Ways to Access Your Files From Anywhere

Remote access, remote desktop, and file sharing solutions

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Having remote access to your computer or files from anywhere means you never have to worry again about forgetting an important file. You can travel lightly and also do business from just about anywhere you have an Internet connection. Here are several ways to access your files from the road ... and even remotely control or manage your computer from afar.

Use Remote Access or Remote Desktop Apps

One of the simplest ways to remotely access your computer is to use one of the many free or subscription-based programs that set up the connection for you.

These programs let you log into your home computer from a Web browser on the remote computer (e.g., a workstation at the office or cybercafe) -- or, in some cases, even from an app on a mobile device like a smartphone or the iPad -- and work on your home computer as if you were sitting in front of it. The most popular remote access programs include:

  • GoToMyPC: is a subscription-based service from Citrix starting at $19.95 per month for one computer (Mac or PC). GoToMyPC offers similar advanced features, like drag-and-drop file transfer, that the paid LogMeIn Pro version includes. There's a free trial, so you can compare GoToMyPC with the free version of LogMeIn to see which works better for you.
  • UltraVNC: is a free, very configurable program that uses VNC (Virtual Network Computing) technology for remote desktop sharing. It offers many advanced features like special graphics drivers, encryption plugins, and Windows authentication, but can be more complex to configure.

    Share Files with a NAS (Network Attached Storage) Device

    If you don't need to remotely control or manage your home computer and just want to be able to access shared files over the Internet, you can use a NAS device (a.k.a. NAS box) to do so. These storage devices are mini file servers that you connect to your home network, usually via Ethernet cable to your home router.

    They run about $200, but it may be a very useful investment; NAS devices are great for file sharing and backups for multiple computers, and they typically offer remote file access via FTP or even your Web browser, depending on the device. Popular NAS boxes that let you access your files remotely include: Buffalo Linkstation and Apple's Time Capsule.

    More: About's Guide to Wireless/Networking has a selection of entry-level NAS products for home users as well as an Introduction to NAS.

    Add an External Hard Drive to Your Home Router

    Another remote file sharing option would be to add an external hard drive to your existing (or a new) home router -- if your router has the capability to enable file sharing, that is. The Netgear WNDR3700 Router, for example, is a wireless dual-band (offers both 802.11b/g and 802.11n) router with a "ReadyShare" feature for sharing a USB storage device over the network and via FTP. The Linksys Dual-Band WRT600N is a similar router with network storage capabilities. Although using an external hard drive connected to your router will be slower than a dedicated NAS, this option may be less expensive if you already have an external drive to use and/or the router.

    Use Online Backup and Syncing Services

    For remotely accessing files from anywhere without having to set up any hardware, turn to cloud computing services, specifically online backup and file syncing Web apps. Online backup services provide automatic offsite (essential!) storage of your files and typically also allow you to download individual files from a Web browser or mobile app. Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan, and BackBlaze are a few online backup services to look at. As PC World points out, there are also additional options for low-cost backup, including using your Webmail or Web hosting service to store files online -- and these can also give you remote access to your files.

    Dedicated file syncing services and applications are specifically designed to always keep your most important documents with you or accessible wherever you go. Dropbox and SugarSync automatically mirror a folder or several folders on your computer to their online servers. It's like having a file server in the cloud; you can share files with others and, in some cases, even edit files in your browser and sync with mobile devices.

    More: Top 7 File Syncing Apps

    Set Up Your Own Home Server

    Finally, if you don't want to use a third-party solution and would rather set up your own VPN and server, both Apple Mac OS Server and Windows Home Server claim to make home or small business networking and remote access easy. (And of course there are many different Linux Server flavors; most of the NAS devices run on Linux.) This option is the most expensive and time-consuming to set up, but offers you the most control.

    More: See About's Wireless/Networking site for a collection of articles on How to Set Up a VPN