LogMeIn Pro: Remote Access

LogMeIn Pro Many people are looking for an easy way to use their home or office computer remotely. I’m starting to push LogMeIn Pro as the best way for many people to set up their remote access.

Remote access to a computer at another location has obvious appeal for people leaving an office who would benefit from being able to get on the office computer after hours. Or perhaps you have a notebook computer and it would help to access the home computer to run Quicken or get an address. Most of the remote access choices allow you to use any computer for the connection – you can connect to the office as easily from an Internet cafe as from your home computer or notebook. We’ve come a long way from the days of PCAnywhere, which required installation of the program and elaborate configuration on each computer.

Businesses running Small Business Server have an elegant system for remote access to office computers. Bigger companies frequently have something set up for employees, and Microsoft is rapidly improving the remote access options in Windows Server 2008. This is addressed to the rest of you that don’t already have a remote option.

Typically, remote services install a bit of software on the computer to be controlled that sends out a little beacon to the servers running the remote service. The big servers can follow that beacon back to the computer at any time and start the software that sends pictures of the screen to computers at remote locations.

Microsoft’s new service Live Mesh includes built-in free support for remote connections to computers running the software. It works easily and smoothly but there’s a problem: it’s slow. All too often, screens paint agonizingly slowly and menus creep into place instead of popping. As near as I can tell, Mesh handles remote control by sending all the traffic through Microsoft’s central servers, which slows things down. Other programs use the beacon to make contact but then put your two computers directly in touch with each other, allowing the very-efficient remote desktop protocol to work quickly.

LogMeIn is one of the long-standing competitors in the world of remote services. The others (GoToMyPC, WebEx PCNow, even Dell [!]) are probably just fine – LogMeIn happens to be the one I’m most familiar with and I know it has a good reputation at all levels. (LogMeIn Rescue is the service that powers the remote support tool that my clients see so often.)

A subscription to LogMeIn Pro costs about ten dollars per month; a subscription allowing up to five computers to be controlled in a unified account currently costs twenty dollars per month, an introductory price that will go up after a year. You can try it free for thirty days. You can continue using a basic version of LogMeIn for free after thirty days but I think the extra features justify the Pro subscription fee for most people.

I’m not going to list all of the features in LogMeIn Pro but I want to mention a couple of the ones that make it stand apart.

  • The controls and menus are laid out beautifully. It’s more intuitive than many of the other programs. Live Mesh also has clear and concise controls but it doesn’t include many other important features and it suffers from a few glitches that need to be fixed.
  • The paid version of LogMeIn Pro supports remote printing, allowing you to sit at home and bring up a Quickbooks report on your office computer, then print it on your home printer. That’s always been hard to do and there are no guarantees of success but LogMeIn Pro does better than almost any other remote service. (Small Business Server 2003 supports remote printing but has always been difficult to configure, frequently failing on USB printers. SBS 2008 uses new remote printing technology and almost always works. Mesh and the free version of LogMeIn don’t have any support for remote printing.)
  • LogMeIn Pro handles file transfers between the two computers better than any of the others. You can either drag and drop files between the local and remote computers, or use a very easy file transfer display.
  • If your LogMeIn Pro subscription covers multiple computers, you can set up sub-accounts and let employees or family members access their own computers but not someone else’s.

There’s an extra bonus feature for file sharing in LogMeIn Pro that I’ll save for tomorrow. It might be worth the cost of admission by itself.