I just had a very positive experience with a service that offers an intriguing alternative to PCAnywhere.

PCAnywhere has traditionally been the only choice for controlling your computer from remote locations. It’s very good at what it does, but it has some shortcomings. It’s expensive; it requires software installed on the remote computer, as well as the host computer; and configuring it to make connections isn’t as easy as it should be. In particular, the procedure for making connections over the Internet is badly implemented – it really needs wizards at both ends to help normal people make sense of it. If there’s a firewall involved it approaches the impossible.

For Internet connections, PCAnywhere is also helpless if your host system doesn’t have a fixed IP address. Dialup connections don’t have fixed addresses, of course, but that also prevents you from using PCAnywhere across many DSL lines that use PPPOE connections (the hateful technology that connects and disconnects randomly, with changing IP addresses). I can’t use it with my satellite connection because the IP addresses are translated a couple of times before they get to my end.

A relatively new service offered by GoToMyPC.com responds to all those problems. Sign up from the web site, and download and install software on a host PC. Your host system then periodically checks in with the GoToMyPC servers, informing them that it’s waiting for a connection. The software on the host takes care of creating the tunnel with the GoToMyPC servers, eliminating any need for you to know anything about IP addresses.

Use an Internet browser from any remote computer and log on to the GoToMyPC.com web site. A very quick download installs a bit of software on the remote computer, and bang! your host computer’s screen appears in a window, with the same functionality as if you were using PCAnywhere – meaning, you’re in control of the host computer, just as if you were sitting in front of it.

Using it tonight was similar to using PCAnywhere – modest lags waiting for screen refreshes and responses to mouse clicks. But I was able to connect to a system that had defeated every effort to reach it with PCAnywhere.

Worth noting: GoToMyPC only works with a full-time Internet connection. If you want to dial into your system, or if your host system has a dialup connection to the Internet, GoToMyPC isn’t the answer.

And there’s a catch – it’s expensive. Instead of selling you a single piece of software, GoToMyPC is set up as a monthly service for a healthy subscription fee. A single computer runs $19.95/month (or about half that if you pay for a year at a time). That’s pretty hefty, but it’s one of those services that, if you need it, no price is too high. Check it out!

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