New product gives access to a PC through mobile devices

PCNow allows mobile device owners to access their PCs remotely

A new version of PCNow being released Monday allows customers to access their PCs remotely through mobile devices such as a BlackBerry.

Mobile device owners can use the service to view files and folders stored on PC hard drives, and search their PCs with desktop search products such as the ones made by Google and Yahoo. Or they can use a mobile device to access the VoIP capabilities of Skype, even if they use mobile devices not supported by the Skype mobile client.

"Any mobile device, as long as it has a browser, you can get your files and folders. You can get to your [Microsoft] Outlook e-mail and contacts," says Jack Chawla, senior director of product management at WebEx.

WebEx is the maker of PCNow, which gives people full access to their desktop from remote computers with a Web browser. Because of a partnership with mobile technology provider SoonR , the version of PCNow being released today allows users to connect to their office or PCs through both remote PCs and mobile devices for US$12.95 per month, or US$10 a month for an annual plan. Enterprises that want PCNow for at least 10 employees get discounted rates.

While PCNow allows users of mobile devices to see files on their computers, it doesn't allow them to make changes to documents with a mobile device, Chawla says. However, PCNow customers can use their mobile devices to send a file from their computer to someone else's, he says.

The service comes with an optional two-factor authentication process. A user is asked for a password, and after it is entered the service will call the user's cell phone. Then the user types in a second password. Enterprises or individual users can also limit the types of files and folders that would be available through a mobile device.

Edgar Blazona, owner and CEO of furniture company True Modern in California, has been using a beta version of PCNow on his Treo 650 for a month.

"We are constantly out on the road and in situations where it seems like we never have enough of the information at our fingertips, and this allows us to have it," he says.

Blazona was in a meeting recently with a retailer who asked for pricing information that was only available on Blazona's office computer.

"I needed to get this pricing so I could close down the deal," Blazona says. "We're in the furniture industry, everyone's trying to make quick decisions. Frankly, I wasn't prepared enough. But what I was able to do was pull up the information, pull up some shipping pricing information on the phone."

Forrester Research analyst Claire Schooley says PCNow for mobile devices is likely more attractive in the consumer market than the enterprise market. But it will be popular among young workers, she says.

"I would think this would have a big market, especially as we've got young workers today coming into the workforce," Schooley says.

Schooley called being able to access files from a mobile device a "very nice feature."

"People use their BlackBerries today to use their e-mail. But this is actually being able to get into your computer and get whatever information you need," she says.

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Jon Brodkin

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