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Leave Your Laptop Behind!

Even though I have already selected the perfect computer bag for my laptop and other dashboarding gear, a new service is available that will actually enable me to leave all of that stuff behind the next time I go to a conference or on a trip. Expertcity, Inc., based in Santa Barbara, California, develops call center software applications that enable customer service technicians to remotely view customer PC screens and resolve consumer complaints. They also produce the "GoToMyPC" program, which allows anyone to access and use a PC from just about anywhere with an Internet connection.

Recently I had the opportunity to give the "GoToMyPC" software a trial run. The download program worked flawlessly, and within about fifteen minutes the program was installed and ready to go. As formatted by the program, the application boots automatically upon launch of the PC, but you can also set it to launch manually from the desktop. The program guidelines require that the host computer be a windows-based PC with an "always on" Internet connection. However, since most dashboarders rely on some version of dial-up connections, I successfully tested this program using dial-ups on both ends.

The remote computer can be PC-based, Linux, or Mac, as long as it can reach the Web. From the remote PC, I logged onto the GoToMyPC web site and entered my account and password information. After moving into a second level and entering a second password, the software connected to my laptop, which was three miles away. I chose to use the Universal Viewer, which does not require downloading any software onto the remote location's machine. Within seconds I was looking at my own desktop, even though I was physically nowhere near it.

While connected at the remote location, I was able to retrieve and respond to incoming e-mail messages, write a short article in Microsoft Word, view some photographic images, and run a number of programs from my PC's hard drive. Retrieval of some of the files was considerably slower than if I had had been accessing my laptop directly, but I was relying on dial-up connections at both ends with a through-put of around 22Kbps. The only problem I encountered, and it was nothing more than a minor irritation, occurred when I tried to load a "book-marked" Web page. This caused the remote PC's screen to go blank and froze the interface between the two computers.

For distance workers who might use this program to access mission-critical information from their office PCs, the program includes an utility that can lock the mouse and keyboard of the host computer and render the screen blank so that nobody can see what the remote worker is viewing just by looking at the monitor. I've been watching the NBC intrigue "24" this season, and my first thought was what a perfect application this would be for the show's characters, who are always in need of information from their PCs while they're in tight spots away from their offices. Using GoToMyPC, you can reach your PC's database and retrieve information from a hotel room, an airport, or an Internet kiosk.

Three levels of service are available, priced according to how many people are going to use the software. The cost for a single subscriber is $10-$20 per month, and the company provides a 30-day trial period. As much as I like RoadWired's MegaMedia bag, the thought that I won't have to lug my computer through another set of airport screenings is really putting a smile on my face! At the upcoming wireless show in Orlando, I plan to use GoToMyPC and a remote terminal to write my "Road Wirer" articles while my laptop sits on my desk nearly 3000 miles to the west.

This program appears to be a logical step towards eliminating the need for any kind of conventional PC--laptop or desktop. At some point in the near future, I envision a world where dashboarders will be able to access programs, data, images, and other information from any location whenever necessary at a reasonable speed and cost. Instead of merely viewing information housed on a remote computer, we will use terminals (remember the phrase "dumb boxes?") to retrieve and manipulate both data and programs stored on secure servers. Once again, I'm smiling.

Next week, I'll be taking a look at Audible.com's Otis, a new MP3 player that may give Books On Tape a serious run for its money.

Mark Sedenquist
February 11, 2002

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