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Programs connect to remote computers

There are times when you will need to connect to another computer. Let's say your friend who lives in Fargo, N.D., is experiencing a problem, and you foolishly think you can help him solve it. You should enlist the aid of someone who is far more competent than you to leap into the fray.

First, you will need to be able to gain remote access to his computer. There are several programs that will accomplish that task. LogMeIn has a free version that will connect to a remote computer. I use LogMeIn every day to connect to my home computer from my work computer. The free version has some limitations -- the lack of file transfer and remote printing, for example, so I use LogMeIn Pro, which costs $70 a year. GoToMyPC, perhaps the best-known remote PC program, has a 30-day free trial version. After that, it costs about $120 a year.

Team Viewer, which I've been testing, has a free version that you can use as long as you like. And I like it a lot.

Team Viewer, for Windows PCs, sets up a PC ID, which consists of a random series of numbers, and a random password, which changes every time the program is called up. On the computer you're using you need only call up the Team Viewer software (via a desktop icon), log yourself in with the remote computer's ID and password, and faster than you can say "free software," your Fargo friend's screen appears on your monitor. That done, you can go to his PC and perform your mischief, transfer files between the PCs and, in general, run his PC from yours. It's as simple as that.

With one limitation. The remote PC has to invite the other PC, and it has to know that PC's sign-on and password before it can connect. LogMeIn, however, needs only your remote computer's ID and password. There are no invitations, which makes LogMeIn a better bet if you need to gain access to another computer where no one is around.

Meanwhile, as you mess up your Fargo friend's PC, you can reboot his PC for him and reconnect immediately, blank his screen and even set up voice-over-Internet conference calls (5 cents a minute). Instant messaging is included, should you want your friend to assess your bumbling.

Team Viewer is free for noncommercial users (you're on the honor system here). Lifetime commercial versions start at $749. It can be downloaded from www.teamviewer.com.

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