Remote access

There are times that I’d really like to access a given computer from a remote location.   Remote access is tremendously valuable, especially if you perform as the family helpdesk.  This is a technology has been available on the corporate level for many years, but many folks aren’t aware of similar offerings for the home and small office setting.

There are several methods for doing this, though many require that one be on the same LAN or a specific hole be punched into the firewall.    Also, both Windows and MacOS have remote access features, but they assume that they are running  on a secure LAN.

On tablets and phones, the issue is complicated by having to replicate mouse gestures without a mouse, which can be frustrating (e.g., right click and click-drag).

There are several remote solutions that address these problems.  In this post I’ll describe two.

Logmein Free — This is a free service that allows one to manage computer-to-computer and mobile device-to-computer remote access.  There is also a premium service that is reasonably priced and adds functionality like data transfers.  To get around the firewall and LAN issues, Logmein inserts their servers between the two computers, using an agent that resides on both.  The network connection is encrypted with SSL/256 AES technology (the same that’s used for on-line transactions). This effectively establishes a Virtual Private Network or VPN.   I love this service for computer-to-computer access and for my purposes, I can use the free service.  So, how do I use it?

  • I’m in one location and need to access an application on my home computer.  For example, I keep my home database on one machine in my home.  If I’m traveling, I use logmein to access the application and data.
  • I’m the helpdesk for others in my family.  With logmein, I can easily access their machines to help me work on the issue at hand.  I see their screen and can use my keyboard and mouse to run their computer.  They see exactly what I’m seeing and can use their keyboard and mouse also (which can lead to input wars :)).

I have a logmein app on my iPad which works OK, but I find that doing too much mouse input awkward.  However, in a pinch, it’s fine.  Overall, I like that it works on a variety of desktop/laptop operating systems and versions, as well as various devices.  I  love the price point.  Also, the security is sound.

Parallels Access – This is a really interesting new service/app from one of the companies that provide virtualization software for the Mac: Parallels.  Parallels Access is similar to logmein in that one runs an agent on the computer to permit control to be taken and they insert their servers between the computers and use encrypted communication paths to create a VPN.  What makes this different than logmein is that it allows you to run specific applications on your Mac or Windows machine easily controlling it via your iPad, using iPad-like gestures to replace the mouse.  It’s like running that desktop app on your iPad.  The gestures are very similar to normal iPad gestures and they have gestures for harder things like right-click and click-and-drag.

I see this app as being perfect for when you need to run a specific app from your desktop/laptop from your iOS device remotely.   For example, you run Quicken on your Windows 8 machine.  That’s were the database resides and you need to pay some bills or generate a report.  Now, you can run that from your iPad (even though the application itself is running on the Windows machine).

There are few drawbacks to Parallels Access. The cost is high at $80/year per machine remotely accessed.  I think for one or two machines, the ease-of-use might be worth it, but not for larger numbers.  The other is that device support is limited to iPads.  It’s not supported on Androids, Windows phones or iPhones for that matter.  For Macs, you must be running Lion or above.  For Windows, Windows 7 or 8.  By the way, Windows support currently is in beta.

It’s not a good solution for help desk use due to the per machine cost and it doesn’t let you control the whole machine.  It focuses on the individual apps (which it handles every well).  Also, the other user can’t interact with the machine being remoted.

Try both solutions (Parallels Access has a 14 day trial) and see how each works for your needs.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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