Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Remote access woes

I've been away from home on family business for the past few weeks, and it's been a useful learning experience as I discovered the benefits and pitfalls of remote access while trying to finish off a couple of writing projects. I had to use my Mum's creaking old XP PC, but at least she has reasonable broadband. I installed a wireless router for her too, which meant I could use my own netbook and iPad. That was a saga in itself - working out how to extract the Post Office user name and password from the basic little Zyxel router they provide (ended up having to use View Source in the router's admin page to see behind the obfuscating stars - many thanks to this helpful blog post).

I swear by Windows Home Server (the original version, not the awful new one), and for the most part getting access to my files was straightforward, although my crappy 1Mbps Virgin Media upstream speed slowed things down for big file downloads (I had to download an Office XP ISO, which took forever).

The remote control feature of WHS only worked occasionally for some inexplicable reason, and of course only in Internet Explorer. I tried lots of fiddling around with XP's remote desktop settings, but to no avail. It worked a bit better on my Windows 7 netbook. Luckily I didn't need remote control that much, but it was annoying. Returning home briefly I managed to install Logmein Free on my main PC, and it worked perfectly.

I didn't make much use of services like Dropbox, as I've fallen out of the habit - I used Foldershare for many years, until it was bought by Microsoft and became Live Sync after they'd stripped out all the good features. But I'd certainly use Dropbox if I had to regularly work away from home - keeping files in sync between PCs is always a pain, which is why I went down the WHS route in the first place.

At least now I know what works and what doesn't if I have to go away again - and top of the list would be a faster netbook. My three year-old original Acer Aspire One is starting to show its age, although it's still totally reliable and does the job. A 10- or 12in model would give me just that bit more screen space - lots of apps don't work well on the 1024x600 screen.

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