App type: VPN, remote file access
Price: Free for non-commercial use
Download LogMeIn Hamachi
Last week, I selected LogMeIn Ignition for my first-ever mobile app pick. It was an obvious choice because I've been a loyal and satisfied customer of LogMeIn's paid Pro service for years. But a number of readers tipped me off to another LogMeIn product, this one free, which could answer a pressing need for Windows users. And it's a fantastic solution for remotely accessing the contents of PCs.
LogMeIn Hamachi is not a remote desktop solution, however, so you don't gain interactive access to the remote PC's desktop. Instead, you access the remote PC through network shares, as you would if you were connected to the same home network. The difference, of course, is that Hamachi enables this access when you're not connected to the home network. So you could, as I did, connect to a public Wi-Fi hot spot, on say a train, plane, or in an airport or coffee shop or whatever, and then access the shares on another PC (or your home server) just as if you were at home.
Well, not just as if you were home: Obviously, it's slower, the speed dependent on both the connection of your home Internet service and of the Wi-Fi (or 3G) network to which you are connected. But it works, and it works seamlessly, and that is a wonderful thing indeed. And I'm embarrassed to say this drew a smile from me, even though I've used VPNs before, for work-related purposes.
The question, of course, with whether the drag and drop access that Hamachi provides incurs a speed penalty when compared to other remote access solutions. For example, the feature I use most often with LogMeIn Pro is its File Manager, which provides an FTP (or, for Windows old-timers, File Manager) like experience for copying files from my home server (at home) to my laptop (when I'm on the road) or vice versa. LogMeIn's File Manager is simple and efficient. But it's also not free--LogMeIn Pro costs about $99 a year. So I was curious to see whether using Hamachi was as fast, since doing so would also save money.
To test this, I simulated the type of file transfers I typically make when travelling by collecting a set of files--photos and documents to upload, as well as some home server-based documents to download. Then I connected my laptop to the Internet using a 3G modem and disconnected Wi-Fi and used Hamachi to connect to the home server and make the transfers. Then I disabled Hamachi and used LogMeIn Pro's web-based File Manager to do the same.
The results are telling: The File Manager transfer was approximately three times faster, 16 minutes vs. a whopping 48.5 minutes for Hamachi. It wasn't even close. Now, this doesn't mean Hamachi isn't useful, indeed, I'm not even sure this single, simple test is particularly meaningful. So I'll use both next week on a trip to Las Vegas and see how they fare on faster, Wi-Fi-based connections. (The 3G connection in my house is particularly bad, as is all cell reception: I only got about 5-7 Kbps during the transfer, according to the Virgin Mobile utility.)
But here's the thing: Unlike LogMeIn Pro, Hamachi is free, and it does work. And it provides seamless, native access to remote shares, meaning that everything works the same no matter where you are or how you've gotten online. And it's possible that my test connection and document mix contributed to the poor showing: Part of my upload package was a number of very large JPEG photos, and this is the part that strained the poor little 3G modem the most.
Recommended, especially if what you're looking for is seamless access to remote file shares when you're on the go.