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PeerSwitch steps into the online remote-control arena with a low-priced alternative to GoToMyPC. Unfortunately, it's not as sweet a deal. While the price is right--$100 annually, $80 less than GoToMyPC--there's too much that you just can't do or can't do easily. The PeerSwitch remote-control access is slow, and you are limited to Microsoft Outlook as your only e-mail client; you cannot run any other apps remotely with PeerSwitch. That said, PeerSwitch is a suitable substitute for GoToMyPC if you need remote access only to use Microsoft Outlook and to grab a few files from another PC. To start, download PeerSwitch from CNET's Download.com here or from the company's site. After you save the 440KB setup file on your hard drive, the rest of the code will install on your machine. Over a slow connection, the entire installation process can take 45 minutes or more; when we used a satellite link (with throughput similar to DSL), we downloaded and installed PeerSwitch in about 10 minutes.
Next, simply register your host machine by giving it a name, then create a username and password to access the PeerSwitch service. For one basic $100 annual fee, PeerSwitch will run on up to five remote computers. (You can try it free for 30 days.)
PeerSwitch doesn't really have an interface of its own; it tucks itself into Outlook 2000 or Outlook 2002 (we also successfully used it with the beta of Outlook 11.0). In fact, you spend most of your time in PeerSwitch inside Outlook--a boon to those who rely on this e-mail client, a bane to those who don't. But if you don't already have Outlook on your main computer, you can forget about using PeerSwitch altogether.
To access a PC running PeerSwitch remotely, you can also use Internet Explorer 5.5 or later. And while additional browsers aren't explicitly supported, we used Mozilla and Netscape Navigator without problems.
From a browser, you have the same functionality as you do within Outlook: you can download files from a PeerSwitch-enabled PC and access its Outlook content. Unfortunately, the browser interface is strictly bare-bones, with only lists to show you such things as the available files and the messages in your Inbox. The Browser Outlook access, for example, has a very non-Outlook look and feel. You can't send a message by clicking a name in the contact list; you must instead copy and paste it into the new message. Ouch!
PeerSwitch includes features typical of other remote-access and remote-control services, such as Expertcity's GoToMyPC, such as file access and limited remote command and control. But the big prize is PeerSwitch's ability to work within Outlook from afar. You can view and change appointments and tasks; view and edit contacts; and best of all, read, reply to, forward, and send new mail on the PeerSwitch-enabled PC itself. This all worked as advertised during our tests, although over a dial-up connection, requests to view an Inbox with nearly 100 messages repeatedly timed out. After deleting unread mail, we were able to make PeerSwitch work via a dial-up connection.
A couple of other caveats: First, the PeerSwitch-enabled PC must have an always-on connection via cable or DSL; it doesn't support modem-to-modem connections the way a full-fledged remote-control utility such as LapLink Gold 11.0 or Symantec's pcAnywhere 10.5 do. (If you don't have an always-on connection, you can get by with dial-up by setting a PeerSwitch option that automatically redials if the connection is lost.) Second, you must set Outlook to automatically send and retrieve mail.
PeerSwitch also lets you access your remote PC through a variety of smart phones and PDAs, including Palm-based organizers, BlackBerry devices, Pocket PCs, and some Nokia phones. GoToMyPC does not. And for group collaboration, PeerSwitch lets you create shared folders on your PC, then give access to other PeerSwitch users--another feature GoToMyPC can't match.
But PeerSwitch can't match GoToMyPC in several other areas. Although you can download files from the remote computer, there's no easy way to transfer files from the one you're sitting in front of. Your only option is to send a file as an e-mail attachment. Also, with PeerSwitch, you can't control other apps on a PC remotely through a Web browser as you can with GoToMyPC.
The PeerSwitch online FAQs don't go into enough detail. Fortunately, the help file, accessible from within Outlook when you're looking at a PeerSwitch shared folder, is much more thorough.
Live PeerSwitch support can be reached by e-mail (with a promise to get back to you within one business day) or by dialing a toll-free telephone number that's staffed weekdays only, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. When we called, we talked to a tech rep in just moments. After trading two more calls and an e-mail message, he was able to figure out why one of our computers couldn't complete the installation of PeerSwitch and resolved the problem.