Remember when the promise of being able to ditch the office to work from home in your pajamas sounded like the best invention since Pop-Tarts? Alas, far from making our lives more tranquil, it seems that all too often advances in mobile technology have actually tethered us to the office. Now, wherever we go, the office is there--airports, coffee shops, hotel rooms, you name it. At least the technologies that connect you to your office have gotten easier to use and more secure, whether you're manning your office desktop from afar or collaborating on projects via the Web. For better or worse, it's as if you never left the office.
Best For: Operating Your Desktop from Afar
What it is: A Web-based service that lets you use your computer from miles away. Hop on a Web browser, type in your password, and you come about as close as possible to sitting in front of your office computer.
What's cool: Not only can you use programs and work on files housed on your office computer, but you can print those files to a local printer. Plus, you gain access to any of the drives connected to the computer. LogMeIn Pro and other programs like it, such as GoToMyPC, also pull double duty as remote presentation tools.
Drawbacks: The host PC must be running Windows, and the computer must be left on with a live connection to the Internet for the system to work.
Price: $12.95 per month per PC or $69.95 per year. Multiple license discounts are also available.
Best For: Stashing data on the Web
What it is: A password-protected online service that allows you to store and swap files on the Internet
What's cool: Xdrive, owned by AOL, is an easy way to back up important files--presentations, proposals, even your iTunes collection. And it's compatible with a wide range of operating systems. Simply log on through a Web browser to securely upload or download files. You can also grant colleagues access to certain files without giving away your password.
Drawbacks: It can be time consuming to upload and download your files every time you hit the road or want to work from home. Plus, like many other free AOL services, Xdrive has a Web interface that is wrapped in advertisements.
Price: Free for 5GB of storage; $9.95 per month for 50GB
Best For: Managing projects remotely
What it is: A Web-based collaboration tool that works like a souped-up, secure version of MySpace
What's cool: With Basecamp, team members on a project log on to a shared space on the Internet, where they can post files for the team's review, chat in a secure environment, and chalk off project milestones. Traveling employees can easily stay in the loop, review project files, and offer feedback to the rest of the team at headquarters.
Drawbacks: Besides letting you change a few colors, Basecamp won't handle much customization. It also requires an administrator to keep careful tabs on which projects certain employees are allowed to view, so the wrong people won't stumble onto a confidential project.
Price: Ranges from free to $149 per month. The latter gets you an unlimited number of projects, data encryption, and 50GB of file storage.
Best For: Carrying your desktop on an iPod
What it is: Software that allows you to copy your desktop--complete with applications and all of your settings--onto a removable hard drive such as an iPod or a USB stick. Just plug the device into any PC and--presto--you're suddenly staring at your office computer.
What's cool: You can leave your laptop behind. Plug the iPod or USB drive into a computer at an Internet café, for instance, and any work you complete stays on the portable device, not the computer. Your changes are still there when you plug the device back into your computer at the office.
Drawbacks: MojoPac runs exclusively on Windows XP, so Mac and Vista users are out of luck. Plus, you need a USB stick or iPod with enough free space. More than 2GB is recommended.
Best For: Maintaining high security
What it is: Hardware that blocks hackers and viruses while allowing employees to remotely log in to the company's network
What's cool: After your IT department installs this equipment, which includes a firewall, you can tunnel into your office's secure network over the Internet. There are two levels of authentication: a password and a randomly generated PIN. Once you're in, you can use your company's in-house applications and network files.
Drawback: WatchGuard's products are made for businesses with highly sensitive data. For other companies, it's overkill.
Price: $5,499 for the hardware and a one-year subscription to security services. Security services thereafter run about $830 per year for up to several hundred users.
Best For: Do-it-yourselfers
What it is: Free open-source software that lets you control another computer over the Internet
What's cool: This Unix-based software was created to help IT departments troubleshoot co-workers' computers without leaving their desks. But other employees could use it to control their office desktops from home. The only costs are additional servers, if necessary, and your investment in time. There are no pesky subscription fees.
Drawbacks: You get what you pay for. It's not a very secure system, and there is no technical support. Unless you have a wonklike appetite for keeping up with the latest security patches, you're bound to have headaches. If you experience problems, your only hope is to go online and ask for advice from fellow users.