by Joe Shea
October 22, 2010
FREE LogMeIn REMOTE ACCESS CAN SAVE A BUNDLE
BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 22, 2010 -- For people who want to use a laptop to access their home or work PCs, or vice-versa, GoToMyPC has been pretty much the one ordinary consumer choice available for a very long time. It is offered at $9.99 a month, but used to cost twice or three times that after a 30-day free trial.
But at least since 2008, a free version with most of the same functionality has been offered by a Woburn, Mass., company called LogMeIn, which is not as well known. A New York Times article in the paper's online Technology section Friday hasn't exactly kept phones ringing off the hook, support personnel at LogMeIn say, but the technology now has a wider audience.
One reason is that Cisco's WebEx program and Citrix's GoToMeeting both charge $49 a month for the same technology that LogMeIn gives away free, according to the Times. A meeting app that lets up to 250 people join in at once, called "join.me," is also free, the Times said. A Pro version with schedulers, instant messaging, videoconferencing and other features is $29 a month.
My interest was in the free version, LogMeIn Free, which is basically for the person who wants to access their home computer when they're on the road with their laptop. I downloaded the 113MB LogMeIn file from their site in a few minutes and had little problem starting it once some email address issues were straightened out. The problem was that my AOL mailbox, when I used the laptop, would not allow me to open the LogMeIn verification code email on AOL, even after two reboots. Why? Who knows?
I finally went back to the PC, reset my email address with a Yahoo account, and then got the verification code with my laptop there. Once I'd done so, a quick and easy button let me change the email address back to my preferred address on both computers. The problem was all AOL's, or my laptop's - I never learned which. Anyway, I fixed it by myself.
When I called LogMeIn about the email address problem, a helpful support guy named Mike confirmed for me that both computers were set up for the AOL address. He also gave me some insights into the company's operation, while referring other questions to the LogMeIn marketing department.
Mike didn't have user stats for me, so I'm not sure how popular the program is; the Times article said that 95 percent of the downloads are of the free version. In any event, business has probably improved dramatically since the Cybertimes article.
There are some shortcomings in the LogMeIn Free version, and I haven't tried the non-meeting LogMeIn Pro product they offer. With LogMeIn Free, you can't print documents from a remote computer, such as when your laptop is online at Panera Bread or McDonald's, but they will print out wherever the primary computer is located when you use the laptop's Print command.
I don't carry one of those miniature printers, anyway, but if I needed a copy of something I'd just done remotely and was far from home, I'd email the pages to my AOL account and go find a FedEx to print it out on one of their machines (for just $0.20 a minute).
Of course, if you're using your laptop on the lanai while the PC prints in the home office - as I am doing now - that's not a problem.
You also can't hear noises you might rely upon, such as the squawking beep I hear when my FTP upload of this page completes on my FTP utility. Since that usually takes 4 minutes or more on my Bright House connection (which is supposed to be 10 times as fast as dialup, but is never more than twice as fast), the useful FTP beep may be something I'll miss. I usually start doing something else during the wait, and when I don't hear the squawk I often forget to finish the reload for a few minutes.
Despite that, when I use my LogMeIn from my laptop at Panera Bread - a really great provider, by the way - I am going to be using my home PC's 8 gigabytes of RAM, Windows 7 functionality and quad core processor, not my laptop's Windows XP and its 1 gigabyte of RAM and 1.18 gigabyte processor. Since it's so easy to connect, there's no need to suffer the much slower program speeds!
That matters a lot, for instance, if you're trying to edit a video on your laptop, and then open the same program via LogMeIn on the faster home PC. There will be a slight lag in broadband speed if there is a difference between the two and the faster machine is the main one. If the remote broadband provider at Panera is faster - and it is - then I will enjoy that speed.
Any features on your laptop that are not supported in LogMeIn, such as sounds on Skype via the LogMeIn access to the PC, can be used on your laptop simply by minimizing LogMeIn on your laptop and going to the laptop version of Skype, Mike said. I can also hear the normal sounds on my laptop's FTP when I minimize LogMeIn, without closing it. When I use the PC's Skype remotely on my laptop, I can hear very faint sounds when connected, and nothing when I used the FTP via LogMeIn, as Mike advised me.
I was a little bit irked by the formatting when I tried to edit this article on my laptop via LogMeIn. The problem is that the PC screen as displayed on my laptop is much smaller. So when I opened this article remotely and began to edit it, I found the small type hard to read; if you have better eyesight, it won't be an issue.
Then, when I thought I was maximizing the page with both the LogMeIn laptop maximize button and the PC WordPad document's maximize command, the page got smaller. That mistake - using the unblocked square, which indicates the page is fully open - was all mine, of course, and when I did correctly minimize the laptop program's typeface seemed slightly larger. I was unable to apply the IE 9.0 browser magnification system with LogMeIn, which would have been really helpful to me.
Also, when minimized, I couldn't see much of the page I was editing. For some reason, I also couldn't get the page to maximize again, nor could I click and drag the edges of the program to enlarge it. I eventually found a button that opens the full screen, though, and that helped.
My pUTTy shell pages, however, did not display well even when opened to the largest program setting. The type on the PC was a bright white, while via LogMeIn on the laptop, it was grey and hard to read. The cursor was black and pretty much invisible. Mike said LogMeIn Free won't work with Linux machines, but the shell program did accept my Unix commands.
When I saved the WordPad document (this article) on my laptop, it suddenly disappeared on both machines. However, the saved versions were still available to me when I tried to reopen them from each desktop. I'm not sure what they mean when they say you can't share files, since I did save the edited version of this from my laptop on the PC at the same time. I am unsure why a Save command closed both screens and opened a new page. Right now, though, the last saved version has disappeared, and I am having to re-edit what I thought was saved.
I also had a problem logging off LogMeIn, and had to shut down and restart my laptop to use its desktop again. It turned out the smallish Exit button was one of those things that drop down only when you hit the upper end of the page, where the toolbar appears as a very thin, silvery line that's hard to notice against the black page.
The PC and remote connections are one-way unless you load LogMeIn on both computers. I was told you are allowed to use the same email address for both the remote and the main machine, but that didn't seem to work. If it did, it would allow you to use your laptop's programs and files from the PC. I was also told you need the Pro version to share files between the two and get live phone support.
What "share files" means, if I understand it correctly, is that you cannot take a file on your laptop and paste it to your PC, or vice-versa, without the Pro version (you can zip and mail it, of course, without LogMeIn, and that's what I've just done). I remain confused about that, since I did change and save between files when I used my laptop connected to the PC. It's unclear if the saved versions disappeared after I shut down LogMeIn, or whether I might have lost them myself without the program's help, which I've been known to do!
When I called LogMeInFree back around 7:45PM to double-check on the file-sharing, no one answered; on my first call, they answered in less than a minute. I later learned support closes at 8PM, and my second call was later than that, so live help was no longer available.
It makes a huge difference to be able to use a faster, more powerful computer from the desktop your clunky old laptop, and anything that enables me to do it for free - as LogMeIn does - is a big help. And I suspect almost all of the problems I encountered are handled in the Pro version, which costs $69.95 (a free 30-day trial is offered, too).
An important note: unless disabled, the "Sleep" function on your main computer - the one you usually want to access - automatically kicks in after 120 minutes at most. The choice to disable it so that the machine never turns off is made in your control panel settings (in Windows 7 under Power Options).
If you're away on vacation, for instance, and want to connect via LogMeIn from your laptop or any remote machine, you can set the power function via the "Change plan settings" to "Never" for both the plugged-in display and "put the computer to sleep" choices via the drop-down menu to the right of those choices. One problem in leaving the main computer on while you're away for a long time is your electric bill, but I was told it would only be a matter of pennies.
LogMeIn is available in many languages, but when I chose Spanish by mistake I was unable to find a preferences button to use English instead (fortunately, I do read both). On a second visit to LogMeIn, though, I did find the Preferences button; the language selection button is under the Appearances tab, where I hadn't expected to find it.
An important caveat: When I went on a short vacation to my brother's place recently, I had to drive all night and never had a chance to log in to this paper to update the pages. When I did get a chance, I got a message upon login that my home PC had been inactive for 13 hours and therefore I couldn't access it with LogMeIn. I had never read about that proviso, and in fact had told the support folks at LogMeIn I was planning to go away and leave the machine on for several days. They never mentioned the need to log on within a certain time period.
As for the company's marketing model, the free version of LogMeIn - which never expires - carries no ads except an occasional prompt that asks you to try the Pro version, Mike said. Beyond that, as with The American Reporter, there are no pop-ups or other garbage to diminish the experience.
Update, Jan. 26, 2011 A LogMeIn support specialist offered to help check this story for errors and then never contacted us. What I have come to feel is that for all its promise, the company is so fixated on selling the LogMeIn Pro version that they have fatally neglected the free version. My guess is that, for most people, it will never work.