive a "Can I connect?" message from the client system that's trying to access it, the host pings the GoToMyPC server every 15 seconds. This eliminates the need to leave a port open. If you don't have a firewall, GoToMyPC doesn't increase the security risk. But if you do, GoToMyPC's operation is transparent, with both the host and client PC hidden from potential hackers.
Once this minimal amount of setup is complete, you can reach the host computer from any Java-enabled Web browser. You simply log on at the GoToMyPC Web site and then select the PC (if there's more than one on the account) you want to appear on the client's screen. The Viewer will then download, and the host's screen quickly appears within the viewer.
You can also create a desktop shortcut on frequently used client PCs, eliminating the need to go through the GoToMyPC Web site. The authentication process is the same, so security isn't compromised by this method. GoToMyPC protects the main data stream, file transfers, chat, and keyboard and mouse input using the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). If you're concerned about unauthorized local access to the unattended host PC, GoToMyPC can blank the host screen and lock the host keyboard and mouse.
If the host system's resolution is higher than the client's, the viewer will scale it down to fit. You can also select full-screen mode, actual size (which will require scrolling to view the entire screen), or any of several zoom levels.
Full access to the host computer is provided, but that's just the beginning of what GoToMyPC offers. If a printer is installed on the client system, you can print to if from the host. You can also cut or copy and paste data between applications in either direction, while more extensive data transfer chores are handled by a two-pane file-transfer system.
GoToMyPC offers a feature called Guest Invite, which is meant to be used while you're at a computer you'd normally access from a client system. Much like Windows XP's Remote Assistance, it can be used to invite someone else to view or control your computer. Guest Invite is an ideal way to make it possible for an expert to troubleshoot a problem with your system. GoToMyPC includes collaboration-friendly Chat and Draw functions as well.
The only significant drawback to GoToMyPC is its high price. A one-year personal subscription costs roughly what each of its standalone competitors sell for. Is it worth it? If all you want to do is connect to your office system from home to grab a few files, probably not. However, if you want just about any Net-connected computer to serve as a transparent window to your own system, GoToMyPC is the one for you.
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