The use of hosted applications, also known as Software as a Service (or SaaS), continues to grow for many reasons. Hosting your data “in the cloud” rather than maintaining your own servers, not needing to update software, and having remote access to software applications are just a few. In theory, the more hosted apps you use, the less you must be attached to your desktop PC or even your laptop – you should be able to just log in to a certain application and work anywhere.
But in real life, many of us are still attached to our own computers – they’re sort of like our home base. Our settings, menus, bookmarks, font sizes everything is personal and there is definitely something to be said for the efficiency of a familiar setup. Working from another computer can feel like driving someone else’s car.
Enter remote desktop access programs like LogMeIn, PCAnywhere, PCNow, GoToMyPC, and LapLink , which can be an excellent tool to complement the way (and the places) you and your employees work. These tools allow users to access and control a computer remotely, as if you were sitting there live.
Being able to work remotely as if you’re sitting at your desk can be useful for traveling and telecommuting – these programs work via web browser, so you don’t need to have work software on your home computer or laptop.
These programs can also do double-duty as a one-on-one web conference solution for sharing presentations, doing demonstrations, or training.
Some providers including PCNow and PCAnywhere allow access from PC to Mac and Mac to PC.
While there are many support-specific programs that IT people use to provide remote support, having one of these programs installed on your PC can make it easy for a tech to access your desktop quickly and easily. This can be especially handy for very small businesses without IT departments.
If you’re working from home or a hotel on a report for your boss, you can print it right to your office printer.
As more people leave their laptops behind in favor of netbooks and smartphones, some providers like LogMeIn have been working with netbook vendors to offer preloaded remote access software. All of the computing power can be on the host (accessed) computer, so a lightweight, inexpensive netbook can be enough to get the job done.
While you won’t get the full benefits of logging on from a full-screened computer, many providers also support access from a mobile device, including LapLink, GoToMyPC and PCNow.
As with all tech tools, remote access won’t be the best choice for everyone. All of the solutions mentioned here have various built in security features, but some industries require specific security measures like VPN access. It’s also important to have company policies in place so that employees know in advance what the rules are when it comes to remote access of corporate equipment and systems. Much of security depends on the users as much as the tools.
Pricing varies according to plan, features and number of PCs, but here are some starting points: monthly ( $10.35/month for PCNow, $12.95/month for LogMeIn, $19.95/month for GoToMyPC), or one-time download ($199 .99 for PCAnywhere and $49.95/pc for LapLink). If you’d like to try before you buy, LogMeIn and TeamViewer offer free versions and PCNow offers a free one-month trial.
Choosing a solution
I personally use a combination of remote desktop and file syncing. To access files in my network (items that fall into the My Computer/My Documents category) I use SugarSync because I can either sync certain folders to automatically update between my laptop and PC, or I can just access files that have been backed up through my own SugarSync website, which mirrors my PC folders. So say I need to work on a Word document – I’ll just download it through SugarSync, edit, and save, and it will be saved back to my PC also.
If I need to work in Outlook for more than a few emails, I’ll log in to my desktop via LogMeIn. This way I have access to all of my sent items, folders (which include different filters, different email addresses, etc.), my calendar and contacts exactly as I do sitting at my desk. While most of this can be accomplished with the Blackberry, it’s just not as efficient for me. I’ll also use LogMeIn when I need to use a hosted application in combination with other files on my PC – for example if I need to upload images that are stored on my PC it’s easier to toggle back and forth if I’m already just logged in to the actual PC desktop.
Choosing a solution can be as personal as your desktop settings, but security, location, and functions are all important factors.
Laura Leites, Assistant Editor, Smallbiztechnology.com