You created an important presentation for the sales people at the satellite office in Boise or Brisbane, but in your rush to get to the airport you tripped over the dog and knocked the CD out of your briefcase. Now you’re in front of ten pairs of staring eyes waiting for the start of the meeting.
Or maybe you were at grandma’s house and wanted to show her pictures of the trip to Disneyland when the kids headed Mickey in the groin, but oops – they’re at home on your computer.
Has something like this happened to you? It doesn’t have to be this way with a few quick tips and tricks.
With the help of the Internet and a little preparation, you can have access to your data back home no matter where you go.
The Tools You Need
Here are a few tools that should help. The philosophy behind each one is slightly different. See which one suits you best.
GoToMyPC is a great program for beginners who want to access their computer while away from home (or the office). To use this service, all you do is sign up and download a little program onto the Windows computer you want to access, before you leave home, of course.
The computer it is installed on should be connected to a high-speed Internet connection like DSL or cable Internet and it should remain on while you are away. If you’d like to conserve energy, you can turn your monitor off.
On your trip, all you need to do to connect to your home PC is to find any computer with a web browser that is connected to the Internet. Surf to the GoToMyPC web site and log-on. Once you have established a connection, your PC’s desktop back home appears in the viewer window and you can use it as if you were sitting in front of it.
Accessing files is simple. Just go to the folder where you’ve saved the desired file, click on it, and it will open on the remote computer, perhaps in your word processor or spreadsheet program and you can work with it across the Internet. Even better, you can transfer a copy of any file from your home machine onto the remote computer where you are.
Communication between you and the PC back home is secure so no one can snoop on your data as it travels over the Internet.
Bottom Line: Simply the best of the bunch, GoToMyPC is easy to use and fully secure. It is a simple solution for beginners. The host program can only be used on a Windows PC, but you can access your computer from anywhere using Windows, Mac OS X or Linux.
Price: $19.95/month or $174.90/year, 30-day free trial period
Download: GoToMyPC Free 30 day trial
RealVNC Version 4.1.1
Although it’s built for remote computer repair, RealVNC is still a good choice for people who are on a budget.
The good news is the program is free. The bad news is it is not quite as polished and easy to use as paid services and the company that created it offers no tech support.
When you install the program, you are presented with a convoluted interface consisting of terms such as “client”Â and “server”Â with no explanation of what that means. That alone may be enough to scare off less advanced users. But all you really need to know is that the remote computer you want to get data off of should have VNC server running on it and the machine that will be accessing the data (the one where you are) should be running VNC client. After this initial setup, it helps to write down the IP address of the computer running VNC server. The easiest way to get it is to hover your mouse over the white VNC icon in your system tray (bottom right side of the screen). The IP address consists of four numbers from 0 to 255 separated by periods like this: 192.168.35.24. Once you have the IP address of the remote computer (the one running VNC server), simply connect to it by typing its IP address into the VNC client and click “Connect”Â.
When you access the remote computer (the one back home) you’ll see its desktop in a window, but it’s not pretty. It’s as if you are looking at an Impressionist painting of the screen – it’s all a little fuzzy.
The response time can be slow at times and finding what you need quickly is pretty much impossible. But for all of its faults, RealVNC does what it claims to do: it allows you to access your home computer from any other computer running RealVNC.
Bottom Line: RealVNC is a good solution for accessing data if you don’t care about a clean interface and slow response times. One more pitfall: It won’t allow you to copy any of the files on your home computer onto the computer where you are. But then again it is free.
Carbonite Carbonite, Inc.
Carbonite uses a slightly different approach to accessing data remotely. For the $5/month membership fee, you get unlimited storage space on the Carbonite server. You can access it from the web.
The idea is that you keep critical files on the Carbonite server so you can access them any time across the web from any computer. It’s a handy place to keep business documents, photos, music, and even bookmarks. To get started, simply upload the files to the Carbonite server before you leave town. When you need to see those files, just visit the Carbonite website, and log in with your Carbonite ID and password.
Carbonite can be frustrating at times. Your internet connection speed can impact how fast you can backup your data to their server.
Carbonite’s main advantage is that it is extremely fast when you want to download files. As soon as you log in, all of your files are sitting on your drive for quick access.
Bottom Line: Carbonite is a unique and useful web service for those looking to access files from anywhere. It has an easy-to-use interface and quick download times, so it is best suited for people who need their files quickly and from anywhere. It could easily be the best web based solution for remote file access.
Price: $5/month or $60/yr. Free 15 day trial period.
If web access is not available or you want you critical files in your pocket, you might consider using a USB key.
The USB key is like a small external hard drive. Simply plug it into one of your USB ports and watch as the computer recognizes it as a storage device. From there, simply copy and paste, or drag-and-drop your files onto the drive. Once done, the files are saved and you are free to remove it and put it in your pocket, purse or your luggage and head for the airport. Once you get to a remote computer, just pop the USB key in an unused USB port on the machine and access your files.
Unlike many other tools used to transport data, USB keys are operating system agnostic. The USB key will work on any operating system you throw at it, including Mac OS and Windows.
USB keys have limited capacity. Typical sizes are 1 or 2 GB ($60 to $80), but 4 GB keys are available ($120 to $150). It’s pricey but you are paying for portability here. Those who need lots of storage space should consider external USB hard drives, heavier and bulkier, but offering up to 300 GB of space for about $200.
If you think USB keys may be the best way to go, a variety of companies offer them in all shapes and sizes. Look at products from Lexar, Sandisk, Sony and Imation and Crucial. Because most USB keys are pretty much the same in terms of size and price, design quickly becomes the determining factor when making a purchase. Look for something that is not only practical for carrying around, but also has useful features such as a key ring fob.
Bottom line: USB keys are a great solution for those who don’t mind smaller capacity, and want the ease of having important data at the bottom of their pocket. Although it can get expensive – especially when you buy higher capacity drives – transporting data this way is very convenient.
Price: $20 for 128 MB to $150 for 4 GB
More info: Crucial.com, [link removed].com