Say you're on the road and you need to look at a file that's on your computer back at your office or house. Or say you're using a limited-storage device, like a smart phone, and you want access to a file that isn't on the device.
You might be able to get at the file if you have previously uploaded it to an online storage or photo-sharing service, or e-mailed it to yourself. But, in many cases, you're stuck.
Computer maker Dell aims to solve that problem with its new service called Dell Remote Access.
Despite the name, the service can be installed on any PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista. It makes its files remotely accessible – and transferable or shareable – as long as it has a broadband connection.
And some of the service's functions also work even if your remote device is one of Apple's Macintosh computers or iPhones, or a computer powered by the Linux operating system, like Dell's own Mini netbook.
For basic functionality – making the files on one Windows PC remotely accessible from other devices – Dell Remote Access is free. If you want to use its advanced functions, like the ability to remotely control the host PC or to access other devices on your home network, it costs $9.95 a month, or $99 a year.
You only need to install special software on the host PC whose files are to be remotely accessed. For basic file access, the remote devices require just a Web browser and a password to tap into the host computer. You can download the software, and get started with the service, at dellremoteaccess.com.
I tested Dell Remote Access for a few days and found that it works well, despite a few glitches and limitations. It's not revolutionary – many other services and software programs do what it does, to varying degrees and fees – but Dell Remote Access combines a wide variety of functions into a fairly simple package.
For my tests, I installed Dell Remote Access on my home Dell desktop, an XPS One model running Windows Vista. Next, I used the Remote Access software to select folders I wanted to make accessible.
I used a variety of remote devices to access this home Dell – a Sony Vaio laptop running Vista, a Mac laptop and an Apple iPhone.
In general, the tests went well. With the Sony laptop, and within Windows XP running on the Mac, I was able to view photos and slide shows and stream music and videos from the Dell. I opened Microsoft Office and PDF files remotely and transferred files to the remote machines. The only annoyance: Every time you want to remotely control the host machine, you must install a small utility. You also have to leave on your home computer.
Dell's system provides more limited functionality if your remote machine is a Mac using Apple's operating system, or a Linux machine or a mobile phone. But these limited functions did work pretty well on the Mac and the iPhone