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GoToMyPC While I Sit 350 Miles Away

March 22, 2001|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

I'm writing this column in Microsoft Word from the Original Pantry Cafe near the Los Angeles Convention Center. There is nothing extraordinary about my using a notebook PC at a restaurant. What's unusual is that Word isn't running on my notebook here in Los Angeles but on my home PC in Palo Alto, 350 miles north.

I'm able to access my home machine because my notebook is connected to the Internet via a Ricochet wireless modem and my desktop machine is hooked up to my home DSL and running a piece of software called GoToMyPC ( that enables me to access the machine via the Web from any Windows machine anywhere in the world.

GoToMyPC works best with a high-speed connection. But it also works with a standard phone line. The faster the connection, the less sluggish the program feels. But even with a high-speed connection on both ends, the remote PC lags a bit. With a slower modem, the delays can be quite annoying. That it can be done at all, though, is very cool.

The service is free until May 1. Prices after that haven't been set, but the company is thinking about $10 to $20 a month. GoToMyPC is a service of Expertcity Inc., a privately held Santa Barbara company with backing from Sun, ZDNet, Bertelsmann Ventures and Wit SoundView Ventures.

While connected, users are literally in control of the PC. Anyone at home looking at my screen would see everything I'm typing. Just for fun, I launched an Internet browser on my home PC and played a RealAudio file. Sure enough, my son could hear it in the house. That, of course, has privacy implications. The company plans to offer an optional screen and keyboard-blocking feature in its next edition--due later this month--so someone looking at a home or office PC can't see what is being done from the remote computer.

I also have access to resources connected to my home PC including external drives, other computers on the home network and printers. I don't have a photo-editing program or any digital pictures on my laptop, but I was able to remotely run my home PC's copy of PhotoShop to edit some pictures.

I also was able to install programs on my home system and do some trouble-shooting. Users can configure the GoToMyPC software to run automatically when Windows starts so that the machine will be accessible as soon as it's turned on.

To install the software, go to the company's Web site and download a 1.4-megabyte setup program. When you first run it, you assign a password to access the machine. Then, when you're on the road, you go to the Web site, enter the password and wait a few seconds while the service connects. You will then see your home PC desktop within the browser on the machine you're sitting at. You can use it from a laptop or another PC at a library, cyber cafe or someone's home or office.

The program requires both PCs to be running Windows, but the company plans to develop versions for other operating systems. Eventually, said founder Klaus Schauser, users will be able to access their home or office PCs from wireless hand-held devices.

That would make the service even more useful. Such devices have very little storage and relatively slow processors, but they could be used to run software and access data residing on a PC.

My biggest concern about a program like this is the possibility that a hacker might use it to break into a PC. After all, with GoToMyPC running, the PC is a server, waiting to host an authorized visitor or an unauthorized one clever enough to break in.

To minimize the risk, users are given two levels of passwords--one to access the account and another to get into the machine itself. For further security, passwords must be at least eight characters and contain both letters and numbers. The company claims to have very robust encryption.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

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