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The latest version of the document you need is on your office PC. The trouble is, you are on the road.
No problem. Internet-based remote access services make it easy to retrieve information stored on one computer, enabling you to work on it on another computer, a hand-held device or even a mobile phone.
In the past, remote access software was usually restricted to large companies with a dedicated IT department because it could be difficult to set up.
But internet-based services configure themselves automatically; they can be set up in minutes by people without any specialist IT knowledge and used in smaller companies which do not have their own IT staff.
All you need to do is download and install a small application on the computer that contains the information to be shared. It can then be accessed from other computers via the service’s website using a web browser, or from another computer running the downloaded application.
There are usually free versions of the services, as well as fuller-featured versions with subscription charges.
■If you are travelling or in a meeting and realise you need a document which you have left at your office, Avvenu (www.avvenu.com) is useful.
It allows you to connect to your computer via Avvenu’s website, browse the folders stored on it and download the files you need, from any computer, PDA or mobile phone with a web browser.
What is particularly clever is that Avvenu detects what type of device you are using and resizes the information it displays to suit your screen. Retrieving a file using a mobile phone is therefore surprisingly easy.
■For two or more colleagues working in frequently changing locations who need to collaborate and share documents, Hamachi (www.hamachi.cc) creates virtual local area networks over the internet.
A member of a Hamachi-based network simply logs in from anywhere in the world via Hamachi’s server, which connects their computer directly to all the other members of their network.
Documents and other files can be sent or retrieved from one computer to another over the Internet in an encrypted form, without any further involvement from Hamachi. No configuration is needed, and data is encrypted automatically.
■Web-based remote control services such as GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com), PCNow (www.pcnow.com) and LogMeIn (www.logmein.com) are more powerful because they allow you to use your work PC, including running all the programs on it, from another computer elsewhere.
This can be valuable if you are using a public computer while travelling, or if you are forced to work from home unexpectedly – perhaps due to a transport strike or bad weather – and need access to certain programs which you don’t have on your laptop or home PC.
■A different problem faced by those who shuttle work between their office computer and a PC at home – often using a USB memory stick or e-mail to transfer files between the two – is remembering which version of a particular document is the most up to date. Web-based service such as BeInSnyc (www.beinsync.com) and Microsoft’s FolderShare (www.foldershare.com) solve this by enabling users to create special folders on both computers.
Any file you put in one of these folders automatically appears on the corresponding folder in the other machine. More importantly, any changes you make to a file on one machine are also made to the same file on the other.
This means that you can work on a spreadsheet in your office, and continue working on it at home without having to remember to bring it with you. When you return to your office, the spreadsheet will be waiting for you with all the changes you have made.
As ever, the main drawback to all these systems is the potential security risks that they pose. Although all data is encrypted, anyone discovering or guessing your username, password and any access code would be able to browse and possibly download at least some of the information stored on your computer.
This is not as unlikely as it might sound: it’s not unusual for hackers to install keylogger programs on computers in internet cafes and business centres which record keyboard stokes and are used to capture usernames and passwords as they are typed in.
Unless you use “one time” passwords which change each time you log in – GoToMyPc, PCNow or LogMeIn offer this security feature – public computers should be avoided when using these services.