I am writing these words on a Macintosh laptop while seated in a hotel room in San Luis Obispo, California. Earlier today, I needed to access a word processing document that was stored on my older Windows XP desktop computer back home, nearly 3,000 miles away. Luckily, that was easy to do.
While using the Mac, I opened a web browser, went to a specific address, typed in a few commands, and then was connected to my in-home Windows computer. In fact, everything that is displayed on the Windows XP system's monitor was also displayed on my Mac's screen 3,000 miles away. Everything I typed on the Mac's keyboard was entered into the XP's system, and every movement of the Mac's mouse was also sent to the XP system. It was as if I was seated in front of the distant Windows XP system and using it as normal, even though I was many miles away. The cost to do so was my favorite price: zero.
In this case, I was mixing operating systems. I used a local Macintosh to access a remote Windows XP system. I could have accessed a Linux system also. However, the process works equally well on similar operating systems: a Windows computer can access a Windows computer, as well as Mac or Linux. A Macintosh computer can access Macintosh computers as well as Windows or Linux. All of this is done in a safe and secure manner with all data being encrypted before being sent across the Internet.
I normally use remote access when traveling: I can sit at my Windows or Macintosh laptops in a hotel or at an airport gate and access any of my home computers as if I were at home: I can check e-mail, use my favorite genealogy program, use a word processor, copy files, or perform other functions on my home computer(s), just as if I were home. In short, I am using the home computer's power. The local system is used only for its keyboard, mouse, and video screen. All the programs I run are being executed on the system in my home. If I use a word processor and decide to print a document, the default action is to print on the printer at home. (I can change that default, however.)
Another frequent use of remote access is to troubleshoot problems on a distant computer. For instance, you might have a non-computer-literate relative who needs occasional computer assistance. Did you ever spend an hour or more on the phone, trying to talk to a non-technical person who was having difficulties installing a program or performing other computer tasks? That can be frustrating: “Click on the icon that looks like a giant W. No, the red one. OK, now look at the third line. What do you mean there is no third line on your screen? Are you playing that game again?”
With remote access, you can “take over” the other computer's keyboard, screen, and mouse and operate that computer as if you were seated beside the other person. The other person can watch what you are doing. If the two of you are talking via telephone, this is can be an excellent way of providing one-on-one instruction on how to perform some task. It is also great for troubleshooting problems.
You can install software, browse the web, read and write e-mail, operate other programs, and do most everything the other person can do. The only things you cannot do are insert a CD-ROM disk, place paper in the printer, plug in a cable, or anything else that requires physical access. You are limited to using the keyboard and the mouse.
This week I decided to describe several methods of remotely accessing other computers. I will focus on two specific methods: the one I used to use and the more sophisticated method that I use today. Both work well, and both are available free of charge.
The remainder of this article is for Plus Edition subscribers only.
If you have a Plus Edition user ID and password, you can read the article for a few weeks at no additional charge in this web site's Plus Edition blog at http://www.eogn.com/blogplus/2008/02/_access_your_home_computer_rem.html. (User ID and password are required).
If you do not remember your Plus Edition user ID or password, you can retrieve them at http://eogn.com/amember/member.php.
For more information about the Plus Edition of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, go to http://www.eogn.com/plus.