MioNet Takes Remote Access to the Next Level

MioNet, a new remote-access, sharing-and-backup product from Senvid Inc., makes it easier for small business employees to work remotely and collaboratively, while saving money, time and effort. Senvid officially launched MioNet today, but the company provided SmallBusinessComputing with early access to allow us to test how well the service delivers on its claims.

MioNet is available at an introductory price of $40 per person, per year. The regular price is $65. A free version offers limited functionality. The service lets you access folders, files and applications on any other computer, no matter where it is, as long as both machines have access to the Internet and are running the MioNet client software. You can also access a video camera attached to another computer, or even take complete remote control of another computer.

Other products and services offer variations of this functionality, but MioNet offers an all-in-one solution that’s cheaper and easier to use than alternatives.

Secure Access, No VPN Required
Travelers can securely access their office computers from a laptop to open, modify and save files and even launch applications. Competing products include folder synchronizing systems, which can be tricky to set up and may still leave you without the file you need. More and more small businesses are also setting up VPN connections, but they are expensive and difficult to set up. With MioNet, you don’t need VPN because the product encrypts all of the transmitted data.

One thing to keep in mind: MioNet cannot wake up a computer that is turned off or in hibernate mode, although Senvid says it’s working on a solution to this problem. Also, if you’re traveling and can’t get an Internet connection to access a file on your office PC, you’re out of luck. In this respect, MioNet is not a complete alternative to synchronizing folders between laptop and desktop.

What MioNet can do is let Workgroup members operating out of different locations share folders containing files for common use and work on files separately or collaboratively. Most firms in this situation use e-mail to send files back and forth, but often run into version control issues — such as making modifications to the wrong version of the document, or not having the latest version when they need it. Or they use central servers, which are expensive and require IT skills to set up and maintain.

MioNet's My Resource page
Click here for a larger image.

A company could also use MioNet to selectively share folders with a supplier or customer. A lawyer, for example, could share with a client a folder containing drafts of the documents he’s working on. A small business could give a supplier access to a folder with spreadsheets showing order history.

With MioNet you can easily set up Webinars to show PowerPoint presentations to remote colleagues or customers, or collaboratively edit a document in real time while talking on the phone. However, MioNet does not support instant messaging.

MioNet makes remote backups easier, too. The product lets you use third-party programs to set up automatic backups to a remote drive, including external USB drives connected to a remote computer. (The company recommends backing up to a remote drive to ensure survival of data in the event the computer is lost or destroyed.) Senvid plans a revision in January that will add automatic backup functionality to MioNet.

How MioNet Works
One of the impressive features of this product is that it integrates with the operating system — Windows for now, Linux and Unix later. When one person gives another access to a drive, folder or other resource on his computer, it simply appears in the second person’s My Computer folder as a local resource. You can also access shared folders from within the MioNet client software.

To use MioNet, you first download the free-trial software, which offers full functionality for 30 days. (At the end of the trial, if you don’t subscribe to the service, the software continues to provide limited, but still useful, functionality.)

Next, you go to the MioNet Web site to sign up and register a profile, which includes a user name, e-mail address and password. You can set up the software to launch when Windows starts up and automatically log you in.

The MioNet software is simple and intuitive. To share a local resource with another person, click on the “Share with Others” tab, then click the appropriate corresponding button at the top of the window — Folder, Camera or Desktop. Sharing a folder gives others read-only or read-write access to files in the folders you select. Sharing a camera lets the remote user see what the camera attached to your computer sees. Sharing your desktop gives the other person remote control of your computer.

When you choose to share a folder, MioNet presents a list of your local drives. Click on a drive or expand the view and select a folder or subfolder, then click Select. A “Share with” dialog shows a list of the people with whom you already share. Or you can click the “Invite new person” button, which lets you send an offer to share resources to a non-MioNet user. Clicking the ‘Find MioNet user’ button brings up a dialog where you can input a known MioNet user’s name or e-mail address. Finally, you select the permissions you’re granting — Read & Write or Read only.

MioNet scrupulously notifies parties at every step in a share transaction. When you share a resource, the other person receives a pop-up alert. He has to click a button to “accept” the share. When he does, MioNet sends an alert back to the sharing computer to tell the first person that the share was accepted.

MioNet's Share with Others page
Click here for a larger image.

The rest of the software is equally simple to use. The “Share with Others” tab shows a list of resources you’ve shared and with whom. The Shared with Me tab shows a list of resources others have shared with you and who they are. Double clicking on an active share — shares are not active when the other person is offline — automatically connects you to that resource.

MioNet stores all the authentication and permissions information on one of its servers. When you use a shared resource, the MioNet software sends your mouse clicks to a Web server, which passes them to the remote computer. The remote computer then sends the requested data back via the most direct route.

On a LAN, the most direct route is over a local network link. This is one of several innovative techniques Senvid uses to ensure fast throughput. Others include specially developed caching techniques. Senvid holds or has applied for 32 patents on the technology in MioNet.

If you decide not to subscribe to the MioNet service after the free trial, you can continue to use all of the product’s functions for sharing with other computers on your local network and for viewing shared resources on MioNet subscribers’ computers. What you can’t do is share your resources with a remote user.

Good but not Flawless
Our experience with MioNet was generally good, but not 100 percent trouble-free. Installing and setting up the software and a MioNet account was simple enough. And testing remote sharing with Senvid over the Internet worked flawlessly. We were pleasantly surprised at how short the delays were when making connections and opening files on remote drives.

When testing on a local network, however, we ran into problems with connections to shared resources either not working or working intermittently. It seems likely these were not caused by MioNet itself. Senvid says it has not experienced such problems in its product testing and speculates they may be caused by radio interference on the wireless LAN link, or possibly virus protection systems interfering with the way MioNet passes data between the two computers. We were able to share a folder on a computer connected wirelessly to Senvid’s network.

MioNet was also not able to recognize the Logitech QuickCam for Notebooks Pro Webcam that’s attached to our main test system. Senvid says it has successfully tested this product with MioNet, but none of the fixes it suggested worked. Some of the problems we encountered could have been caused by the MioNet software. After all, as with any first-version product, it’s inevitable that problems with unusual system configurations will crop up.

It Works, but Be Realistic
For highly mobile companies with no central office — small consulting practices, or even sales teams, for example — it may be especially useful, giving you and/or your employees a virtual work space with easy access to all the firm’s data and applications. MioNet’s offsite backup capability is also a boon, and the automatic backup features planned for a near-future revision will make the product even stronger. Keep in mind, though, as you’re thinking about how you could use this product in your own company, that for the virtual work space concept to work, all of the computers with resources that you share through MioNet must be powered up and online. It’s a good, fairly priced product, but it’s not magic.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s. Just for fun, he also authors features and columns on digital photography for Here’s How, a spiffy new Canadian consumer technology magazine.

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