Work over the Web

With summer here, more and more people are looking to take at least some of their work out of the office. But many companies frown upon taking the corporate desktop home. Here are three solutions to the remote access problem.

If you're like me, you've got what feels like 60 bazillion things going on at the same time. Trying to sync text documents, digital photos, and bookmarked Web pages (as well as applications and their settings) for when I travel or work from home can be like catching water with a sieve.

Thankfully, there's a wide range of remote access programs out there. Some are free, most cost money, and choosing the right one can be a bit of a pain, so we're going to bring the world of remote access a bit closer to home, just in time for the season. Today we're looking at LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and Radmin.

LogMeIn makes a serious bid with its offer of free use for multiple remote PCs. The program has a seamless interface with the remote computer that, unlike its competitors, runs in your Web browser. With Firefox, it requests to install a plug-in and then opens the emulator in a new window.

LogMeIn offers free use for one PC. (Credit: CNET Networks)

The control window gives you some standard options such as Ctrl-Alt-Del, which kills the connection, the option to log in as a different user while maintaining the connection, and changing the view and connection settings to suit your remote link. The 256-bit SSL encryption and dual passwords--one for the program and one for the remote PC's log in--are welcome and important protections.

There are three issues with LogMeIn that might give you pause. Tab junkies--like myself--beware: with 30 or 40 tabs opened, LogMeIn will take out your clock speed at the knees. The online interface for changing Preferences and other functions was a bit redundant and could have been better designed. The last hang-up is that file transferring is allowed only for paying customers. Still, a little creative thinking can get you around that problem.

The payment plans are fairly reasonable, if paying for software is something you don't mind. Free to use for one remote PC, with reasonable monthly plans if you need more--five computers for $20 per month or $200 per year--make the paid features worth considering.

Thanks to a strong advertising campaign, GoToMyPC is one of the most popular remote access apps around. With an automatic install and quick registration process, crossplatform functionality, handheld device and multiple monitor support, and AES 128-bit encryption, GoToMyPC offers a free 30-day trial to reel you in.

GoToMyPC\'s remote interface. (Credit: CNET Networks)

After that, you're looking at $20 per month for one PC, or $30 for two, with each additional an extra $15 per month and 25 percent discounts for yearly subscriptions. That's not cheap.

The app itself works well. We were able to control our home computer from the office and vice versa with no problems. You connect by going to the GoToMyPC Web site and logging in. A window then opens, bordered in Medusa-esque green, which emulates the screen of the remote PC. Programs on the remote all open within the green border, with some extra remote functions included in the border itself. You can restart the remote computer (and lose the connection), send and sync files, print, and adjust the remote window size, among other tasks. The biggest difference between LogMeIn and GoToMyPC seems to be the pricing plan.

Radmin offers a software-based solution to the remote access question. After downloading and installing the software package on both machines you'll be using, and creating a username and password, you run Radmin Server on the remote machine and note down the IP address. On your guest machine, you run Radmin Viewer, enter in the server's IP along with your nickname and password, and you're good to go.

Radmin\'s remote interface is fully compatible with Windows Vista. (Credit: CNET Networks)

As far as interfaces go, Radmin's will seem much more familiar to the casual user. The control window opens up with a row of easily identifiable icons controlling remote functions from file transfers and shutdown to view-only, multiple-monitor switching and voice and text chats. Also, Radmin was the only one of the three that didn't have problems handling Vista screen settings on my XP machine.

All transfers happened speedily, with no noticeable lag. The program functions behind a 256-bit AES encryption, and was easily the fastest of the bunch. If price is your big bug-a-boo, Radmin has a flat fee of $60. It doesn't provide the multicomputer or Web-only support that the other two do, but if you're constantly using the same two computers for your remote access needs and want more functionality than LogMeIn's free-for-one-PC deal, Radmin might be the way to go.

Do you have a favorite remote access program? Dislike one of the ones I've mentioned above? Tell me about it in the comments.