Reach out and help someone

Programs give support staff remote access to users' computers

Anyone who has tried to help a remote employee fix a computer problem knows the frustration of trying to visualize a desktop you can't see and describe menus and mouse clicks from memory. Even the simplest problems, such as changing the default printer, can drag into an hour-long festival of hair pulling and frazzled nerves. Good training for a therapist, maybe, but valuable use of your technical staff it most certainly is not.

Thankfully, several products can help solve this problem. Remote-access and control programs for the desktop enable support staffers to dial directly into a remote desktop system and perform operations on that computer just as if they were sitting in front of it. The befuddled user can watch every move on his or her monitor and even communicate with the support staff via a chat window.

Remote-access and control programs also provide tools for moving files from one computer to another. With the increasing features and portability of laptop computers, more and more professionals are treating their desktop systems as home base — a repository for critical information they might need to access from remote locations. With remote control and access, all it takes is a dial-up connection to the desktop back at the office and you can have access to anything you need on that computer.

We rounded up the top contenders in this group—LapLink Gold, ControlIT and pcAnywhere,—to see how each could best serve an agency looking to give its users remote access to their information while giving support staff the ability to remotely control users' computers.

LapLink Gold

LapLink.com Inc.'s LapLink is hands-down the easiest-to-use application of the bunch. Its interface is well designed and includes helpful—though at times annoying—instructions that pop up to guide you through just about anything. Connecting to another computer, for example, is as easy as choosing "Connect Over" from the toolbar and then either modem, network, Universal Serial Bus network, cable or Internet. And as always, LapLink comes with the proper cables (serial, parallel and USB) in case you don't have a working Network Interface Card or modem connection.

Of course, security is a major concern whenever you open a computer to outside users. Accordingly, LapLink's default setting denies incoming requests, and you must define accepted callers in the log-in list or open it wide to the public.

What's more, each caller can be given specific rights, such as file transfer, remote control, print redirection, and voice and text chatting. In addition, users can blank the host machine's screen (very useful for stopping eavesdroppers from watching your remote operations) and disable the mouse and keyboard.

Other security features include encryption (to stop snoopers from capturing information in transit), folder and drive-level security, call logging and automatic callbacks to predefined phone numbers only. LapLink's security measures should put department administrators at ease.

While connected, the two primary applications are remote control and file transfer. The remote control works well in most instances. The only time we got an unexpected result was when launching videos remotely. This was a problem with all the products we tested. No matter how fast the connection, videos do not run adequately via remote control.

Apart from videos, however, all other applications work like a dream. You can easily run any application or get access to any file that the host machine has access to—you can even run a monstrous database application via your puny laptop.

Likewise, the file-transfer application is easy to use and works well. You can either transfer files manually, picking and choosing from a directory tree similar to Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, or you can set up automatic synchronization of directories between your remote and local computers.

There were two drawbacks to Lap-Link. Although its file-transfer speeds were the fastest of the programs we tested, remote-control browsing was noticeably slower than we experienced with the competition. Not only was it slow for the guest to show what the host was doing, we noticed it even slowed down operations on the host machine.

The other weakness was in its administration tools. The latest versions of pcAny-where and ControlIT boast enterprise-class features, such as centralized administration and security tools, but LapLink is rather light in these areas.

If simplicity and ease of use are more important than remote-control performance and manageability, LapLink is an attractive package.

ControlIT 5.1 Enterprise Edition

If manageability and security are top concerns, then Computer Associates International Inc.'s ControlIT may be just what you need. ControlIT offers virtually all the functionality the other two products give Windows users, with the added benefit of centralized administration via Windows NT or Computer Associates' venerable Unicenter TNG.

The administrator has the option of installing one of two versions of ControlIT: a managed version or a stand-alone version. The stand-alone one is similar to LapLink in that it puts a premium on ease of use. For example, users do not need to designate whether they want to be in "host" or "guest" mode, as they do with pcAny-where. If the application is running, either mode can be employed. This simple feature is a huge boon when someone tries to log in to a remote computer they specifically left running only to find out they can't because they forgot to put it in host mode.

The managed version is also easy to use, but is about as locked down as any agency could hope for. This version requires a single, designated Windows domain controller or the TNG framework from which an administrator can manage, configure and deploy hundreds or thousands of identical copies of ControlIT in a fraction of the time required to visit each machine. More important, none of the versions can be manipulated to breach security policies.

For the same reasons that remote-control products are so powerful for end users, they can be disastrous in the wrong hands. ControlIT is the best at ensuring that corporate security policies can only be manipulated by those with permission. For example, while configuration options are visible to the viewer, they are grayed out and cannot be altered. While for the user this is the least flexible application, for management it is the most secure.

Like pcAnywhere, Con-trol-IT comes with a management utility that scans all ports on all machines on the network to see whether other versions of remote-control software are installed and running. This alerts administrators to unauthorized activities.

PcAnywhere 10

PcAnywhere by Symantec Corp. offers the richest features of the group. This product has been around for about 15 years and has heaps of features both for end users and administrators. But we also found a few glitches.

For starters, pc-Anywhere can work with any Microsoft operating system—from DOS to Windows 2000. It also offers the best remote- control operations and has a bevy of features and options, including folder syn-chronization, true color screen resolution and transmission capabilities over virtually any net-work operating system.

Although not quite as tight as ControlIT, Version 10 of pcAnywhere includes a number of enterprise-class features that make this ideal for all but the most secure networks. For example, a fast port scanner utility quickly and effectively scans the network for virtually any remote-control software running on any system to ensure that only authorized systems are accessible to outside users.

In addition, the new version comes with an MMC (Micro-soft Management Console) snap-in that enables you to build, configure and deploy identical versions of the application for your users. As with ControlIT, different groups can be designated different features and control privileges. Unlike ControlIT, however, with pcAny-where the end users can still change the configurations on their own.

Also with the other two, pcAnywhere allows you to use existing NT users and passwords for authentication, rather than creating a new set for this application. Detailed event logging and even session recording also are options, allowing the IT manager to make sure the system is not being abused, or track down the culprit when it is.

Although certainly complete, pcAny-where is not the easiest to use, nor the most compelling for the administrator. Its breadth of features offers an attractive alternative to the thinner LapLink or the more rigid ControlIT.

So Close, Yet So Far

Despite the progress in this field, there are a few things we would like to see addressed in future releases.

First, we'd like to have the ability to use any browser to control a host. ControlIT, for example, requires software to be installed on the guest machine, but it did not always behave the way it should.

Second, we'd like to see an easy way to use these products with firewalls. Right now, especially if you are using Network Address Translation, you need to manually punch a hole in the firewall to give travelers access to the corporate goods.

Another big issue that needs to be addressed also relates to security. When a guest calls up a remote machine, he or she gets access to everything connected to it. A more secure solution would be for the caller to have access only to those resources his or her network log-in allows.

Finally, we'd like to see better integration of the file-transfer capabilities with the remote-control applications. In each system, you cannot simply drag and drop a file or folder from the host to the guest system. Instead, you need to invoke a proprietary file-transfer program that closely resembles an FTP application.

We were surprised that these graybeard applications are just as compelling today as they were before Windows shipped. Thankfully for vendors, Windows was not designed to be a networked operating system, and until Windows shifts from a desktop-centric model, there will always be a need for applications like these.

Jefferson is a freelance analyst and writer based in Honolulu who has been covering tech-nology for several years.

REPORT CARD

Score: B+

LapLink.com Inc.
(425) 483-8088
www.laplink.com

Cost: $169.95

Remarks: LapLink Gold is an easy-to-use, well- designed application. Although its features are not as rich as pcAnywhere's, most users will find this a complete product. The only drawback: It is designed more for consumers than for government agencies; centralized management and security are nonexistent.


REPORT CARD

Score: A-

Computer Associates International Inc.
(631) 342-6000
www.ca.com

Cost: $199

Remarks: Like LapLink, ControlIT offers a breadth of features and a high level of usability. Where it walks away from the competition, however, is in centralized manageability and security, which allows an agency to create a remote-control application that is as tight as Fort Knox. If you value security and manageability, take a look at ControlIT.


REPORT CARD

Score: B+

Symantec Corp.
(408) 517-8000
www.symantec.com

Cost: $179.95

Remarks: PcAnywhere Version 10 includes security and management tools that make the administrator's job a lot easier. Combine that with the most feature-rich offering of the bunch, and you have a product that is tough to beat. Its only downside is that it's the most difficult to work with.


NEXT STORY: Plunge shows value of diversifying

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.