New services are freeing your files from the confines of a single computer by making it easy to grab and share documents, pictures, and other files straight from your PC. These new offerings give you ready access to your files--as long as your computer is on and connected to the Internet. And while they don't provide the full-fledged remote control of software like GoToMyPC, they also cost much less than such remote access apps.
We looked at three of these services. Avvenu--an easy, free, and functional offering--is a clear winner for general use: You can quickly browse or search for files, and set up shared files and folders. But EasyReach's more thorough security is likely better for sensitive data, and BeInSync's automatic synchronization could be very useful if you frequently work at home or need to set up a group project.
After installing Avvenu's free software on your PC, you can browse and access the files on that system by logging onto Avvenu's Web site from any other computer, Web-enabled phone, or PDA. Windows system folders or directories that you've specifically excluded are hidden, and if you've installed Google Desktop, you can also search for a particular file. In addition, you can share files or entire directories by e-mailing someone a Web link to that folder or file.
Avvenu gets high marks for its functionality and ease of use on both PCs and mobile devices. It could offer stronger security, though. Data transfers are encrypted, but if anyone gets your Avvenu user name and password, they can latch onto your files.
A newer service called EasyReach should appeal to business users and others for whom security is a priority. Its Web site acts as a portal to PCs you've configured with the EasyReach software, granting you access to your files via any Web-enabled phone, PDA, or BlackBerry. Once you are logged in to the site, you can search any of those computers for files, e-mail, or contacts over an encrypted connection. Separate logins for the Web site and each EasyReach-enabled PC grant an additional layer of protection. The service runs $8 a month for one computer and $2 a month for each additional machine. The company offers a free 30-day trial and a discount for an annual subscription.
When you find the file you want, you can e-mail it to someone from within the Web interface, instead of having them connect to your computer. Unfortunately, EasyReach isn't set up for file browsing, so you'll need to remember the name of the file you're looking for or a keyword within it.
BeInSync takes a different approach: For $7 a month or $60 a year, the software creates an encrypted peer-to-peer network that synchronizes files and directories among your computers, as well as those of up to ten other BeInSync users. The company offers a 30-day free trial and a limited free version.
Configuring the software can be rather complex, and BeInSync limits you to five synched folders. Once configured, the software works as advertised, with the contents of directories updating automatically whenever they're changed on any computer.
BeInSync's Web site also lets you log in and download files from your synched directories. The Web interface looks and acts just like the desktop app, but it's accessible only via Internet Explorer.
As more people accumulate more computers and more mobile data storage devices, it becomes all too easy to lose track of which files are where. If you're the type who always forgets that critical spreadsheet at home, these services could make your day.