By Josh Lowensohn:
Got a house sitter or an alarm system? Good for you. If not, there are a handful of ways to turn a computer into a tool that will alert you if someone’s there who shouldn’t be.
For the sake of this guide we’re keeping things simple and limiting our list to free apps that work on PCs, Macs, or both. A few simply use your browser. Later on we also have a section on specialty hardware that can take you beyond what most Webcams are capable of.
Software can offer a definite piece of mind over browser-based solutions. Most of these apps can run quietly in the background, and can save footage to your hard drive for archiving. High-end Webcams often come with their own security software, so in the spirit of this guide, we’re going with generic software that should work with any model:
Yawcam is free and PC-only. It’s a complex program but not too complex to set-up. The app lets you set whether you want to capture all of the motion within the frame or just a part of it. I used it to track motion in a specific part of my workplace: CNET colleague Rafe Needleman’s office door. Any time he came in or out of his office it took a photo. At home this is more useful if you point it toward something like a door or entry way, which can keep it from picking up one of your pets moving around. The app does an exceptional job at letting you pick various ways you want to be notified. You can have it upload screen shots to an FTP site or as an e-mail. It can also play any sound on your computer, or start another program (such as a lock-down or keyboard locking application). I set mine up with Gmail, which was a snap. You just have to have plug in the outgoing settings on Google’s help page and it will send a high-quality screen shot of whatever motion it’s captured just a few seconds after it happens. Using this with your phone’s e-mail address will give you a live alert and a saved copy of all the shots in Gmail’s sent folder.
This software runs a streaming video client that can be accessed from any computer with a browser. You can view either live video or snapshots that can be taken at intervals or on-demand. HomeCamera’s secret sauce is being able to e-mail you when you’re not there. You can have it send you an SMS alert, or an e-mail–both of which can link to the video or a snapshot. You can also set it to record video or take sequential shots on a precise schedule.
Yoics is a remote desktop application with a lot of tricks up its sleeve. Remote Webcam security is one of them. You can very quickly add a Webcam that can be streamed to a private Web address, along with having its footage archived to the local machine. It can also be set up not only to send you an e-mail if it detects motion but also send a note to a Twitter account and upload whatever footage it’s captured to YouTube or Daily Motion. There is quite a bit of setup involved though, and the wizard that walks you through it is bound to overwhelm the average user.
EyeSpyFX (PC & Mac)
This software works on Windows and Mac and has a mobile viewer that can be accessed on a handful of devices, including the iPhone. I tried it on a Mac. The software, while primitive, does a good job with privacy; the only way to access your stream is with your camera’s special PIN. It also supposedly keeps an online and offline archive of your footage, although I couldn’t get either to work.
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