AOL tests PC remote access service based on WebEx

America Online Inc. (AOL) has begun testing a new service that lets users access their PC remotely from any computer that has a browser and is connected to the Internet, an AOL spokesman said Monday.

The new service, called LinktoPC, became available on Friday to AOL subscribers interested in trying it out, he said. “We haven’t offered this type of service before,” he said.

The technology behind LinktoPC comes from WebEx Communications Inc., a company that specializes in online meetings and Web conferencing.

Although the beta program is currently limited to AOL subscribers, the company hasn’t decided whether this will remain so once the test ends, he said. Users can sign up for the beta test by going to the Dulles, Virginia, company’s AOL Beta Central Web site (

Users will be able to try out the service for free while the beta testing period lasts, after which LinktoPC will become a fee-based service. During the beta period, users will be able to install the LinktoPC application on up to five PCs.

Charles C. Perkins, an AOL subscriber since 1995, is testing LinktoPC and said he’s excited about the new service. Perkins, a salesman at the Lexus of Smithtown car dealership in Saint James, New York, characterizes LinktoPC as potentially “invaluable” to him, because he’s constantly getting data from his home PC at work. “This is a very important tool,” he wrote in an e-mail interview.

Perkins, who began testing LinktoPC on Monday, currently uses some free services for basic remote access, and a packaged application he bought when he needs extra security. If LinktoPC proves cost-effective to him, he would stop using his other remote access tools. Perkins would be willing to pay between US$1.99 and $2.99 per month for LinktoPC on top of his monthly AOL fee.

As AOL improves the service, he would like them to add support for the Netscape browser and to increase its speed. “It’s currently very slow, but I would definitely recommend it,” Perkins wrote.

With LinktoPC, users will be able to:

— run any application and access the entire desktop;

— access e-mail accounts, files, folders and the remote computer’s network resources;

— transfer files to and from the remote computer;

— print remote documents to a local printer without having to install applications or print drivers.

To use LinktoPC, the computer that will be accessed remotely needs to be turned on and have a dedicated, broadband Internet connection. However, the remote computer can be accessed from a PC with a 56K bps (bits per second) dial-up connection.

Another system requirement is that both PCs have to be running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 98, ME (Millennium Edition), XP, NT or 2000. The browser can be either Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.x or later or the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox 1.0 or later.

For security, LinktoPC requires that beta testers log in using their AOL screen name and password, and it encrypts the remote access session from end to end. It also blanks the screen of the remotely-accessed computer so prying eyes can’t see what the user is doing, and it also locks that computer’s keyboard and mouse.

News of LinktoPC comes almost exactly one year after an AOL executive told IDG News Service that the company was exploring ways of offering WebEx services to users of AOL’s AIM instant messaging service.

Back then, Brian Curry, then senior director of AIM Network Services, said that some of the services AOL and WebEx were considering adapting for AIM consumers included online presentations, VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) communications and multiparty video conferencing. Those AIM-specific plans haven’t materialized yet, but apparently AOL has found a way to leverage WebEx services in a concrete manner with LinktoPC.

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