Being able to access a friend's machine or your work PC from afar can be invaluable for fixing problems or retrieving data. Here, we demonstrate remote access using an iPhone. Sponsored by LogMeIn.

Smartphones aren't only desirable, they're potentially invaluable. BlackBerry and Android handsets, as well as the iPhone, preload software that lets you manage and synchronise your contact and calendar information with your PC. Add-on tools are also available that allow you to access and work with data stored on your PC from afar.

So, if you've left a vital document on your work PC and a colleague isn't available to save your bacon, you can access, browse and even forward on that document from your smartphone. No one need be any the wiser that you messed up.

We've looked at remote access in the past, primarily as a means of remotely troubleshooting and fixing PC problems. The idea of using a smartphone instead is a relatively new development, with the LogMeIn Ignition software we've used in this workshop available for the iPhone only since February. An Android version is expected to launch soon.

Ignition displays your entire desktop onscreen, giving you full access to all files and settings. It also enables you to help friends and colleagues, taking control of their PCs and sorting out any problems they have.

You can download free trials of LogMeIn software from secure.logmein.com. iPhone and iPod touch owners can also download Ignition from the App Store. At £17 it isn't an impulse buy, but if you travel a lot and need remote access to your PC, it's likely to come in useful.

LogMeIn's wide range of products all offer remote access to your PC over the internet, and all are set up in the same way. We'll have a quick look at the desktop version of the software - LogMeIn Free - before getting down to the specifics with Ignition for the iPhone.

Remote access from a mobile phone

Step 1. Download LogMeIn Free from secure.logmein.com and install it on both the local and host PC. To register for a free LogMeIn account, click ‘Create an account', ‘Management and Networking', then Continue. Complete the registration form and check your email inbox for an account-confirmation request.

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Step 2. Following a successful registration you'll be forwarded to your online account. From here you can manage your account, adjust settings and add computers. Click the My Computers link, then choose Remote Control under the PC you want to control. Enter your password and the host PC's desktop will appear in your browser.

LogMeIn Ignition 2

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Being able to access a friend's machine or your work PC from afar can be invaluable for fixing problems or retrieving data. Here, we demonstrate remote access using an iPhone. Sponsored by LogMeIn.

Step 3. The host PC will automatically lock out other users while you are in control of it. This prevents anyone else from interfering with what you're doing, and should minimise confusion when the mouse starts moving around and folders open. Note that you can't control someone's PC without their permission.

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Step 4. You can follow the same principle to access documents using your iPhone. Download LogMeIn Ignition from the App Store and log in. You can tell the program to remember your login details, but note that doing so will allow anyone who stumbles across your lost or stolen iPhone or iPod touch to access data stored on your PC.

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Step 5. The following screen offers hints and instructions for using LogMeIn Ignition, most of which are fairly straightforward and concern navigation on the iPhone. We'll come back to the ‘Change panning mode in settings' option later on, but for now just click ‘Continue to Computer'.

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Step 6. Ignition displays a list of computers that you've added to your account. Note that in order for a computer to be accessible to Ignition, it needs to be switched on. It's a clever program, but it can't power on the PC remotely. The machine can't be roused from Sleep or Hibernation mode either.

LogMeIn Ignition 6

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Being able to access a friend's machine or your work PC from afar can be invaluable for fixing problems or retrieving data. Here, we demonstrate remote access using an iPhone. Sponsored by LogMeIn.

Step 7. Click on a device to initiate access to it. Enter your username and password and click Log In. Here, we've remotely accessed the ‘Office iMac' to retrieve a text file. We were quickly able to launch Microsoft Word from the Dock and then open the document we wanted to consult.

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Step 8. You can control Ignition using the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. From here you can launch an onscreen keyboard for making edits to your document, while a Zoom tool - or the iPhone's useful scroll-and-pinch function - helps you to see what you're doing on the handset's small screen.

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Step 9. A full set of Fn keys are also accessible, letting you use the same shortcuts to navigate your desktop as you would if you were sitting in front of it. The arrow keys also let you jump through long documents. Key combinations can be accessed using the icon button on the far right of the Ignition toolbar.

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Step 10. If you find yourself using Ignition regularly, it may be worth adjusting the screen resolution to a more user-friendly level. Press the Settings button (the circular cog in the toolbar) to access several such options, including defining how the iPhone connects to the remote machine. If you're using 3G, costs could stack up.

LogMeIn Ignition 10

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Being able to access a friend's machine or your work PC from afar can be invaluable for fixing problems or retrieving data. Here, we demonstrate remote access using an iPhone. Sponsored by LogMeIn.

Step 11. Scroll mode in the Settings menu can also be used to change how you control your remote PC. The ‘Mouse moves' mode treats the iPhone/iPod screen much like a trackpad, where you move the cursor around by flicking your finger across the screen and then tapping to click.

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Step 12. We preferred the ‘Screen moves' option, where the mouse cursor remains permanently fixed in the centre of the screen. It doesn't sound intuitive, since in this mode you move the desktop around using your finger and line up the object beneath the cursor. The advantage is that you don't lose track of where you are.

LogMeIn Ignition 12

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