Once I switched to Windows, the first thing I wanted to do was try out the different remote-access services that are available out there, specifically Avvenu, Orb and SoonR. Surprisingly, being similar services, they actually do three different things and overlap quite little. There are only so many services I'm willing to have running on my PC at the same time, so I had to choose which one was the best for me, and after a week or so of testing, Avvenu is definitely the easiest, simplest, yet most useful of all the services. Let me go over them in a bit more detail to explain why.
I've written about Orb before - when Ted Shelton was still there he demoed the service at Mobile Monday a couple times - so this was the first service I tried. It's a free service, so I signed in, grabbed the agent which sits in your task bar and then tested out the functionality. Orb is focused on media, so it automagically shares out your photos, audio and any movies you have your computer, including TiVo To Go video. The interesting part of the system is that it'll transcode and stream your media automatically to both PCs and mobile phones, and if you have a Media Center, it'll even broadcast live television. Also, Orb.com has additional media content on their server which you can stream as well. Someone has written a TiVo Desktop component using their APIs, so you can grab any video from your TiVo on the road and immediately start viewing it. In all it's very cool.
SoonR is another company that demoed recently at Mobile Monday, and I was *really* impressed by what I saw. You install their service on your PC, and from your mobile phone you can have remote access to files, desktop search (both Google Desktop Search and Yahoo!/X1 Search) as well as the ability to have full access to your Outlook client as well. The live demo I saw using a new Verizon 3G EV-DO phone was really amazing - reading and editing files, responding to emails, reading attachments, etc. It was pretty great.
Avvenu is the last of the services I tried, and it's functionality is actually much more simple than the other two - it just allows you to use a web browser or mobile to access shared files on your PC. You can browser your folders, upload and download files, and share specific files or folders with a contact by adding their email address. It also integrates with Google Desktop to facilitate files searching as well. You can also send files from your phone to a special email account and it will automatically show up on your PC, it's just really well done. This simplicity is actually the greatest feature of the service, it's easy to set up and easy to use for anyone who can use a browser.
So if all three services have different functionality and work differently, why did I choose Avvenu?
Well, Orb is interesting, but after some trial, I realized I just don't access my media files remotely that much, and if I did, using a browser probably isn't the best interface. What would be better would be something like a remote iTunes client instead. Also Orb's services are pretty heavy weight, and the UI is cluttered, and doesn't provide the ability to share out other types of files like documents I may want to use. Also, the streaming doesn't always work, so that too makes it less useful. There is the idea that I could leave a Podcast client running on my machine grabbing new files into a shared folder that I could then stream to my mobile phone where ever I go, but that's way too much to have to remember to do, and honestly, that functionality *really* should be part of their system already.
SoonR is still in Beta, so I won't get too crazy about criticizing their service, but in general I don't use Outlook, and I couldn't figure out how to access my files from their Web client. Also, the service on my PC slowed the whole computer down - to the point where my mouse would skip around the screen, so it's not something I could leave running and use my computer at the same time. I'm sure these guys are going to work on it - the integration with the desktop search clients is very cool, and I think in general the service has a lot of potential.
In the end the service that's the most useful is Avvenu. It doesn't do anything wrong. The simplicity of the UI is definitely a competitive advantage - I wouldn't hesitate at all to send my Mom a link to a file or folder on my computer - and if my home PC is offline for whatever reason, the files are temporarily cached online, so there won't be a problem. I actually got a job offer from these guys back a year or so ago when they were called Kinetic Tide (from one horrible company name to another!) and while I was interviewing we talked a lot about how their system worked, they talked a lot about keeping the system simple and easy to use and they've definitely succeeded. I especially like the ability to send files directly to my computer, and the idea that if I want to share images, I don't have to worry about uploading them to a service like Flickr or Y! Photos. I just simply share out My Pictures directory with my Mom, for example, and every time I backup pics off my phone to my computer, she'll have access to them. That's great.
And finally, the Avvenu system agent is the most lightweight of all three services. It uses just 10MB, and only needs one executable running. With almost 2GB of RAM, and the fact that Yahoo! Widgets takes considerably more than that, so I don't even notice it's there. This is great - I no longer have to worry about forgetting documents at home. My Documents are shared out, and if I need something I can grab the file immediately. Do I wish there were some document viewers, and integration with my mail client? Sure - but for what Avvenu does, it does it really well. Definitely a service to have installed and running on your desktop all the time.