Hamachi : Stay Connected – a VPN solution.

LogMeIn FreeI’ve been using a service for sometime now called “LogMeIn” as a way of remotely controlling the computers I have access to. In my opinion, the developers of LogMeIn have designed the premier way of remotely accessing any computers you have connected (via a broadband connection mind you) to the internet. The best thing? It’s free! If you haven’t heard of them I suggest you take a quick browse over and check it out. To quickly summarize what LogMeIn is:

  • LogMeIn signupYou sign up for a free account and download the software to the computer you want to be able to remotely control. (you can do this for any computer you want to be able to access)
  • After setting up the software (painless) that computer is now accessible via the LogMeIn interface via any browser on any computer (err…by any I mean IE or Firefox – the only two browsers I’ve used with it ;)).
  • LogMeIn InstallWhen you browse to the LogMeIn website and log in your account a list of computers you have installed LogMeIn on will be shown. You just click on the link for the computer you want to visit, install any browser plugins that may be necessary (if this is the first time you’ve used LogMeIn with that browser), enter in the password you chose for that computer (that’s right – two layers of protection besides the encrypted tunneling) and then you’ll be able to choose from a list of options once you are connected.
  • The primary option I use (the paid account enables other things like File Sharing, and Print to local printer) is the Remote Control. When you click on it the display for the computer you are LogMeIn Remote Controlconnecting to will come up in the browser and you will be able to control that computer as if you were sitting in front of it (mouse, keyboard input etc.) – pretty nifty eh?

Needless to say – this service is something that has been a real boon for connecting with my office computer and doing work. I’ve also installed LogMeIn on some of my relatives computers so that when they have problems or need help doing something (because of their unfamiliarity with computers) I can log into their computer for them and they can watch what I do (or vice versa) while troubleshooting/fixing the problem.

So the LogMeIn service is great. Well, when I was on it recently I noticed via a spot ad on their page that there is a new service called “Hamachi“. What intrigued me about this service is that it enables Virtual Private Networking (VPN) in a “automatic” way (via a simple install) so that you can connect to another computer (or network) remotely and be “networked” together. With this service you can potentially share files and printers, map network drives, do gaming over lan etc. In their words,

LogMeIn Hamachi is a zero-configuration virtual private networking (VPN) application.

In other words Hamachi is a program that allows you to arrange multiple computers into their own secure network just as if they were connected by a physical network cable.

Hamachi is fast, secure and simple. Its core version is also free.

For my church this would come in really handy for our current treasurer as she would be able to use VPN to map a network drive from our church network to her home computer and install the network version of the membership/accounting software we use at the church.

Well I decided to give a go at installing Hamachi (did I mention it’s free too? Gotta love those guys at LogMeIn!) and had no problem with the initial setup until I tried sharing files. On the office computer I could “see” my Home computer on the network okay and even view the shared folders I had marked there “but” when I tried to access the network I set up from my home computer I kept getting this error message: “the network is not present or not started”.

Since I’m a mediocre network guru at best (translation, I know enough to get by ;)) I hadn’t a clue what the problem was. The Hamachi forums didn’t seem to have any solutions (and I tried anything I thought might work) and I had fun (written with sarcasm) reading unsuccessfully through the Microsoft Support docs. After 3 hours of trial and error I was just about to give up on getting Hamachi to work when as a last resort I googled the error message (which is what I should’ve done in the first place!) and found out that the problem was the “workgroup” service was disabled (see the services.msc list). I must have disabled it when I was “tweaking” around with my windows settings to try improve performance (note to self – unless you understand what you are doing…no tweaking!). When I enabled the service – bingo! I now was connected via Hamachi (and the VPN it set up) to my church network!

Some quick observations about Hamachi:

  • It’s free!
  • Yes, it creates a VPN but speed is somewhat affected because packets first travel to the Hamachi server and then to the networked computer(s) (VVPN?)
  • For it to work with any degree of usability you will need broadband connections at all points on the network.
  • The software installs great but if you are wanting to file/printer share there are still some things to do in getting windows to cooperate (which from what I read and understood, the Hamachi developers are saying is a windows limitation out of their control). This necessitates having some knowledge of how networks work and/or a good friend who can help troubleshoot.
  • Apparently, Hamachi is supposed to work with Mac OsX as well but since I don’t have a Mac I don’t know how well it works.

Besides using Hamachi for the reason I already stated above, another great use for me is to be able to synchronize files between my home computer and the office computer. Thus using Hamachi and “Allway Sync” coupled with the Windows scheduler service I always have a worry-free backup of essential files between the two computers! Talk about convenience!

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