Mark Sherman
Associated Press

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April 28, 2014
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Free software to access computer remotely?


I’ve been using LogMeIn’s free version to remotely access my computer when I’m on the road. All of sudden, the service is no longer free. Can you recommend another similar remote access service that is free?

Funny how that is: Companies offer a free service for a while, but then realize that they actually have to make money in order to survive. LogMeIn is such a service. Lots of people (including us) got used to using it for free, but at one point, they terminated their free options, and now require you to pay for an account in order to be able to access your home computer while you’re on the road. Of course, LogMeIn had other uses as well, including providing remote support (we both provide a lot of remote support — Ken continues to attempt to keep his father from getting inundated with online malware, using remote access software like LogMeIn from across the country).

Although we mourn the loss of LogMeIn’s free service, you have options. You could, of course, continue to use LogMeIn — it will just cost you a little. If your intent is to remotely access your own computer unattended and use LogMeIn, you don’t have any options besides giving them money. On the other hand, if you’re attempting to provide remote support, LogMeIn has a product called join.me (www.join.me) that offers a free level of service; it’s worth checking out.

If you’re technically astute, you can use the Remote Desktop feature in Windows (RDP), or VNC on the Mac. These products can be tricky to set up and use, but they’re definitely free.

Ken swears by a free service that he uses for helping his family out: TeamViewer (http://www.teamviewer.com). It’s free for personal use, but requires payment for business use. It’s a great tool, and provides for unattended access (so you can access your own computer remotely, if you’ve set up TeamViewer to allow this), and it’s simple for folks who need support to set up so you can remotely access their computers. If you’re using remote access for personal use, we strongly recommend TeamViewer as a simple-to-use alternative to LogMeIn.

You can also find many other free and paid remote access services. For example, you may hear radio ads for GoToMyPC, which is a fine service — it just doesn’t happen to be free. (The paid levels for GoToMyPC and LogMeIn seem to be comparable.) For personal use, however, check out TeamViewer. It’s simple to use, and it’s free.

Can I trust online reviews?

I often find myself trying to decide between a number of different products, and being a smart shopper, I do my online research. I find lots of reviews on Amazon.com and other retail sites, and wonder if I can really trust the reviews. How do I know that people aren’t paid to provide reviews? Where can I go to find unbiased opinions?

Funny you should ask about unbiased reviews. Ken recently heard a news story about Yelp (a site that provides reviews and information about businesses). It turns out that there are accusations that Yelp has been treating business that pay Yelp for advertising differently than those that don’t. There seems to be proof that Yelp removes negative reviews and promotes the best reviews to the top of the list of reviews for advertisers. For non-advertisers, Yelp seems to be removing positive reviews, and promoting negative reviews, as a means of “strong-arming” businesses into paying for advertising. If it’s true, it’s a horrible proof of the fact that you can’t believe anything you read online; if false, it simply reiterates the concept that you can’t believe what you read online (in other words, either way, it seems like you need to be skeptical about everything you read online).

So where can you turn? Are the reviews on Amazon unbiased? (We tend to take positive reviews with a grain of salt, figuring that reviewers got free stuff in trade for good reviews. Bad reviews on Amazon are slightly more informative, but not completely trustworthy either.) Probably not. Recently Doug uncovered a means of finding a self-moderated source of unbiased reviews. This won’t work for every product, but it turns out that many products receive their support via online forums. On these support forums, customers can post questions; other customers generally provide the answers to the questions. You would be amazed at how much information about the use of a product you’ll find on online support forums!

For example, imagine that you’re trying to decide whether to purchase a Samsung TV. Searching online, it’s nearly impossible to find reviews you can trust. On the other hand, check out the support forums here: http://forums.cnet.com/samsung-forum/. It might take some digging, but you’ll find all sorts of comments if you have the patience to read through the messages. For your own searches, look online for the product, plus the words “Support Forum.”

We have two other suggestions: First, many product manufacturers provide Twitter feeds that they use for support. You may find it useful to follow the Twitter feed of the manufacturer of the product you’re researching, to see what people are asking about it. In addition, Ken swears by the product review site http://www.thewirecutter.com. The folks who run the site do amazing research on consumer and electronics products. Most importantly, always treat any online reviews with some amount of skepticism. Do the research, and you’ll end up making more informed purchases.

Hear Doug and Ken’s tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21 a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to products at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own quesetions to questions@techtipguys.com.

“Flying over (the property) adds a whole other dimension. It’s powerful. And it was instrumental in getting the buyer to bite.”
Real estate agent Brian Tercero


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The Union Updated Apr 28, 2014 12:22AM Published Apr 28, 2014 12:22AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.