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Technology Untangled: GoToMyPC for iPad or Android has some shortcomings

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technology-bourIt used to be that anytime I was planning to be away from the office for a while, including a summer vacation, my laptop computer came along. Some work could be done on the laptop, while other tasks required remote access to the main computer at the office using GoToMyPC. These days, lugging even a portable computer seems too onerous. The iPad continues to take over. Today’s article will look at lightening the travel load by using an iPad to remotely access your computers back at home and the office. This is accomplished with the mobile device versions of GoToMyPC.

The standard version of GoToMyPC has been a useful and successful product for many years. For as low as $9.99/month or $99.99/year you can set up an individual computer with the ability to be remotely accessed through the Internet. Subscription costs are based upon how many computers you want to access remotely, not upon how many different devices you want to use as remote access terminals. The standard concept has a person accessing their work computer from their home computer. With that setup, the effect is as if you are using a mouse and keyboard with really long extension cords connected back to the office.

With an iPad or Android tablet, there is no mouse or tactile keyboard, so things get a bit more difficult. Installation, however, is an easy process. Simply search the App Store or the Google Play Store and install GoToMyPC for free. Launch the app, type in your preconfigured user name and password for the host computer, and soon the screen of that host computer appears on your tablet. Surprisingly, the wait time for the host screen to appear on my iPad is noticeably shorter than the wait time on my PC.

The first thing that pops up on top of your tablet screen is a guide for using the virtual mouse as a substitute for your real mouse. Figuring out this virtual mouse took some study and practice, and I still can’t use it very smoothly. A small two-button mouse image floats over the host screen image, just below the image of the mouse pointer. You have to drag this little image around the screen and tap it just the right way to get it to do what you need. Unless you zoom in, it is hard to hit exactly what you are aiming at with the virtual mouse. This is to be expected when working with an iPad screen that is less than one-fourth the size of the LCD screen it is emulating. You can also call up a set of left-right, up-down arrow keys that I found a bit easier to use.

For typing, pressing three fingers on the surface of the iPad brings up the keyboard, which then blocks out half of the already undersized view of the host computer’s screen. I have never been a big fan of touch screen keyboards, and this one is a bit more difficult to use with the added extra lag time due to the remote connection. This is not to say that you can’t get some useful work done with it in a pinch.

Can you use this technology if you no longer use a PC, and work exclusively with Mac computers? Yes. Note that GoToMyPC also can be used through all your mobile devices to remotely access your Mac. Strangely, it is still called “GoToMyPC” even though there is no Windows PC involved. The company website explains that they wanted to stick with their trusted brand name and consider “PC” to be more about the “personal computer” rather than a specific operating system.

Just to test the limits of functionality, I tried accessing my work PC from my Android phone. While it is possible to access and operate your computer from your phone, it is not very practical; the 4-inch phone screen is simply too small. Sure, you can zoom in on any portion of the screen, but reading that cropped screen was clumsy as was operating the mouse within the abbreviated views.

Using your tablet to gain emergency access back to your main computer could prove beneficial on occasion. I have found it somewhat useful for situations like reviewing archival emails or retrieving documents from older case files. It has also been useful for providing real-time technical assistance for others who were simultaneously in front of the host computer in the office. But for regular everyday use, wrestling with an iPad in order to do much productive work on the host computer is a stretch.

In spite of the shortcomings of remote access, I do like having the ability to leave the laptop behind during summer travels. The iPad and the GoToMyPC option make it possible to travel light, yet still have a functional method for using your other computers if necessary.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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