Mobile workers are used to carrying laptops around, from the office to the client's site, to home, to the hotel and back. Sometimes the laptop is mainly used to check e-mails, while a much powerful desktop is available back in the office for other work. But what if users could tap this power, when needed, work from a remote location using these resources and be free of carrying heavy, bulky laptop bags?
Using a Pocket PC and a remote access software like GoToMyPC it's possible to do this. The Pocket PC can be used to access corporate or private e-mail, write small reports, and more. And when needed, the Pocket PC can also be used to access the computer back at work or home to perform some tasks that require more power or access to an internal network not accessible from the Internet. For example, an user receive an e-mail on her Pocket PC with a Microsoft Visio diagram attached. She can't open it on the handheld, but there's a way to connect to the office computer, start Microsoft Outlook, and open the Visio diagram attachment. In short, working on Visio from the Pocket PC. Or any other application running on the host computer, really.
How does it work? It's all quite simple, but very interesting. There are three account types: Personal, Professional or Corporate. Which account you need depends on the number of remote computers being accessed, how you want to control the access, etc.
Unlike other remote access solutions, GoToMyPC does not require firewall modifications. There are no incoming ports to be open. In summary users log into a website and download a small application that sits on the system tray of the computer to be remotely accessed. This application will then log into a GoToMyPC server and wait for incoming requests coming through this connection.
Through this application users can define some preferences, invite a friend to visit the host computer (with read only access), or disconnect the application altogether.
In terms of security, GoToMyPC uses a SSL log-in site, nested passwords, and end-to-end 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption and authentication. It implements two different authentication levels: simple passwords and One Time Passwords. The basic type of security requires users connecting to a host machine to enter the simple password to gain access to the computer. For enhanced security users can create One Time Passwords (OTP), that can be used only once, and only after the user entering the simple password first. Once used, the OTP is no longer valid. These OTP are generated from the program and users can print a sheet with these. If the sheet is lost, the user will generated more OTP. And the OTP are useless unless the person with the list knows the simple password .
This kind of security means that even if someone knows the password you're using, another barrier will be there to prevent unauthorised access. Remember that most users select passwords that are easily guessed (a common word, a loved one's name, a date). Having the OTP can make it very hard to access the computer.
A list of OTP generated
To access the host computer from a remote desktop or laptop, the user needs only to visit the gotomypc.com page, login and select from a list of machines available to that account. A small viewer is then downloaded and once it connects to the host, the user can proceed with authentication and use.
And how is it on the Pocket PC? Pretty much the same, really. Once the user has a connection (Wi-Fi, GPRS, CDMA), she opens the Pocket Internet Explorer and browse to the GoToMyPC website. The page will be formatted for handheld devices. Login and select from the list of available computers. A small (40kbytes) application is downloaded to the Pocket PC, and the connection starts. Once connected the user is prompted for the password (and OTP if enabled) and the system is ready to work!
Log into GoToMyPC
Select a computer from the list
Download the viewer
My desktop on the Pocket PC
Very impressive... I've tested GoToMyPC with a HP iPAQ 4150 via Wi-Fi. The speed was fantastic. I also tested this on an i-mate Pocket PC Phone Edition, over GPRS. Although slower, it is very usable. Perhaps a couple of seconds when updating a big portion of the screen, otherwise quite fast.
Initially the desktop is shown across the Pocket PC screen, in portrait mode. Using the menu I switched the image to landscape. The green bar on the side (top really, because I'm using landscape mode) gives us access to the menu, minimise, SIP, right-click. For example, to right-click an icon simply tap R and tap the icon. If you have to enter a text into a program, tap A and the Pocket PC SIP will show up. Enter the text as you would normally, and it will be sent to the host computer.
Of course we need to increase the text and image sizes. Using the menu option View we can define size, zoom %, and rotation (portrait or landscape). The menu Tools give us access to CTRL-ALT-DEL and Task Manager. To move the desktop around simply tap the corners of the screen and the image will move.
Changing desktop size on my Pocket PC
Much better size
A window open on the desktop
The service is available as a subscription. For individual users prices start from US$19.95/month for one PC, with a 25% discount for annual subscriptions. Depending on the number of host computers this price can change. For small or medium enterprises, the price can be as low as US$12.95 per PC, on an yearly plan. Of course these prices are current as of the date I'm writing this article and can change.
After using the service for a while I was hooked. I realised how much I can do on my computer while away. For example start a backup to an external hard drive, a virus scan or access my personal files whenever I need them. I'm actually getting used to having my desktop at home powered on during the day, while in the office. I can recommend this solution if you need this kind of access too .
Thanks to our fellow Microsoft MVP Bev Howard for arranging the demo account with Citrix.