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Keep your files at home and access them from the road for free

The LogMeIn Free remote-access service lets you view and use your home or office PC in a browser window as if you were right in front of it.

We get so used to doing things a certain way, we sometimes miss new techniques that could save us time and trouble. My latest "d'oh!" moment was when I realized, after spending a couple of hours moving files from my office PC to an FTP server so I could sync them with my new laptop, that there's a better and faster way that doesn't cost a nickel: remote access.

A couple of years ago I edited a review of a half dozen remote-access services that link to a PC from any other Internet-connected machine. At the time, the services cost between $10 and $20 a month. Since that time, several companies have released free versions of their remote-access services, one of which is from LogMeIn (formerly 3am Labs). In the midst of my home PC-to-FTP server-to laptop two-step, I recalled the company's free file-transfer service, and I'm glad I did.

That's because when I returned to the site, I discovered that its LogMeIn Pro offering is now available in a free version that includes all of the features of that $13-a-month service during the 30-day trial period; when the trial ends you lose the ability to drag-and-drop files between the PCs, stream sound from the remote system, print remotely, and hold mini-conferences by inviting others to access your remote desktop, among other features.

Signing up for and installing the service takes all of about two minutes: you provide your e-mail address and a password (this is the one you'll use to sign into the service, so make it tough to guess), download and install the control file, follow the link in the confirmation e-mail, and log in. If you use Firefox, you'll be prompted to download a separate file that improves the view of the remote desktop in that browser.

Now you're ready to log into the PC from any other Internet-connected machine. Just browse to, log in, and select the remote PC from your list of connections to open the page showing all your connection options.

The LogMeIn remote-access control panel
The LogMeIn console shows all your remote-access options.
The LogMeIn remote-access service login screen
Logging into a remote PC via the LogMeIn service is as easy as entering your user name and account password.

From here you can begin a remote session by providing your login name and password for the remote machine, or open the Windows Explorer-like file manager for transferring files between the two systems. Other options on this page let you change your settings, or perform other actions. After you log in remotely, you'll see a toolbar at the top of the browser window, which provides easy access to screen settings for color and resolution, as well as connection options, volume adjustments, the magnifier and laser pointer, and other tools.

The LogMeIn toolbar
LogMeIn's browser toolbar provides one-click access to screen, connection, and other adjustments to the remote session.

Even though I don't think I'll need the mini-meeting, chat, and other features of the Pro version when my 30-day trial period expires, the drag-and-drop file transfers may be the feature that gets me to cough up $13 a month (or $70 for a year) for the Pro service. But I have 29 days to think about it.

Tomorrow: handwriting makes a comeback in Office 2007.