by Paul Wootton

Dept.: Tech Lesson
Tech.: VNC software
Time: 15 minutes
** Cost:Free-$300
** Dabbler
| | | | | ** Master**

If you have a work and a home computer, chances are good that you’ve found yourself sitting in front of one, needing a file that you left on the other. With virtual network computing (VNC), you don’t have to sit there shuffling your mouse and making lame excuses. Install VNC software on your computer, and you’ll have full access back to your own desktop from any Web-connected PC (Mac users, try OSXvnc: free; Browse and copy files, and even run applications, just as though you were in front of that machine.

It’s possible to pull this off for free, using open-source software such as UltraVNC (, but setup is much more seamless with a commercial service. Either way, the computer you want to access must always be switched on and connected to the Internet via broadband. And don’t expect blistering performance, because there will always be a time lag between the two computers. But hey, even slow access is better than no access.

How to Get Your Stuff From Any Computer

For Geeks: TightVNC
Cost: Free
Speed: Fast
Highlight: Allows custom connection settings . . . with enough work
TightVNC: ( is the geek’s weapon of choice. If you have router- or PC-level firewall protection at home-and if you don’t, why not?-you will need to specifically allow access (find more information at You will also need to identify your IP address before you travel (try Once at your destination, download and install the software onto the computer, start the program up in viewer mode, and enter your IP address. You should see your home machine. Or you may spend several hours figuring out why you don’t. See full instructions at

For Road Warriors: MyWebEx PC

Cost: Free-$10 per month

Speed: Medium

Highlight: Connects to multiple machines

MyWebEx PC: ( is from the people behind, one of the world’s largest online conferencing systems. Simply register with an e-mail address and password and install the software on your home computer. To connect, load a small plug-in into your browser on the machine you’re at, log on to your account at, and select the computer you want to access. You can even set up various degrees of security to ensure that no one else can get at your computer by mistake. The free version lets you “tunnel” to a single machine; the Pro version offers control of up to 10 remote computers.

For the Rest of Us: Teamviewer

Cost Free-$300

Speed Fast

Highlight: Gets through firewalls and security without any help from you

TeamViewer: ( is perfect if you don’t want to spend time fiddling with router and firewall access and only need to get at your computer now and then. Setup is a cinch-just install the program, run it, and make a note of your automatically generated account ID number. When you’re out traveling, visit the site again to download and install the small (500-kilobyte) program onto the computer you’re using. Plug in your home ID, and you’ll find yourself gazing at your own desktop. One caveat: The free version kicks you off when you’ve been connected for half an hour, and you have to wait five minutes to reconnect.