Holiday remote access toolkit

Today, it's exactly one month from Christmas.

In a few weeks' time, I'll be sitting at my in-laws' house, and I'll wish I had access to my home computer. Sure, my in-laws have a perfectly decent laptop. It's fine for surfing the web, and checking email. But here's the thing: their computer doesn't have any of my stuff on it. Wouldn't it be great if I could access all my music, photos, bookmarks, and other files from their computer?

So as Canada prepares for a holiday season full of visits to homes with foreign computers, I've put together a remote access toolkit, designed to help you get at all your stuff, no matter where you are.  If you can suggest other tools for holiday remote access, let me know in the comments.

Remote Desktop: LogMeIn Free

LogMeIn Free

Recent versions of Microsoft Windows and Apple's OSX operating system have remote desktop functions built-in. VNC is another (slightly geekier) option. In theory these are great, but in practice I've found that getting remote desktop to work reliably is a headache, full of port forwarding and firewalls.

Enter LogMeIn Free. It's a software program that works on Windows and Mac. Once it's installed, you can access your remote desktop from any computer with a web browser and an internet connection. The free version allows you to view your screen, open files, and do pretty much anything you ordinarily do when you're sitting in front of your computer. A paid version allows you to transfer files, hear audio, and print remotely. I've used LogMeIn Free for almost a year now, and I've never had a problem connecting to a remote computer through routers or firewalls or other internet obstacles.

Music and Photos: SimplifyMedia


Want to show off photos from your recent trip? Or maybe escape the non-stop Carpenters Christmas for a while? SimplifyMedia allows you to stream all of the music and photos from your home computer. Best of all, if you have friends who also use SimplifyMedia, you can stream their music libraries, too. Add on the iPhone and iPod touch application, and you have your own personal version of Spotify.

Bookmarks: Xmarks

Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) is a great app for synchronizing bookmarks (or "favorites" for you IE users) across multiple computers. It works with Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari for Mac. Aside from syncing, Xmarks also has a feature called Online Access, which saves a copy of your bookmarks at, so you can access them on the web wherever you are.

The green factor

SimplifyMedia and LogMeIn both require that your remote computer is powered up in order to work. Obviously, leaving your computer running 24/7 over the holidays isn't the greenest gift to the planet. So to reduce power consumption, I recommend looking into Wake-on-LAN or WOL.

Most modern computers can be set to wake up from sleep mode remotely, so they only need to be awake when you're using them. There are many small, free software programs you can use to wake your computer up remotely. Just type "WOL" and the name of your operating system into your favourite search engine. Note that WOL usually requires a wired internet connection (though some newer computers support Wake on Wireless LAN).

Also, be sure to test everything out before you actually skip town for the in-laws'. There's nothing worse than bragging about your remote access skills, then having them not work during your demo for Grandma.

What about you? How do you access your computer remotely? Share your techniques and software suggestions in the comments below!


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