Related link: http://www.logmein.com
I remember reading about a competitor to GoToMyPC.com that was offering free accounts a while back. As someone who tends to work from home, sitting in front of my PC, ‘going to it’ on the few times I break from my daily routine was not a high priority. And of course VNC seemed to work pretty well if I prepared my port forwarding ahead of time.
But occasionally I do have to travel, and having to use my own or other machines on other people’s networks is a different story. You are faced with some challenging firewall-bypassing issues, and when you don’t have control over the hardware or security policies, remote access can be problematic.
On a recent business trip to NYC, I had an excuse to try out logmein’s solution to the remote access problem. After signing up for the service, I was able to logmein-enable my primary workstation and laptop. I commuted from my sister’s place to the work site, and while there I could easily dig up information on my laptop left behind at my sister’s (protected by her apple wireless router) , or on my home workstation in Cambridge protected by my linksys router. After leaving the client site, of course I could jump back on my on-site desktop (protected by the corporate firewall) just as easily. In each case, remote-control enabling the PC’s took minutes and never needed any firewall fiddling or assistance from central IT. To get to my home office lan, I had no firewall, tunnelling, port forwarding, or ssh key-signing issues to deal with necause their easy-to-install client and server takes care of all these issues for you.
So what does their solution look like? The logmein remote control client comes in three flavors : ActiveX, Java, and pure HTML. I generally use the ActiveX version, and it compares favorably to things like PCAnywhere and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop. I’ve been able to use the Java version on a Linspire desktop (in Mozilla ), but on my sister’s iBook it locked up Netscape, IE, and Safari equally well. While visiting said sister, I really needed to look up an address on my home PC. Since she only had iBooks available, I tried the pure HTML version of logmein. It works via server push and I’m not going to describe it fully because I think it has to be seen to believed. Take a look — it truly is a feat of UI design that something so simple could be useful. You could say the experience is comparable to playing chess by mail — it works, but not something you want to rely on)
The most amazing thing about Logmein is that they’re offering their basic remote control service free — you only have to pay them if you want to synch files across machines or do remote printing. The big difference between Logmein and GotoMyPC is that the latter costs $20/mo _for each pc_ in the scenario above. It is phenomenally expensive if you come in contact with a lot of PCs on an intermittent basis, as a consultant like me does, or any techie w/tech-support-needin’ relatives does.
So, given the zero cost, how can you really maximize the value of the Logmein giveaway?
Well, install it on a lot of machines, of course. I think for most techie users, the likely candidate for “lots of machines” are all those relatives of yours stuck running Windows, but with no idea how to run it securely. Extropolating from MS sales figures, that’s a few hundred million people I believe.
Personally, I’ve certainly installed it on a lot of friends and family machines to help me help them. Because it’s much easier to support someone using remote control, I’ve been able to not only help them with difficult problems, but I’ve also been able to delegate support so that family members can help one another.
Professionally, “lots of machines” for me has meant lots of virtual machines. If you read either of my blogs, you’ll know that I have trouble completing a post without saying something gung-ho about virtualization.
In this case, logmein + virtual machines is a really potent combination. I set up one or more VMWare VM’s for every client project I work on, for many reasons (mobility, sandboxing, painless configuration management). Occasionally I would poke holes in my firewall to let clients view works-in-progress or for team-mates to do QA using straight HTTP or VNC. But poking holes in your firewall is something I like to avoid, when possible.
By tunnelling your connections securely through another server and not requiring firewall port forwarding, logmein solves this problem handily, and adds an additional security benefit for the scenario when others need to access your machines. Logmein allows you to set up ’secondary users’, to whom you can delegate specific access rights to your machines. You can grant single-use access - disabling their account after one session, require a one-time key that logmein.com will email out, and enable, disable and delete accounts when they’re no longer needed. It’s both very flexible and easy to use.
With secondary users, I am now able to easily demo software for clients or have co-workers QA my work on the client-specific VM I built it on, separate from my own desktop and other potentially confidential files and applications.
On a small scale, I have a solution comparable in power and security to a Citrix server farm with negligible administrative overhead or connectivity/software costs. That’s pretty cool.
A minor down-side of logmein is that it currently only works to remote-control Windows 2000+ desktops (No 98/OSX/*nux). I remember reading an announcement or press release about extending support to linux desktops, but I believe the ship date has come and gone without mention. Anyway, since remote access to linux servers or desktops has never been a big issue, and being able to gain remote access from this other OS’s is supported, it hasn’t bothered me too much. I really love the service, and have rapidly grown to consider logmein indispensible.
Do you have any experience with logmein.com you could share?