A decade ago, products such as pcAnywhere provided a way for home and business users to access their PCs interactively over a network or the Internet. Today, pcAnywhere is still around, but with the rise of broadband Internet access and home firewall solutions, more and more remote PC applications and services are available. If you've ever needed to access your PC's data while on the road—whether on a vacation, a business trip, or even an afternoon away from the office—then such a solution is highly desirable. Although a plethora of remote PC access solutions are available, I'll highlight two excellent choices here: LogMeIn Pro, a Web-based service, and VNC, a traditional (and free) application-based solution.

LogMeIn Pro is my favorite remote access service. (The company also offers a free version called LogMeIn.) From its simple Web-based interface—which now works with Mozilla Firefox in addition to Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)—you can access a PC remotely from any Internet connection in the world. LogMeIn Pro provides several connection types. You can access a traditional Remote Desktop Connection-style interface, in which you access your PC through a window in your browser as if you're sitting right in front of it (albeit a bit more slowly). You can also perform file transfers to and from the PC to your local machine, letting you back up files from the road or access files that are at home. I use this functionality on virtually every trip I make. But you can also perform other useful tasks, such as remote printing, desktop sharing, and file synchronization. LogMeIn Pro uses 256-bit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption for security, and it's proven to be indispensable. It costs $12.95 per month or $69.95 per year for one PC, and you get lower rates for adding more PCs.

RealVNC's Virtual Network Computing (VNC) resembles the pcAnywhere of old but is available in three versions: Free, Personal ($30 per PC), and Enterprise Edition ($50). The free version lets you access a remote computer (the "server") from a local PC ("the viewer"), like the LogMeIn Pro remote-desktop interface. But the nice thing about VNC is that the two computers can be different types. For example, you might access a Windows desktop from your Linux-based notebook, or hit a UNIX server from a Mac. VNC doesn't offer some of the niceties that LogMeIn Pro does, but it's easy enough to use and check out. It seems to work best with server PCs that don't change IP addresses, which might make it unacceptable for use by certain broadband users.