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Most people have heard of remote access and wireless Internet, two terms that could be, but aren’t always, interchangeable. But from a practical standpoint, how do they apply to the common practitioner? That’s something we’ll discuss today, although it’s not a process that’s always as easy as the television commercial with the executive working in the park. Starting with the basics, remote access for the PC has existed for a long time. One of the first programs available that I can recall using was a DOS version of PC Anywhere. Using a modem-to-modem connection (probably no higher than 14,000 baud), one PC was able to connect to another, with the user on one end able to run any of the programs on the other machine. This worked well but was extremely slow. In many regards, not much has changed. If you are currently running Windows XP Professional, you can forego purchasing additional software and take advantage of a feature called Remote Desktop Access (which is not available on Windows XP Home). To set up Remote Desktop, go to Start> Control Panel> System, and click on the Remote tab. Toward the bottom you will see a check box that says, “Allow users to connect remotely to this computer.” Even if you are not running Windows XP Professional from your remote or home computer, you can download the software from your XP Pro CD. To do this, insert your Windows XP CD-ROM on the home PC. Don’t select the installation of Windows XP, but rather choose “Perform additional tasks,” then “Set up Remote Desktop Connection,” then follow the installation instructions. To connect from your machine at home to your work machine, go to Start> All Programs> Accessories> Communications, and click on Remote Desktop Connection. Then type in the IP address of your host (work) computer, and you should be able to connect. With the advent of the Windows 2003 Server, remote access has been greatly enhanced. If you are running 2003 Server at your office, the Virtual Private Networking, or VPN, is one of its finest features. Other, more involved solutions for larger firms, such as a Citrix MetaFrame Access Suite, allow users in different offices to work using the same data sources and programs, no matter where they are located. But our focus here is more on the solo practitioner or small firm, so I always prefer the simpler approach to the more involved, until a more complex solution is required. While the Windows XP Remote Desktop Access is a nice feature, I find it somewhat less fulfilling than advertised. If you’re running an operating system other than Windows XP Pro, or even if you do have XP Pro, I’ve always found PC Anywhere to be exceptionally easy to use and implement. Now in Version 11 ($199.95 from Symantec), it is still one of the best ways to remotely connect to a computer and take full control of it. As long as the program is loaded on both computers, you can use either an Internet connection (TCP/IP) or a modem-to-modem connection to control your work PC from a remote location. Security continues to be increased with PC Anywhere, and it now supports 13 different authentication methods. If you have a cable modem or DSL line at home and a similar connection in the office, using the TCP/IP connection between computers is almost as fast as being on the computer you are controlling. However, if you are using a dial-up connection, it is probably better to transfer files back and forth than to actually work in the program you have loaded on the remote PC. A similar concept can be found with Timbuktu Pro for Windows, ($159.95 from Netopia, $199.95 for multi-platform version), which has the added advantage of being able to connect a Mac and a PC together in a remote-control scenario. Taking this concept a bit further is GoToMyPC, which allows you to connect to your office PC from any PC in the world, as long as it is connected to the Internet. How this works is that you load the software onto the PC you wish to control. Then, if you’re at a remote location, simply log onto www.gotomypc.com, enter your account information, and a small footprint is placed on the machine you are using, which then allows you connect to your office or home machine. Unlike the other two products, GoToMyPC is subscription based, starting at $19.95 per month for one machine, with discounts available for annual enrollments and multiple PCs. This does away with having to have the remote-control software loaded on both machines. Another benefit of GoToMyPC is that it can also run on some handheld devices, to provide even greater flexibility. This is where the whole wireless revolution can really be exciting. Imagine taking one of the new micro PC’s that fit in your pocket with you on the road, replacing your laptop, cell phone and portable CD player with one tiny device. However, the bottom line is still your access to the Internet, and it varies depending upon where you are. By using a laptop or handheld machine with a wireless card and registering with a national access provider such as Verizon, you can get higher-speed Internet access for around $80 a month. Many airports offer high-speed wireless access points as well. Using a high-speed wireless provider and remote control software, you can access your office PC just about anywhere. But more remote locations may slow down your connection, until you’re back working at a speed as slow as dial-up service or even using your dial-up connection. The bottom line with remote access and wireless Internet is your connection speed. If it’s fast, so are you; if not, it’s just like 10 years ago. The other question you may also want to ask yourself: Do you really want to be able to work wherever you are? Brian R. Harris is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer. Harris can be contacted at [email protected].

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