Remote Wake on LAN via Router

When I talked about Wake on Lan (WoL) in a previous article, I also wrote on how it was possible to do it over the WAN. Although being able to magically wake your computer up from its slumber state while within the local network is pretty handy, it’s when you actually get to do it while outside of your LAN that makes the most sense. Previously, you’ve had to configure port forwarding in order for the “magic packet” to be able to reach the computer you intended to wake up. While port forwarding is very easy to set up, things get a bit weird though when that packet needs to reach a computer that is powered off. Many users have discovered that although they may have gotten it to work initially, the magic packet eventually fails to reach its destination and thus, the computer will be unable to wake up.

Due to me recently wanting to really get this to work, I decided to re-tackle the issue. Not surprisingly, the solution was right in my face but I decided to ignore it in that it was finally time to get a new router that was capable of performing WoL!

If you’re dead set on not wanting to throw any money into solving this issue, then please DO NOT read any further!

The Problem

This problem can largely be blamed on your router. In order for the router to send the magic packet, it needs to know the MAC address of the computer’s network card. The MAC address is the hardware address of the card and is different than the IP address of what you’re normally familiar with. One of the biggest differences is that in normal use cases, the MAC address does not ever change and is unique to each network card out there. Your router learns of the MAC address when the computer is powered on and communicating on the network. The MAC address is likely to be stored in the memory of the router. When you power down the computer, after a while, your home router will most likely erase this address from its memory. Therefore, while sending a magic packet over the Internet to the computer within the LAN via port forward may work initially due to the IP-to-MAC mapping in the router’s memory, it will later cease to work once the mapping is cleared from the router. And here is where so many users frustration stems from.

The reason why the magic packet works without the mapping if sent within your LAN is due to the packet being broadcasted out. All network cards will actually receive the packet and looks to see if they own that MAC address. If so, it will process it. If not, it discards it.

Things you have tried included but not limited to:

– Finding a way to create a static IP to MAC address mapping (this is different than a DHCP reservation based on a MAC address identifier)
– Upgrading the router firmware
– Finding a way to port forward the magic packet to the broadcast address of your LAN
– Reading up on flashing router to either DD-WRT or Tomato firmware

The Solution

I’ve tried all of the above but none of them worked. It also didn’t help that my router was not compatible with either DD-WRT nor Tomato. However, that got me thinking. If I’m going to purchase a new router to flash it with either firmware, would there already be a router out there that can natively perform WoL with its built-in firmware? I’m not into the wireless router game and so I have no idea how advanced they have become in the recent years. But I was confident nonetheless taht there must be one out there that can provide home users with decent advance settings to play with. The answer to my WoL problems ladies and gentlemen, after a bit of research, turns out to be the wireless routers from Asus equipped with their ASUSWRT firmware.

The exact model I purchased was the ASUS 802.11ac Wireless-AC750 (RT-AC52U). This model is one of the more lower end models but it perfectly suited my needs because it wasn’t the crazy hardware or amount of antennas it had that attracted me but more so the firmware it was rocking, which Asus calls ASUSWRT.

Asus RT-AC52U

You can check out all of ASUSWRT’s features from here. Here is a list of Asus routers that DO NOT support the ASUSWRT firmware.

There are many, many features that got incorporated into ASUSWRT’s firmware as I’m sure many other modern home routers do as well in this day and age. I’ll only be talking about two of them here as it was the main selling point of the product. The first, of course, is the built-in WoL functionality. The second is its VPN server feature.

The Setup

To be perfectly honest, this isn’t truely WoL “over the Internet”. The magic packet never gets routed over the Internet to your computer at home. In a way, this still can be labeled Wake on “LAN”. Why? Because it’s your router that actually sends the packet to your computer. For that to happen though, you need to be able to log into your router from the public Internet. This does lower your security a bit so be sure to use a very strong and random password! Unfortunately, the router didn’t allow me to use my ultra long password as the characters got cut off in the interface. That was disappointing to say the least. The other thing you can do is to enable HTTPS so at least your traffic is encrypted over the Internet. Next, you can decide to change the default port. By default, this would be port 8443 with HTTPS enabled. This doesn’t help you if someone is doing a port scan of your device but I still think it’s better than using the default. Lastly and probably the most secure of all is locking down which IP is able to login to your router. However, you’ll obviously need to know ahead of time which public IP you’ll need to login in from and the firmware does limit you to only four entries.

Administration Settings

Once you have your router secured for public access, you’ll now need a method to actually reach your router from anywhere on the Internet. Most of us have a dynamic public IP from our Internet Service Provider and so accessing your router via this method is definitely a no-go. You need something that is static and never-changing. For this, we turn to a special service called Dynamic DNS. This service helps you map a name to an IP address, similar to regular DNS. It’s dynamic in that once configured, the service from then on will automatically update this mapping for you should your public IP change. Key word here is automatically. By default, the Asus router comes with a couple of the more popular DDNS services out there baked in by default. I just chose the one straight from Asus themselves: *.asuscomm.com. All you have to do is specify a name and if it’s available, it’s yours for the keeping. From then on, you can access your router’s login/administration page by going to myawesomename.asuscomm.com. It’s that simple. No signup of any kind is required prior to you being able to use this service.

DDNS

It’s WoL Time

Once you’re able to login to your router from the Internet, the WoL setup is a breeze. Simply head over to Network Tools –> Wake On LAN, give it a PC name to MAC mapping, saving it and that’s it. Anytime you want to wake the PC remotely, simply login to your router, head back to the Wake on LAN page, click on the MAC address and press the Wake Up tab. If configured correctly and barring any weird scenarios, your PC of choice should receive the magic packet and because it has the MAC address as specified in the packet, it will process it and wake itself up. The rest of your home PCs will simply ignore it. Because the router is technically inside your LAN, no advance configuration is needed such as port forwarding.

WoL Tab

It’s VPN Time

Another very cool feature that sold me on this Asus brand of router was how easy it is to get your own VPN server up and running in no time. Literally, all you do is enable the VPN feature by flipping a switch, giving it an DHCP pool range (10 maximum devices), creating your accounts and that’s it! There are some advance settings but I didn’t have to touch any of them at all. To connect, you’ll use the same DDNS name that you registered with as the server endpoint. From my limited testing, the speeds weren’t all that great while I was connected to my Asus router at my work PC but it does get the job done. Having your own VPN server is great if you’re always connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots while on the go as traffic between you and your VPN server is encrypted. Rather than paying for a VPN service that accomplishes the same thing in encrypting your traffic, you can now do it for free. This does have drawbacks however, in that while your traffic is encrypted, the bad guys will still be able to see “where” your VPN server is located at. If they really wanted to mess with you, they could then attack your home router. If you had a paid VPN service, I doubt you’ll care about someone doing the same to one of their VPN servers located who knows where.

VPN Server

One issue I did encounter with the VPN service was getting it to work on my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone connected to T-Mobile’s LTE network. By default, the APN Protocol was set to IPv6 and because of that, I wasn’t able to connect to my home VPN. After configuring a new APN with all the same settings as the IPv6 one but with the APN protocol set to IPv4, I was then able to successfully connect while on T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network. Another issue was getting my iPad Mini 2 to connect to my wireless network. The Asus router comes equipped with both a 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency network that you can connect to. During setup, I made it so that both frequencies/networks would use the same SSID thinking that the different password is what would determine which frequency the device would use. However, the iPad didn’t like this at all and so I had to change the SSID on the 5GHz frequency to something different. Once done, the device was then able to connect.

In the End

What felt like such a draining and puzzling problem was solved by simply the good ol’ fashion way: throwing a little money at it. Although the model I got was of the lower end, I feel that the firmware greatly makes up for it. In fact, this router is very appealing to users on the fence about either DD-WRT or Tomato. Obviously it’s not an apples to apples comparison but there is simply too much features packed into this guy such as QoS, bandwidth monitoring, WoL, VPN server, DDNS, parental controls, URL and keyword filtering, IPv6 support, dual frequency support, multiple guest networks for each frequency, cloud support, USB port for printer and hard drive sharing plus a host of others and it’s easy to see how attractive this router can be right out of the box. You can definitely do worst for $60. In my limited testing so far, it has been rock solid. WoL works every single time while I’m a work and my VPN connection to the router has yet to give me any hiccups. Time will obviously tell. At the moment though, all I need the router to do is solve my problem of remote WoL and it’s been a champ at doing that.

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Google Drive Overview

Fresh off the heels of testing Skydrive, I now turn my attention to Google’s newly published service called Google Drive. It was only a matter of time before Google publicly offered a file syncing service to their customers. Now that both giant software companies have revealed their services to the world, customers can finally be able to compare and decide which one they like best. Of course, there’s nothing stopping a user from using all three services of Dropbox, Skydrive and Google Drive, which ultimately proves one thing: the more competition there is, the better it is for the consumers. But is there anything that Google Drive can do that other competitors can’t or vice-versa?

Sign-Up

Google Drive was just released publicly at the time of this writing and yet many users, including myself, was a little surprised to see that we still had to wait for an official confirmation from Google themselves before the service was enabled to us. We had to click on a link to be notified by email of when this would occur. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long and neither should you because my Google Drive is all good to go and ready to sync within a day or so of the request. Every user gets free 5GB of online storage space. This is more than Dropbox’s free 2GB and less than Skydrive’s offering of 7GB free (loyal users get a whopping 25GB).

Google Drive offers users who need more storage space than the included 5GB by offering two storage plans which have a monthly price of $2.49 and $4.99 for 25GB and 100GB, respectively. Purchasing any of these plans will also upgrade your Gmail storage to 25GB for no extra charge. Users who need more than 100GB can consult this web page for more options.

Download

You can download the Google Drive client from here.

Like with all client installs, Google Drive installs pretty much instantaneous and without much fanfare. All you need to provide is your Gmail email account username and password. By default, your Google Drive folder will located at “C:UsersusernameGoogle Drive“. When you head there initially, you might be surprised by the lack of folders or any other sort of greeting files welcoming you to the Google Drive service. What you will see is just two dummy files which you can pretty much delete without much thought.

Welcome MessageInstall Screen 1Install Screen 2Install Screen 3Default Folder

Uploading and Syncing

SyncingIf you’re already familiar with Dropbox and the new Skydrive service, then Google Drive will be a welcome sight because not much is different. Your Google Drive folder is looks and behaves just like a regular folder which you no doubt have become familiar with in Windows operating systems. Everything that you create and place here will be automatically uploaded to your Google Drive account and will be synced across all devices. It’s simple and works fairly well. The one big change that you might notice right away is the lack of a sync status icon on your individual files. With both Dropbox and Skydrive, a bright green check mark is placed next to each file to indicate that it has been successfully uploaded. With Google Drive, there is no such indication. Your only option is to right click on the Google Drive status icon (in the Notification area) and at the very top of the menu, you’ll get to see your sync status. For example, if you have just placed 10 different photos into the folder, here it will show you how far along the sync process it got but the information given is very minimal (4 of 10, for example). I’m hoping this will be addressed sometime in the near future. Installing Google Drive onto a second computer and logging on will have all files dumped onto that new computer. From then on, every file and folder will be synchronized between all computers as well as on the web.

As with Skydrive, the Google Drive client is sorely lacking in any integration with your desktop itself. Besides providing you with just a local folder for syncing, there’s not much more you can do within your Google Drive folder. Right clicking a file presents you with no option to share the files, for example. In this area of integration, Dropbox trumps both new services. With both Skydrive and Google Drive, everything needs to be managed via the browser. Once again, I really hope this gets changed in the near future.

The one feature that Google Drive has that Skydrive is missing, oddly, is a trash bin! Google Drive allows you to recover deleted files in the web interface and in some situations, this can be really helpful. In Skydrive, deleted files are gone for good.

Google Docs Integration

Both advantages Skydrive and Google Drive have over Dropbox is due to their productivity web app integration. Google Docs allow you to create and work with word documents and spreadsheets all within your browser. You can then share those files out appropriately so that other members can contribute to that file as well. Collaboration features is a big thing now and both Microsoft and Google are doing their best to tie all this in within their respective online services. With Google Docs, you can create word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, online forms, and basic drawing files. Whether or not Google Docs is more powerful than Microsoft’s online offering I have no idea and I assume it’s a matter of preference. I’m also assuming that if the majority of your team members are using one service over another, then that should also alter your final decision. But point is, integration is a big thing and I’m glad it is taking center stage here.

In your local Google Drive folder, double-clicking on a Google Docs file will open that file up in your default browser. From here, you can make the changes you want and of course, everything will be nicely synced up for you. In fact, you don’t even have to remember to save your documents because Google Docs automatically does it for you! The other very awesome feature of Google Docs is their revisioning capability. Skydrive also has this feature but Google Docs pretty much takes it to a whole new level. Google Docs actually marks the actual changes in each revision so that you don’t have to hunt for them manually. This alone can save you a whole lot of time, especially when you collaborate a lot on documents with your other co-workers.

Also, please be aware that when you upload Microsoft documents (.docx, for example) to your Google Drive account, they are view only. If you want to edit them, then you must convert them to Google Doc format. When you upload files using the web interface, you can actually tell Google Drive to automatically convert certain file formats into the compatible Google Docs format. It can even use OCR technology to help make your PDF editable in Google Doc if you so wish. If not, then the PDF is view only. After using Google Drive for a bit, there are many things that I like about it over Microsoft’s Office webapps. The ability to add comments and the powerful revision history feature makes it a much more preferred service if collaboration is important to you. Although editing them online requires it to be Google Doc format compatible, it does allow you to export those files back into the official Microsoft Office format.

Google DocumentGoogle PresentationGoogle SpreadsheetGoogle FormGoogle DrawRevisioningUpload Settings

Sharing in Google Drive

Sharing features with Google Drive is very simple once you’ve taken a few moments to learn it. You can choose to make your files private and only available to users who sign-in, mark them as public so that anyone can search and view them, or you can simply create a link and manually give them to your collaborators. This works very similarly to Skydrive. In a way, it works quite well even though its quite simplistic in nature. I’m pretty sure permissions levels will get more granular as the service matures and as user requests start pouring in from the public. There are currently three different ways you can share a file/folder:

Within the three different methods of sharing, you can also configure three different levels of access withn each level which includes view only, can comment, and can edit.

First you can make the files entirely public. Anyone who wishes to view your files will all get view permissions by default. No sign in is required to view files. If you allow public users to edit the file, then sign in is required although since its public, just about anyone with a Gmail account can edit the file.

Secondly you can create a custom link and distribute the link any way you see fit. All users with the link can view the files without having to sign in. If you allow edit permissions, then sign in is required. However, any user with the link can modify the file even though you haven’t personally sent them a link (they could have gotten it from another person who did have it).

Lastly, you can mark your files as private and manually assign individual access. You are allowed to assign different access permission per individual. For example, one person may be allowed to edit the file while another can only view the document and nothing else. This is the most secure of the share levels. Although I haven’t tested this, I assume that even if another individual shares the link to someone outside of the circle, because you (the owner) haven’t specifically specified any permission for him/her, they will be denied all access including being able to view the document.

The share links created by Google Drive is pretty long but no where as crazy as the URL length of Skydrive:

https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B4GMxM3A-3QcTkFrZmZpU2wyUzg

Share SettingsSharing Level

Mobile Support

Currently, Google Drive is supported on Android devices and the iPhone/iPad version will be available very soon.

UPDATE: 06.28.12 – The Google Drive app is now available for iOS devices.

In the End…

Google’s initial public offering of a file syncing service, although quite simplistic, works very well. The biggest benefit in my eyes will be heavy Google Doc users and collaborators. If you’re not one of those people, then there isn’t that big of an incentive to switch over if you’re already a Skydrive or Dropbox user. As a normal user who just needs to be able to sync files across multiple devices, any one of the three major services can do that for you. If you’re already heavily invested in the Google’sphere, then obviously it makes more sense to tie in one more service under your account with them. If not, then Skydrive should offer the most bang for the buck. At just $10 a year, you get 20GB of storage compared to Google’s 25GB for what equals out to be about $30 a year. Dropbox is the worst out of the three in terms of purchasing extra storage space. Of course, there are drawbacks to each service and ultimately only you can judge for yourself which one suits you best.

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Microsoft SkyDrive Overview

It seems like only yesterday that Dropbox could comfortably sit back and dominate the online storage world with their awesome file syncing service. Sure, there were a few others out there that offered similar services but as far as ease of use and features, Dropbox in my opinion was the best. They offered 2GB of free online storage space for every user while allowing them to gain more space by simply referring other users. Well, it’s the year of 2012 now as I write this and we pretty much have a couple of major companies battling it out to win the hearts of the people with lure of free online storage and other services that try to tie in with each other. Just recently, Microsoft and Google released their version of the “Dropbox” service in an attempt to woo customers over. Is Dropbox in trouble? Although Dropbox themselves have garnered a big name for themselves, I’m sure many users out there still don’t know about them. However, they’ll definitely have heard of Microsoft and Google. Either way, I just thought it fun to give both new services a try just to see how it fares. Being a big fan of Dropbox myself (all the pictures on AnotherWindowsBlog are hosted through them), I definitely can’t help but to compare the new services to it.

Microsoft SkyDrive

Prior to Skydrive, Microsoft has offered a couple of file synching services, albeit not as popular. They included Live Sync and Live Mesh. I’m sure the former have been discontinued but I’m not so sure about the latter. Anyways, after trying out Live Sync, I came away that it was still inferior to Dropbox. Well, that’s all in the past. The future is with Skydrive.

Skydrive, when it first started out, was just a simple online storage service. The standout feature that drew attention was Microsoft’s generous offer of 25GB of free online storage for every user that signed up. However, the service itself was fairly weak. From my recollection, there was no desktop interaction and it didn’t have robust syncing capabilities. You uploaded files and documents via an online interface and that was pretty much it. There were some sharing features but once again, Dropbox triumphed in every way possible as far as services actually went. Now, Microsoft seems to have completely revamped their Skydrive service not only to compete with Dropbox but to actually prepare and integrate it with Windows 8 when it launches presumably later this year. With the revamped service, it finally comes to par with Dropbox and can finally be labeled as a true file syncing service.

Sign-Up

Every new user who signs up with Skydrive will get a very generous offer of 7GB of online storage. “Loyal” users of Skydrive can upgrade their storage space to 25GB without incurring any extra charge. I’m not technically sure what constitutes as a loyal user but my guess is that as long as you use a Hotmail/Live email account prior to this whole new Skydrive thing, you’re considered loyal. I signed up for Skydrive with one of my Hotmail account that I’ve just created a few weeks back and guess what? I’m considered a loyal user! Anyways, 7GB is a heck of a lot of storage. Remember, when you sync files to your Skydrive, Dropbox, Google Drive or just about any other syncing service, you are “uploading” your files to their servers. In many cases, your Internet Service Provider will offer way faster speeds for downloading then uploading. So, uploading that 2GB movie file you’ve just shot in high definition 1080p to share with your family members around the world will take a heck of a long time. Of course, I live in Hawaii so hey, what do I know of Internet speeds eh?!

Skydrive offers users who need more storage space than the included 7GB/25GB storage to do so by offering three storage plans which have an annual price of $10, $25, and $50 for an additional 10GB, 50GB and 100GB, respectively.

Download

You can download the Skydrive desktop client from here.

Finally, there is a desktop client to manage and upload your files to Skydrive. This is way more user friendly and convenient than requiring a user to use a web browser. In my opinion, this was one of the main advantages of Dropbox. Well, not anymore. The desktop client installs in a breeze and all you need to provide is of course, your Hotmail/Live username and password. You’ll then be told of the location of your Skydrive folder, which by default will be C:UsersusernameSkydrive. By default, you’ll have three folders set up: Documents, Photos and Public. At the end of the install, you’ll also be presented with an option to make all the files on your current computer available to other devices. They don’t make this clear right there and then about what enabling this feature does but basically it allows you to fetch any files on the current PC even if those files aren’t stored in your Skydrive folder. I’ll go back to this later on and it’s definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind of.

Default LocationFetch Files

Uploading and Syncing

Because your local Skydrive folder on the computer is attached to your Skydrive storage at Microsoft, you can simply use this folder just as you would any other folder. Once again, this is exactly how Dropbox works. You can drag and drop documents and photos here and Skydrive will automatically upload the files online. You don’t have to do a thing. Just keep in mind that the bigger the file size, the longer it will take for the upload to complete. This also of course depends on your Internet speed. From my limited testing, files that have been successfully uploaded on your desktop immediately appear in your web browser and vice-versa. The very unfortunate news with the Skydrive desktop client is that it doesn’t do anything to tie in the services available to you on the desktop and instead forces you to use the web interface instead. For example, you can’t right click on your files to immediately get a link to share with your friends. You have to first log in to your Skydrive account via your web browser and then configure the proper permissions. I’m really hoping that as the service matures, Microsoft will improve in this area.

When you similarly download and install the Skydrive client onto a different computer and sign in with your account, Skydrive will automatically download all the files. Once that finishes, both computers will then be completely synchronized with each other and files you add/delete on one computer will be reflected upon the other. This is syncing at its most basic level and it works quite well. Once again, the desktop client makes using Skydrive so much more easier now. One thing I took big notice on is how much faster the actual download of files is on my second computer were. With Dropbox, it took really long to get a new computer synchronized because their download speed is just horrible.

Skydrive Folder

Microsoft Office WebApps

Every company could offer a simple and basic syncing service. To stand apart from the crowd though, they have to offer something that others aren’t. With Skydrive, Microsoft allows any user to be able to view and edit Microsoft Office documents online right inside their browser. For example, you can actually create Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files from scratch right within your Skydrive account and share it with your friends and co-workers to collaborate on. Of course, Microsoft isn’t generous enough to give you every single feature as in the paid version of Word, Excel, etc. However, for most users who don’t really need to use all those fancy features, this is a very economic way of getting things done without having to spend hundreds of dollars on productivity software. These webapps compete directly with Google Docs.

Skydrive WordSkydrive ExcelSkydrive OneNoteSkydrive PowerPoint

ErrorAt the time of this writing, for some odd reason, Microsoft does not allow you to delete OneNote files from your desktop! It states that you can only do this within your Skydrive account in a browser. This issue is obviously not as disturbing as the “multiple photo upload” one inside the Skydrive iPhone app but it still baffles me nonetheless. What’s so special about OneNote files?!

Sharing and Collaborating in Skydrive

To be able to do more with your files than the usual copy/move/delete operations, you’ll need to actually log on to your Skydrive account within your browser. One of the main things you’ll be doing is sharing your files so that either other users can view them or so other folks can collaborate on documents. I’m glad to say that Microsoft have made things a whole lot more easier now to share files and folders between different users than what was possible in the original Skydrive service (I think you got the point by now that the original Skydrive service was not very good).

When it comes to sharing, you have three different options:

First you can simply email a link to to your folder or file to your intended recipients. You can choose whether the recipients can also edit the files themselves and whether they are required to sign in to their Hotmail account prior to granting access. This last option can used for ultimate security as you can assure that only recipients who you intend to share the files with get access because it requires them to sign in to their own email account prior to being authorized to view and edit the files.

Secondly, you can share your files through popular social services such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. You can also add more social services as well.

Lastly, you can share your files and folders in a more broad manner by creating a share link and then distributing that link to your recipients. There are three separate options that control the permissions of the share. With view only, recipients with access to the link can all view but not edit the files. However, those recipients can in turn re-share the link to other users and those users in turn can also view your files. This can obviously lead to users whom you don’t want to see your files actually see them. With the view and edit link option, users will be allowed to modify your files. This option obviously needs to be used with caution. The last one is marking your folder/file as Public. Recipients can only view the files but the difference between this and the “view only” option is that with Public, anyone in the world can actually search for your files online and view them. You obviously don’t want to put your grandma’s secret chocolate chip cookie recipe in a Public marked folder.

Once you share the link with your buddies, they can all view and download the files without having to create their own Hotmail account. If they want to be able to modify them (if you’ve given them permission), then they will need to sign in first. I noticed that the share links are absolutely enormous in size. Not sure why Microsoft didn’t use some sort of URL shortening service. For example, do really want to communicate this URL link to a person? Most likely not but then again, that’s why we have email and URL shortening services such as Bit.ly.

https://skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?cid=a02f75db8b281304&resid=A02F75DB8B281304!173&parid=A02F75DB8B281304!108&authkey=!APr3h-Nw1bfSsh8

EmailSocial ServicesLinks

With collaboration, Microsoft also gives you file versioning capabilities. This allows you to see all the changes made to a document by your co-workers. This feature also saves your behind when you’ve accidentally overwritten an important research paper. Simply revert or re-download a version of the document prior to the last change and you’re back in business. I absolutely love this feature in Dropbox and I’m quite happy to see it in SkyDrive.

Versioning

Retrieving Files

One very cool feature that Skydrive brings to the table is allowing you retrieve any of your files on an authorized computer even if those files are not stored in your Skydrive folder! Basically, you are allowed to grab any single file on your PC from any other Internet connected computer in the world! This essentially turns your computer into an FTP server without having you to mess with messy port forwarding or other software installation and configuration. If you are to utilize this feature, then you must also be aware that your computer actually needs to be powered on before you can retrieve those files! If you left your home desktop powered on prior leaving to work and forgot an important document, you can easily log in to your Skydrive account at a work computer, connect to your home computer and retrieve the file that way. Of course, many users like myself find it unfeasible to leave a computer powered on all day and night. For this, you’ll definitely want to look into the Wake-on-Lan (WoL) feature, which is a topic for another day. But as you all know, I’m a nice guy so here is something to get you started.

As a security feature, Skydrive will require you to enter in a six digit number (which is emailed to you to a different email account) before allowing you access to the remote computer. Once correctly entered in, the passcode is good for that single Skydrive session. Once you log out of Skydrive and log back in, you will be required to repeat the process. If you later decide to disable/enable this feature on a particular PC, you can easily do so by heading into the General tab within the Settings menu of the Skydrive menu icon, which is located in the Notification taskbar (lower right corner of computer).

As you can see below, I can fully access my entire C: drive on my remote laptop from my desktop once I have entered in the correct security code:

Security CheckRemoteRemote Drive

iPhone Support

You can download the Skydrive iPhone app from here. Android users can download the official Skydrive app from the Google Play store.

Currently, no app exist for the Skydrive service on Android devices. iPhone users are in more luck. With the app, you can browse all of your uploaded files right on your iPhone. You can upload both video and photos directly within the app, share your files, view your files with third party apps and a whole bunch more. Note that for Microsoft Office files, it is view only. You can obviously use a third party app for editing. It’s also interesting to note (at least for me) that you actually have to have opened the file prior to be able to access it offline. For example, if you uploaded a Word file on your home computer and synced it with your iPhone but haven’t actually opened that file on your iPhone, then you won’t be able to access that same file when offline (airplane mode, for example). One you have viewed that file, even if its just once, it gets cached and from then on you should have access to those files even when you have no network connectivity of any kind.

App HomeApp PicturesApp RecentApp Upload

Location ServiceOne very odd thing I notice is that in order to upload multiple photos at once, the app actually requires you to turn on Location Services! I find this highly disturbing and not sure if this is a bug or not. I rarely leave location services enabled unless I need to use my GPS for navigation.

In the End..

After playing around with Skydrive, I find myself really liking the service. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, Microsoft made huge improvements to the service since it first debuted which really provided nothing more for its users than an online storage locker. At that time Dropbox, while nowhere getting even close to what Microsoft was offering in terms of sheer free storage space, provided a much more desirable service overall. With many users today having to work from many different devices, stationary or mobile wise, it’s not hard to see why big companies are offering a solution to help keep user files synchronized across all devices. I’m super excited to see how Skydrive will be integrated with Windows 8 when it releases. They are off to a good start in my opinion with Skydrive but improvements will definitely need to be made if they want to be at the top. One very simple thing they can do right now is giving users the ability to work with their Skydrive files and documents directly on their desktop instead of forcing them to do them in a web browser. If Dropbox can accomplish this, I’m sure Microsoft can do a whole heck of a lot better considering they also make the Windows OS itself!

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Add a Voice to your Blog with Vocalyze Plugin!

A feature so simple yet I haven’t thought of before is giving text-to-speech capabilities to a blog! Now, I know what you’re thinking. Text-to-speech (TTS) is not really an experience a listener wants to go through because for the simple fact that the voice dictating the words sounds in almost all cases, too robotic. Another limitation of TTS is that it is almost impossible for the voice (or whatever reading algorithm the technology employs) to correctly read back the words as it was intended to be read by a real human. Although the voice can correctly pronounce the words and whatnot, it’s really hard to follow when the voice randomly slows down or speeds up during the reading of a sentence. Last but not least, I hate it when the robot voice does not know when a sentence ends or start. I’m guessing the more complex a sentence structure is, the harder it is for the robot voice to keep up. Again, the robot have no problem reading the words correctly but it just sounds very odd. Just recently I was contacted via email by Frank Qiu, co-founder of a new WordPress plugin called Vocalyze. This plugin helps bloggers easily add TTS capabilities to their blogs and I have to say I am impressed despite all the bad things I just mentioned about this technology.

The Kindle has a experimental TTS feature. I find it very hard to follow the robotic voice as it reads the story to me because of the inconsistencies I’ve mentioned above. I also want to admit that generally, I am not a big fan of having words transcribe back to me. That’s one reason why I am also not a big fan of audiobooks. Even though a real human being reads the book and can therefore more accurately read the sentences as it was made to, I still find it difficult to follow along.

The WordPress Vocalyze plugin allows just about anyone to incorporate TTS capabilities for their website. For many blog subscribers, they don’t have the luxury of spending time in front of a computer to read your blog entries, especially if they are really long. That’s why audio podcasts are so popular now days. With the Vocalyze plugin configured for your website, it’s like having your own podcast, sorta. Your visitors now have the option of either reading your new blog entries as they normally would or they could opt to use Vocalyze to have a computerized voice read it back to them. As you can see, this is like having your own audio podcast. Before I installed the plugin, I was curious about two main issues: setup/configuration and how advance was their TTS technology. I’m proud to say that no, the setup is not complicated at all and that yes, their TTS technology absolutely rocks!

Vocalyze for WordPress

Setting up Vocalyze for your WordPress blog is really simple. In fact, I didn’t have to do anything at all besides install and activate the plugin and place the widget on my sidebar!

  1. You can download the Vocalyze WordPress plugin from here.
  2. Once activated, head to your Widget section and place the Vocalyze widget in your sidebar area.
  3. Vocalyze works by utilizing the RSS feed for your blog. You should see your websites address listed in the URL field. If Vocalyze does not work, you will need to manually input your website’s RSS address into this field.
  4. Pick one of the two Vocalyze icons.
  5. Enjoy!

Vocalyze SetupAll this widget does is place a small icon and text link on your sidebar that announces to readers that they can listen to your blog entries as well. Clicking on this icon will bring the user to Vocalyze’s main website where the reader can then see your blog’s RSS feed displayed. Each entry can be read by Vocalyze. In my example, only the latest 10 entries are available for choosing.

RSS Feed

Vocalyze’s Awesome TTS Technology

OK, so setting up the Vocalyze plugin was not that difficult as you just witnessed. The other main important issue is how well does the TTS technology work? Well, I have to say that Vocalyze’s TTS capability is very good. Good as in the voice sounds very natural instead of being so robotic like other TTS technologies. Obviously, you’ll still get hints that the voice is computerized but I have to admit that from my limited uses of TTS technology, Vocalyze is the best I have heard from. I have listened to a couple of my own blog entries read back to me by Vocalyze and I am just amazed at the quality. For something that is not pre-recorded, it sounds pretty damn natural. Often times, you even get a chill at how good and accurate the voice is reading your own blog entries! The only way to really experience Vocalyze is to listen for yourself! Here is my Vocalyze link that allows you to pick from my top 10 blog entries and listen to:

Listen Here!

The thing that shocked me the most is the accuracy of Vocalyze. After listening to a couple of my blog entries in full, I have not stumbled upon a run-on sentence yet. Any English teacher will tell you that how one interprets and read a sentence is very, very important. This also includes when a sentence should start and end. Another quick example of why sometimes TTS fails is when comma’s appear. The comma is a very important element when constructing sentences and has many uses. When reading a sentence with commas, you would usually give a slight pause before continuing on. Some TTS (or human readers as well) voices don’t pay attention to this rule and so the sentence sounds very wrong. Vocalyze got this part down very good from my listening.

Extra Features

Vocalyze has a free iPhone and Android app that you can use to log in and listen to your favorite Vocalyze content. Vocalyze itself includes a directory of pre-selected sources for you to add to your favorite list. Once you have made an account with them, you can then easily listen to those latest blog entries wherever you are.

iPhone LoginiPhone Sources

Vocalyze is not just meant for WordPress blogs. You can also “Vocalyze” your Blogger blog, Tumblr and even your WordPress.com blog!

As of right now, Vocalyze is still fairly new and so not much people know about them. There are limitations such as being only able to read back English text but according to their FAQs page, they are looking to expand their feature set as the service grows.

In the End…

I’ll go back to what I’ve said in the beginning in that I am still not a big fan of TTS but only because of my personal tastes. Everyone is different and if you are a TTS fan, you can’t help but be amazed at how well Vocalyze can read content back to you. I’m only hoping that as we move towards the future, TTS capabilities will continue to expand and sound as natural as possible. If you think about it, TTS does have a lot of benefits, especially to readers who have a hard time reading in general or to the elderly people. Being a big time Kindle fan, I can’t help but imagine how awesome it would be if their TTS technology resembled something like Vocalyze.

I’m glad I received the email by Frank telling me about Vocalyze because if not, I would never have heard about them. It’s only right that I write an honest review of their plugin in hopes of helping them spread the word about their product. Right now, I only have one wish for the Vocalyze plugin and that is allowing users to actually embed the Vocalyze listening widget directly onto our sidebars. Other than that, this plugin absolutely rocks!

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50GB of Free Online Storage with Box.net Promotion

There’s a saying that goes something like any publicity is good publicity. Right? So how can a promotion of a company offering you a free 50GB of storage lifetime account sound bad? Just recently Box.net, an online file storage company similar to that of Dropbox, offered a crazy promotion for all iPhone IOS users that if they signup from now until December 2 2011, they will automatically get promoted to a 50GB storage account for the lifetime of their account! Seriously, how can this offer go wrong for so many people? Well, many users are complaining that this is simply a bait and switch. Box.net lures users in with a sweet promotion of some kind (the 50GB storage) but then once the users signup, they then realize they are severely limited in what they can do with that storage space. Well, I was curious as to see this for myself so let’s have at it!

Surprisingly, nothing of this promotion can be seen on Box.net’s homepage. Instead, promotion information can be found at a blog post from the company. Anyways, the details is simple enough for anyone to understand. In order to get the free 50GB of free online storage space for life, simply download the Box.net app on your iPhone, create a user account and that’s it. Existing users can simply log-in with their existing Box.net account and they should see the increase in their storage space. It’s that simple. I don’t have an account with Box.net since I’m a Dropbox user so this promotion makes it extra enticing for me to try out something new.

  1. Simply download the Box.net app from the Apple Store.
  2. Signup for a free account by providing an email address and password. That’s it.
  3. Enjoy your 50GB of storage.
RegisterRegister 2Register 3

Box on the iPhone

The Box application on the iPhone is easy enough and intuitive to use for most people. You have 5 different tabs at the bottom that corresponds to different views. You have Updates, All Files, Saved, Upload and Settings. Box allows you to save/download individual files directly onto your iPhone in case you don’t have a Internet connection wherever it is you are going. The Upload tab is very sparse. You can either choose to take a picture with your camera and upload it to your account or choose a picture from your existing library. Notice I said “a” picture. Box limits you to uploading a single picture at a time. This makes it a complete pain to use for users who have stored a lot of pictures on their iPhone devices. Want to upload a video you’ve captured? Sorry. Box will not let you do that. This fact alone is very limiting.

I believe you are not allowed to upload at all on iPad devices! Hopefully they change this in the near future.

Box InterfaceBox Upload

Excel, Word and PowerPoint presentations you upload via Box.net’s website can be viewed directly in the Box application on your iPhone. Obviously, you won’t be able to edit them. Another crippling feature for the Box application on iPhone devices is that you are not allowed to create folders to organize your files. Want to delete a file in your account? Sorry. Box will deny you that basic privilege as well! Everything must be done via Box.net’s website. In fact, almost every single management task can only be managed inside the Box website and not on the iPhone app itself.

Preview

Box on the Web

Once you’re logged in through your browser, you can now perform management tasks on your files. These include creating folders, deleting files, sending files to Gmail, and creating new documents for collaboration. Sad to say it, many options are not available unless you upgrade. As it stands right now, you are limited to only a 100MB file size upload. This limitation makes Box all but useless to many people as they can’t upload larger videos or other documents. Other big limitations include no direct linking and version history. This eliminates Box as being an online photo hosting service, which I am currently using Dropbox as. Of course if you upgrade, you get to upload individual files up to 2GB in size and other features are then unlocked. Dropbox does not have these limitations even for free user accounts.

Web Interface

No Desktop Syncing Application

One of the biggest issue for users who signed up on the 50GB Box promotion found out shortly that Box does not offer a desktop syncing application. With Dropbox, you have a special Dropbox folder that allows you to drag files in to it and have it be automatically uploaded to your account. This also makes syncing a whole lot easier. Well, not with Box. Unless of course, you upgrade. By now you should be familiar with that theme. 50GB is enticing but in order to do useful things with that huge storage space, please pay up.

Comparing Box.net to Dropbox

There is no debate about this issue at all. If you are looking for a free online file syncing service, Dropbox annihilates Box in that area. In terms of offering the most storage space, Box does win this one as long you signup for an account on your iPhone before December 2 2011.  However, offering mass online storage space is useless to many people if you restrict what users can do with that space! As it stands right now, the 50GB of free storage offered by Box is simply just that: 50GB of online storage space. You can upload your files and have a peace of mind that you can access them wherever you are as long as you have an Internet connection. But if you want to do anything more, you have to pay up. Dropbox, while offering you less free storage space, allows you to do a heck lot more with that space and for free as well.

Defending Box.net

All the negative things I have said so far about Box.net, as the free user account goes, stands true. You are severely restricted in what you can do. Most of the things I have mention are also issues many other people have made clear in their user reviews of the Box app for the iPhone. However, what these people have to realize is that Box did not have to offer this promotion at all! Users are expecting a lot more things for free today because other similar companies who can afford to do so sets the standard. This here is the perfect example. Dropbox will always be compared with Box.net because they offer the same service. Dropbox gives users a lot of features for free. Do some people stop and think that maybe Box can’t afford to do that as a company? I simply am not going to use my Box account because of the limitations but I still applaud Box for offering up this promotion. 50GB of storage for life, not for a month or a year, to every single user who signs up on their iPhone device is crazy.

I fear for today’s society because there are so many users that consider this promotion to be a scam or hoax by Box.net. Are you kidding me? You may call them deceiving and whatnot but a scam? Box.net clearly defines what you are and not able to do on their pricing webpage located here. Here is what I bet happened. Users immediately go word that Box.net is offering a crazy promotion. All they have to do is signup for an account on the iPhone app and instantly be awarded with 50GB of online storage. The user immediately does so without taking the time and effort to look at what they are getting into and once they realize many of the features are locked to them as a free user, they feel cheated and scammed out of providing their email address. I’m sure you folks reading this that have a fair judgment of things know what I am trying to get at here.

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Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader

Electronic reading is a very hot topic. E-reading devices such as the Kindle, Nook and even the iPad makes reading books fun again. We can all agree, I assume, that the e-reading business is only just beginning to bloom and currently, Amazon is in the forefront of that business. Basically, a lot of money is being made in this sector. So, it should be no wonder that Amazon is there to protect that business. Apple, on the other hand, also has a big business going on with their IOS devices and apps. They’ve got a whole new economy going. To cut to the chase, Apple is now requiring that any app that has an in-app purchase button/function must forfeit 30% of that sale made inside that app. For example, Amazon had a Kindle app in the Apple App store (can be downloaded for free). Within that Kindle app, users could purchase ebooks directly from within that app without first having open a browser and whatnot. This made it real convenient for customers.With the new Apple law in effect, Amazon must now pay Apple a 30% fee of every ebook purchase made through that app. This of course, doesn’t just apply to Amazon but to every other publisher as well from what I’m understanding. Is it fair? Can Amazon and other publishers do anything about this?

In my honest opinion, 30% of every digital sale is a whole lot. Not just a lot but a whole lot. What people have to understand is that just because you made a purchase of an ebook for $9.99 doesn’t mean that Amazon gets to make a profit of that same amount. It’s complicated what goes on behind the scenes but that’s the bottom line of it. With Apple’s new law, Amazon will make even less of a profit for every digital ebook sale through their Kindle app on the iPhone or iPad. They basically have three choices:

  • Do nothing and accept the law. For every purchase made within their Kindle app, pay Apple the 30% tax
  • Remove the ability for users to make in-app purchases of their ebooks through the app.
  • Say screw it and think of another way to allow users to purchase their products on these IOS devices as conveniently as possible

Amazon took the last route (which should go hand-in-hand with the second) and many are applauding them for taking a stand. Just recently, Amazon released their Kindle Cloud Reader “website” to the public in what can be considered a move against Apple’s new law. How it works is simple. Rather than using the iPhone/iPad Kindle app, Amazon now provides users with another way to access their Kindle books without having to download or install anything. All they need is a compatible browser and operating system. They will still be able to read the books they have downloaded and purchased through Amazon, sync them to other devices and purchase new ebooks as well. Wait, purchase ebooks? Wouldn’t they have to pay Apple the 30% tax? The answer is no. KCR is a website, not an app purchased or downloaded through Apple’s app store. Because it is accessed via a browser, Apple has no control over what Amazon can or cannot do. When you want to purchase a new ebook while inside the KCR, you would be taken directly to Amazon’s own Kindle store webpage. Ebooks you purchase will then by synced with your account and all the other devices you own. In essence, this move is like giving Apple the big middle-finger. I’m guessing that a lot of other smaller companies are now looking towards this move by Amazon to see how well it plays with the customers. If all goes well, you can be sure that many of them will follow suit and create a feature-rich HTML5 website/app as well.

Kindle Cloud Reader

As it currently stands, you can only access the KCR website through the Google’s Chrome browser (works on all major supported operating systems), Apple’s Safari web browser (Mac/PC) and on the Safari web browser for the iPad. Firefox and iPhone users are left out of the loop, for now. I have a feeling Amazon had to rush getting the KCR website public because Apple’s 30% tax law is already in effect as of right now. Slowly but surely, Amazon will support other browsers in the future.

To access the KCR, you simply navigate to read.amazon.com from within a supported browser and operating system and log in. There is nothing to download or install.

At the moment, the offerings of KCR is pretty slim. Once you are logged in, you’ll see your entire library of purchased ebooks made from Amazon. On the far right side, you’ll get to play with a slider to adjust your book cover display size. Right above that slider is a button that will take you directly to Amazon’s Kindle Store. Users on the iPad will see a specially formatted version of the store in their browser. Users can then make ebook purchases while inside Amazon’s Kindle Store. On the top left side, you’ll get a sync button and a button for management. At this time, there really isn’t anything to do in this management menu except for signing out of your account and learning how to use the KCR. Below thesetwo buttons you’ll get to either display your library in grid mode or in list mode. Finally, you’ll get to sort your library books by most recently purchased, author or book title. Right in the middle, you get the opportunity to read your book in the cloud mode (while you’re online) or via offline mode  (when you’re offline). I’ll go over this later.

Main Interface

By looking at the main interface, I’m sure you’ll already have figured out that you wont’ be spending too much time here. Let’s get to the bottom of it and see how well KCR fares when reading an actual ebook. Obviously, to start reading one of your books, simply click on it. If you’ve made a recent sync, your book should start off exactly where you left off on your previous reading device (on your Kindle, for example). The main reading interface of KCR is simple and uncluttered.

Main Reading Interface

At the top, you’ll have a toolbar to configure different things. Going from left to right, you have the Library button which brings you back to the main interface, the book icon which allows you to quickly navigate to certain parts of the book such as the beginning, table of contents and a certain “location”, the Aa symbol which allows you to customize the reading display to your liking, the bookmark ribbon which allows you you to set different bookmarks throughout the book, and finally the synchronize button. To the extreme right corner, you get the notes and bookmarks toggle. Any notes that you’ve previously written or bookmarks that you have set will be shown here. However, notes you’ve made on your Kindle device will not show up here. Finally, on the bottom you’ll get the usual location slider which allows you to quickly jump to certain sections of a book.

Reading Management ToolbarOne of the most important tool here is the one that allows you to customize your reading display (the big “Aa” button). Because different users have different reading styles and habits, KCR allows you to set different reading layouts and font sizes. There’s not a whole lot going here but it should be enough to satisfy most users. The three settings you’re allowed to configure includes the font size, the margins (how much texts are displayed on each line) and the color mode. The awesome part here is as you adjust your browser size, KCR will immediately re-adjust the reading display.

Reading Display SettingsWhen you are done reading, simply press the synchronize button on the toolbar to sync your page location across all your devices. Here’s the weird part. You currently cannot sync your reading display preferences across multiple devices. Therefore, you’ll need to readjust them each and every time. If you like reading with the Sepia background color, then you’ll need to go ahead and make that change every time. Not really a big issue but hopefully this will still get changed in the near future.

Offline Mode

With KCR, you can read your books even if you are not connected online by simply downloading them ahead of time. However, it doesn’t work like you expect it would and it’s a huge disappointment in my opinion. Whenever you log in to KCR, you will be prompted with a message asking if you want to enable Offline Mode (assuming you haven’t already turned it on). By hitting the Enable button, you’ll then download the KCR Chrome app. Once installed, you can now right-click on a book and select to download it. Once downloaded, you can then switch from Cloud mode to Downloaded (offline) mode and you’ll see the book there for you to read even without an internet connection. Here is the huge caveat: You Must Be Logged In to KCR Prior to Reading a Book in Offline Mode!

What this means is that you must be connected to an internet connection to first log in to KCR because your library will simply not load without it. Once you are logged in, you can only then download and pin the book. After that, you may then disconnect from the connection and read the downloaded book. If you can’t find an internet connection, then you’re stuck because there’s no way to load your library, cloud mode or downloaded mode, without it. This doesn’t make sense at all and hopefully will be fixed in the future, assuming this is not by design. Also, I notice that the books I download will completely disappear from the Downloaded tab as soon as I log out!

Offline Mode
Final Words

Make no mistake about it. Apple has waged war and now companies like Amazon and other content publishers are fighting back. This subject can definitely be a whole article by itself and indeed, the web has been buzzing the last couple of months about what Apple as done. No matter how you look at it, the bottom line question is this: Does Apple have the right to charge content publishers a 30% tax for each sale made through their app? I’ve read numerous comments and debates about this subject and I’ve come to the conclusion that no, they do not.

With KCR, Amazon circumvents Apple’s required tax law. How users react to this change remains to be seen. It is inconvenient to not be able to purchase items through an app but most users probably wouldn’t know about what went on behind the scenes to have Amazon do what they did. This is why a lot people are looking to Amazon to see how this affair plays out. KCR is an additional method supplied by Amazon to allow anyone to read their books no matter where they are. As of right now, KCR seems incomplete and that further reinforces my theory that they had to rush this out to the public. But given time, I’m sure Amazon can iron out the kinks with KCR. Besides, this whole issue is bigger than just KCR itself. Amazon may have started a movement against Apple that may continue to pick up speed so who knows what’s going to happen in the future?

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Remotely Control Windows from Your iPhone!

So a good friend recently came down for a visit. Being the tech geeks that we both are, a lot was discussed on recent technologies, gadgets and the such. One of the things he displayed that stood out to me, although nothing new, was being able to remotely control his laptop back at his home directly on his iPhone. Again, remote desktop is nothing new and I’m sure there are dozens of iPhone apps out there that can already do this. But when he told me that he could do all this for only $.99, I was shocked. I’ve never had a big need to access my computers at home remotely since Dropbox allows me access to my files from any computer. But for the price of just $.99, it was really hard to resist! Not only are you able to just access your files but remote desktop allows you to pretty much do anything you could on your computer/laptop right on your iPhone or iPad! That includes streaming videos, listening to your entire music collection without having to load it onto your phone first and even as far as playing video games! Of course, I ultimately gave in to pressure and decided to try it out for myself. I sure as heck spent a lot of money in the past for products that cost a deal of a lot more so what’s $.99 to me?!

Splashtop Remote Desktop

The name of the app and service is called Splashtop Remote. For a limited time only, you can get the iPhone or iPad app for just $.99 in the Apple Store. Regular price is at $4.99. In my honest opinion, that is still a extremely good deal.

You can download and find more information about Splashtop from here. Also note that there is a free version for download as well. However, this free version limits each session to only five minutes before cutting you off. This is an excellent way for you to test Splashtop first before plunking down your hard earned $.99! If you want a absolutely free alternative to control your desktop computer with your iPhone or Android device, take a look at TeamViewer’s smart phone app.

There is two pieces of software to make the magic happen. The first is the streamer piece, which you’ll install on your computer or laptop. This piece is completely free. The second piece, which allows you actual access to the remote computer, is the Splashtop app which you can currently download from the App Store. There is also a version for Android based devices so don’t feel left out!

Splashtop Streamer

So first, we’ll install the streamer piece. The download currently weighs in at a little under 9MB. The current supported operating systems includes Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and the Mac. The streamer installs effortlessly. In fact, once you accept the EULA, the installation proceeds automatically. After two welcome screens, you’ll be asked to configure a password which will allow access to this computer remotely with the Splashtop app. As usual, you must make sure that this password is strong and cannot be easily guessed. Once you’ve set the password, that’s it! The streamer piece is now ready to accept incoming connections! However, there are still some other important pieces of information we need before being able to make a connection.

WelcomeSecond Welcome PagePassword CreationFinished

The Splashtop Streamer application will sit in your system tray from now on waiting for incoming connections. Open the application on your computer and you’ll see some very important information. Let’s go over each one (except the About tab).

In the Status tab, you’ll see your computer’s IP address. If you are behind a router, this IP address is most likely an un-routable IP address (should usually start with 192.x.x.x). This means that you can only use this IP address to connect to this computer if your iPhone or iPad is also connected to that same network segment. For example, if you are upstairs in your bedroom connected to your home Wi-Fi connection, you can use this IP address within the Splashtop iPhone app to connect back to this laptop or computer sitting in the living room downstairs. Once you travel elsewhere, say when you’re at work, you cannot use this private address. For that to work, you’ll need to use your public IP address instead. I’ll talk about this later.

Steamer Status

The second tab is Settings. You’ll be allowed to configure whether the Splashtop Streamer application starts automatically upon computer startup, signing in to your Google account for more connection management options, and whether or not to redirect sound of the remote computer to the client (your iPhone). In most cases, the default settings should suffice.

Streamer Settings

On the Security tab, you’re allowed to change the password.

Streamer Security

Under Network, you’ll see the current network port used for incoming connections. This setting is very important. Think of this port as a door. You can assign a different network port for Splashtop incoming connections as long as it’s not already in use. Splashtop will also use the next two consecutive port numbers from the one you have designated. When you initiate a connection to your remote computer using the Splashtop app, it needs to know which “door” or port to enter through otherwise it would get lost. For many, the default port should suffice. If you want a little more security, go ahead and assign it a different port number. When you use Splashtop on a different network segment than the remote computer, you’ll need to configure port forwarding and these port numbers are needed. I’ll go over this part towards the end.

Steamer Network

Splashtop iPhone App

Once you’ve got the app installed on your device (free or paid version), fire it up. Immediately, Splashtop will scan your local area network for any computers configured with the Splashtop Streamer application. This saves you the hassle of having to manually type in the IP address and port number. But remember, the computers will only show up if you are on the same network segment as it. Prior to making the connection, you’ll definitely want to configure the resolution used on your device to view the remote computer. Simply click on the blue arrow next to your remote computer and hit the Advanced button. My laptop’s screen resolution isn’t that big so that’s what I’ll be using.

Once you’re ready, tap on your remote computer’s icon to initiate the connection. You’ll then be presented with the password screen. Type in the password you’ve configured earlier in the Splashtop Streamer application. When you’re through, you should then be presented with the Hints screen. This screen shows you how to access your remote computer using your device. Close that screen out and you’ll be presented with your remote computer!

Computers FoundSplashtop ResolutionSplashtop HintsSplashtop Desktop

Usage

From my usage so far with Splashtop on my iPhone 3GS, I can definitely say it works as expected. However, it’s always difficult to navigate your way around a full size computer, laptop or desktop, from such a small screen. I would think that the experience would be 10x better if the device used to access the remote computer was on the iPad instead. Expect to be zooming in/out of your screen a whole lot. Please remember that the windows and applications you open on your remote computer stays the same. Their buttons and text don’t somehow magically re-size themselves to be easier to press or to be read on your device. There are a lot of videos on the Splashtop website submitted by users showing off the remote desktop component in action. Check them out in the Videos tab of this webpage.

Speed wise, I’m pretty shocked at how well Splashtop performs. Of course, there is going to be some lag between what happens on the remote computer and your Splashtop device. Even in your home network under the perfect conditions, there still will be some lag. Accessing my remote laptop with a 3G connection again was very smooth and very workable. I wouldn’t want to stream a movie through that connection but for editing files and doing other types of trivial tasks, Splashtop definitely excels in that area.

You must also remember that when you connect to your remote computer, the processing is done on that computer and not on your Splashtop app device. Splashtop is in charge of streaming whatever is on the screen of the remote computer to your device. For example, you can use Splashtop to connect to your remote laptop at home and have it convert a 1080p video file to 720p using your favorite media converter. The processing is performed only on that laptop. However, once you begin watching that video, it’s Splashtop’s job to sync whatever’s on screen. Even though the movie plays fine on the laptop, it might skip when you’re watching it on your iPhone because your connection might not be able keep up with streaming that huge amount of data.

Using Splashtop Outside of your Network

One of the major uses of Splashtop is allowing you access to your computer when you’re not at home. However, for that to work, you’ll need to do some configuration, especially if you’re behind a router of some sort. What I displayed above worked easily because my iPhone was connected to my home Wi-Fi router and my laptop was similarly connected to the same network segment. Once my iPhone travels outside that network, it will no longer be able to access that laptop. Here is where things get iffy for many users. You’ll need to program your router so that it will allow a Splashtop incoming connection to our remote computer. For that, we need to perform port forwarding. You can read more about how to do that from article link below in the Wake-On-Lan section. Here is a quick rundown:

To successfully configure port forwarding, we need our public facing IP address, our remote computer’s private IP address and the network port Splashtop uses for incoming connections (default is 6783-6785). I’ve also configured a port forward for the WoL packet to that same computer’s private IP address (default port is 9 for WoL).

Splashtop Port Forward

Next, we create a new computer listing from within our Splashtop app. All we need to tell the app is the name of the computer (could be anything you want) along with the public IP address on which this computer can be found in the big wide world of the Internet (remember, we are trying access this remote computer from *outside* of our network). If everything went correctly, you should be able to connect to the remote computer via your 3G data connection or from a different wireless network. When you initiate the connection, the packets will get sent to our router. The router knows that this connection uses ports 6783-6785 (remember the doors?). It then consults the port forwarding table. It sees that anytime a connection is coming in from those port numbers, route/forward that connection to the IP address listed in that table (in this case, it’s to our remote computer). The connection succeeds. If port forward was configured incorrectly, the router will not know how to forward the packets/connection and will drop it instead.

Custom Connection

Wake-On-Lan (WoL)

With every remote desktop technology, WoL always gets mentioned because it plays such a big part. Being able to access your computer remotely from anywhere in the world is awesome but in order for the remote computer to accept incoming connections from your Splashtop app device, it needs to be turned on! Do you really want to leave your computer turned on 24/7 each and every time you leave the house just in case you might have a need to remotely connect to it? I highly doubt it. WoL is a feature that allows you to wake your computer up from a suspend state (sleep, hibernate, shutdown). A special network packet is sent to your router and that in turn gets sent to your WoL enabled laptop or computer. Because the network card is still functioning even if the computer is turned completely off, it can still process this packet and wake the computer up. It sounds really good on paper but it doesn’t always work as it should. I’ve written an article dedicated to this subject matter here. I highly suggest you to read it over if you will be using Splashtop on the go.

In the End…

Seriously, how can you not like Splashtop after reading about it? If you purchase it right now, you’ll have the ability to remotely control your computer on your iPhone for just $.99. That’s less than a cup of coffee or a bottle of soda. It might however take some time for you to configure Splashtop to work correctly outside of your home network. Also, the biggest issue right now in my eyes is WoL. It’s a distraction because for many people, WoL works sometimes but not others. But whatever the case may be, I’m sure there were a ton of things you’ve regretted buying that costs more than $.99. Definitely give Splashtop a try and impress your non-techie friends!

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