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TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE

COOL TOOLS WITH MICHAEL TAMBURO

Get Remote Control of Your Desktop

Today’s mobile workforce just can’t get enough of connectivity. Here’s how you can connect to your office PC from anywhere.

 

Internet connections are getting faster and faster. At the same time, the price of connectivity continues to fall. Access to the Internet via high-speed DSL or T1 is now commonplace, even among smaller firms. With the significant improvements of the past few years, mobile users can work much more efficiently. Best of all, with the right software and a fast connection speed, you can effectively control your office computer from remote places.

The Objective

Providing telecommuters and travelers with remote access to the office network is now practically a necessity for many businesses. For users that only need to get their e-mail, solutions such as wireless e-mail access through Blackberry and Palm PDAs work well. However, for power users who need to work with the information on their PCs, the ability to connect easily and reliably to their desktops is very important.

Many firms provide users with the ability to connect to the office via a VPN (Virtual Private Network), allowing users to access their business e-mail and to copy files to and from their remote computers and the office network. In most cases, though, users are still not granted access to their workplace desktops, which means they don’t get the ability to remotely control their office computers. Instead, they simply access the shared drives on the office network and move files back and forth.

Remote control of your desktop, in comparison, allows you to control your office computer from your remote computer. Imagine moving the mouse on your laptop and having your work PC respond. It’s like you’re sitting directly in front of the computer in your office.

The Obstacles

IT departments typically have policies that limit the ability to connect to the office network from the outside. Firewalls and various authentication schemes are often used to protect against unauthorized users. These protections can complicate the process of setting up remote desktop control. Make sure to talk with your IT department to confirm the remote solutions that will work within the framework of the firm’s network and security policies.

Setting up the remote computer that will be doing the connecting from outside the office can present obstacles involving installation and configuration of any needed software. IT departments often handle this task, so any solution that might make their job easier may help streamline the process.

Lastly, the connection speed can play a significant role in the success or failure of any remote control solution. Will users have a high-speed Internet connection, or will they use some sort of dial-up connection? With high-speed connections, remote users experience responses that are almost as fast as actually being in the office. Dial-up connections slower than 56K can be frustrating, and users might have to wait significant time periods for the desktop to respond to their remote keystrokes or mouse movements.

Remote Desktop Control Solutions

GoToMyPC and pcAnywhere are two popular solutions. Each has strengths that make it better suited to certain purposes, but both work well if set up properly.

pcAnywhere. Price: $165. One of the original remote control packages, Symantec’s software pcAnywhere has been around for years. It works with just about every connectivity protocol available. You can, for example, connect using TCP/IP, SPX, COM ports and NetBIOS, as well as over a modem. Because the particular locale and situation can dictate how a user needs to connect, pcAnywhere’s ability to connect using any of a variety of protocols can come in very handy.

However, the ability to connect via modem can also be viewed as a problem. When connecting over a modem, some network security safeguards might be bypassed. Consequently, there are times when you don’t want to give your users that connectivity option. If you are thinking about connecting over a modem, check with your network administrator first.

Most users will probably connect using TCP/IP, the protocol used to transmit information over the Internet. So let’s consider that method here. Your network administrator may have to make some minor changes on the firewall and on your workstation to ensure the connection works securely and properly. In addition, your administrator can make sure that your settings don’t conflict with those of other remote access users.

Remotely accessing your desktop using pcAnywhere is a fairly simple process. First, you connect to the Internet, via dial-up or high-speed access, depending on your location. Next, to access your office desktop, you start pcAnywhere and connect via a remote connection already set up on your computer. To set up the remote connection, you’ll need to know the visible IP address of your office network, and you may need to know some port numbers. (Your network administrator can help you gather the required information and set up the connection.) From that point on, you should be connected to your office desktop and have the ability to do everything on your office computer—just as if you were sitting at your own desk.

Here’s a summary of factors to consider with this product:

1. With pcAnywhere, the speed of the connection will significantly affect how quickly your office computer responds to your remote input. Slow connections (less than 28.8KB) may make the process unusable.

2. pcAnywhere incorporates the ability to transfer files to and from the remote computer.

3. Although the capability’s not often used, pcAnywhere allows users to print to a local printer connected directly to their remote computer.

4. Most network administrators are familiar with pcAnywhere, and you may already have it set up at your firm.

GoToMyPC. Price: $180 per year for a single PC. GoToMyPC, from Expertcity, is a relative newcomer in the market. It relies on the Internet for making the office desktop connection. So, the assumption is that you’ll be connecting from a location that has high-speed Internet access, such as a remote office, hotel or client location. You’ll want to check to make sure that your remote locations have such a capability. (I have, however, seen this product work satisfactorily at connection speeds somewhat slower than its recommended 56K.)

One of the biggest strengths of GoToMyPC is its ease of setup. Typically, network administrators don’t need to make any adjustments to existing firewall and security settings on the office network. That’s because GoToMyPC operates using ports that are typically already open on the firewall (i.e., the same ports that are used for Web site traffic). In addition, there is no need to install GoToMyPC on the remote computer—a great benefit that allows users to connect to their office desktops from any Internet-enabled computer. You can, for example, quickly and easily connect to your desktop by using a client’s computer without the need to install any software. You cannot do this with pcAnywhere.

To access your office desktop, you first connect to the Internet, just like with pcAnywhere. But then, all you need to do is to head to the GoToMyPC Web site and log in with your account. Once you have authenticated, you’ll be connected to your desktop.

Here’s a summary of factors to consider with this product:

1. The connection speed, as with pcAnywhere, will significantly affect how quickly your office computer responds to your remote input. Slow connections (less than 28.8KB) may make the process unusable.

2. GoToMyPC incorporates the ability to transfer files to and from the remote computer.

3. The program incorporates 128-bit encryption by default, as well as other advanced security measures that are appealing to network administrators.

4. GoToMyPC is very easy to set up for a single user or small firm. You don’t need to know a lot about networks, firewalls or security.

What’s Right for You?

The ability to remotely access and control your office desktop is increasingly necessary for busy legal professionals. Both pcAnywhere and GoToMyPC are effective solutions for secure remote access to your office desktop. For years, pcAnywhere has been the product of choice for many network administrators. On the other hand, GoToMyPC offers easy, secure setup without the need to install software on the remote computer—but recurring fees for each remote access computer might make it a more expensive solution.

Check with your network administrator before diving in to one of these remote access solutions. If you don’t have access to a network administrator or knowledgeable computer support person, GoToMyPC will be easier to use and operate over an Internet connection. If you need to connect via a dial-up phone line that connects directly to your office PC, then pcAnywhere is your solution.

Michael Tamburo (mtamburo@conexnet.com) isPresident of ConexNet Corporation, Inc., in Chicago. He specializes in the implementation of Microsoft-based hardware and software solutions.

LINKS

• pcAnywhere from Symantec: www.symantec.com
• GoToMyPC from Expertcity: www.expertcity.com