What if you could sit in your truck outside your favorite coffee shop and use the copy of Chief Architect software installed only on your office computer (located 50 miles away) to finish your project design, then print the drawing on a printer in your client's family room while you're driving to the next job? Hamachi, a networking tool, lets you do that and more by using the Internet to “build” your own hassle-free virtual private network (VPN).

Setting up. Download the Hamachi client from www.hamachi.cc on each computer you want to be part of your VPN. A wizard will walk you through the setup process. Hamachi will connect to a common server that will serve as “traffic cop” for your virtual network. You can create as many virtual networks as you like, each with its own security credentials. That way you can connect to both your lead carpenter and your kid at college, but they can't connect to each other (unless you want them to).

A word of caution. Unless you want everyone on your Hamachi network to have unrestricted access to whatever is on your computer, take this tutorial course to learn how to set up and secure file, folder, and printer shares. www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/networking/maintain/share.mspx.

And if you've never used Windows Remote Desktop to run applications remotely, you can find a tutorial about that here as well. www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/mobility/getstarted/remoteintro.mspx.

Windows Remote Desktop requires the host and the remote computer to be connected to the same “network segment,” so start your Hamachi connection first, then connect to the remote desktop by typing in the Hamachi-assigned IP address, which will always start with a 5.xxx.yyy.zzz . — Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions. Reach him online at www.joestoddard.com.