LapLink versions prove solid, speedy

In an attempt to customize its offerings for different kinds of users, Traveling Software Inc. recently introduced two versions of its popular remote-access software: LapLink Tech and LapLink Professional. LapLink Tech is for systems administrators and technical support staffs, while LapLink Pro is for travelers who must keep in contact with the home office.

We reviewed both packages and found them to be excellent. Which version is right for you depends on your needs. (Traveling Software also offers Remote DeskLink for occasional remote-control users and LapLink Enterprise Network Accelerator for faster client/server performance.)

LapLink Tech is designed for technical support staffs and help-desk technicians who need to diagnose and solve problems on remote users' PCs. This version of the software features new tools— such as disk cloning, virus protection and printer redirection— that are ideal for enterprisewide usage. A voice chat feature even lets users at two computers speak to one another over the same connection as the computers.

But telecommuters and frequent flyers don't typically need these features, so LapLink Pro targets those users with a lower-priced product and faster connection technologies, such as Universal Serial Bus (USB) and the Fast Infrared wireless protocol. LapLink Pro does give customers the printer-redirection technology offered in LapLink Tech. Both applications also let users limit the display of bandwidth-hogging graphics from remote PCs on the local system to speed up remote-access performance.

Both packages are designed to work with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98, and agencies that want to upgrade to that operating system will need to upgrade their version of LapLink as well because its remote-control and file-transfer features work so closely with the operating system. Both versions also work with Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0.

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LapLink Tech

LapLink Tech gives users unprecedented control over remote PCs, and it is one example of an upgrade that provides genuine functional improvements. We believe the printer-redirection feature alone makes the upgrade worthwhile.

Printer redirection means a technician can print information from a document on his own PC for a user on the user's local printer. Perhaps more importantly for travelers, a user can print a document that resides on his desktop PC back at the office on the local printer of any computer running LapLink Tech.

Another exciting new feature is voice chat. Earlier versions of LapLink let users at both systems chat using typed comments. By duplexing voice communications in the data connection between systems, LapLink Tech lets a technician speak directly to a user even if the user's computer is connected through the only available phone line. The text and voice-chat features are both easy to use, but the text version uses less bandwidth, so it might be preferable when using dial-up connections.

Users can speed up communication between machines in remote-control mode by selecting options such as limiting the number of colors transmitted to the controlling machine. Monochrome is an option when performance is paramount and colors are irrelevant. Also, users can block large bitmaps, such as splash screens, from clogging up the transmission. When updating files from one machine to another, LapLink lets users send only the changed portions of a file instead of sending the whole file.

For security, LapLink Tech can encrypt transmitted information to prevent its interception. Remote users can lock out the screen and keyboard of the machine they are connected to so that passers-by can't watch or interfere.

LapLink Tech can connect machines over the Internet, on a local-area network, using a direct dial-up connection, using infrared ports or using supplied serial and parallel cables. The cables are handy for local connections, but enabling the port to use the cables can cause the modem to be unavailable. The parallel cable moves data faster, but Windows NT only supports use of the serial cable.

Traveling Software bundles a pair of utilities for building new hard disk drives and copying files— utilities that technical professionals may find useful in situations where LapLink is commonly used. Ghost Special Edition is a disk cloning tool that lets users copy a disk drive when they are replacing an old drive or making a working backup. It works by using the LapLink parallel cable or using a PC's hard drive controller cables. The company points out that its license for Ghost Special Edition lets technicians copy the program onto users' computers.

Copying files can invite viral infection if the user isn't cautious, so Traveling Software also bundles Dr Solomon's Software Inc.'s WinGuard virus-protection software.

LapLink Tech's interface is consistent with Windows conventions, so using the program is fairly obvious. Traveling Software eliminated the host and guest modes in this version. Now users simply run the program on both machines and select the services they desire.

Installation is extremely easy and takes little time. You simply insert the CD into the drive and click on the Install Software option on the auto-run menu that appears. Total installation time is about five minutes.

Documentation comprises a thin quick-start guide that provides a cursory explanation of LapLink Tech's features and how to use them. Because LapLink Tech is so easy to use and because it has online help that pops up unbidden at every turn, there is little need for extensive documentation. The pop-up help could annoy users who know how to use LapLink, which is why Traveling Software provides an off switch for this feature. The only thing missing in the area of documentation is a trouble-shooting guide.

LapLink Tech is available on the General Services Administration schedule through CDW Computer Centers Inc. for $189. The list price for upgrades is $69.

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LapLink Professional

Most of the new features in LapLink Pro are designed to provide speedier remote-access services. That's why we think government users will find this version worth the $128 price.

LapLink Pro is the first remote-control and file-transfer utility to exploit the USB ports supported by Windows 98 and available on most PCs sold in the last two years. With a USB cable, which is available separately from Traveling Software for $40, users can send data between PCs as fast as 6 megabits/sec. The old-fashioned parallel and serial cables, on the other hand, carry data at 500 to 800 kilobits/sec. The USB connection is not only faster but also eliminates the potential for interrupt conflicts with devices that might already be attached, such as modems.

LapLink Pro also supports Fast Infrared, which is a protocol that accelerates wireless file transfers and printing between machines that support Fast Infrared. Another performance-enhancing feature is the ability to restrict bandwidth-hogging features— such as Active Desktop, font smoothing and animation of windows, lists and menus— all of which can slow remote-control operations.

LapLink Pro supports new features in Windows 98, such as multiple monitors and Windows Task Scheduler. Coordination with Task Scheduler lets users automate unattended file exchanges. In addition, LapLink Scheduler can handle unattended file synchronization, which keeps different copies of a document on the same version.

With LapLink Pro, users also can connect to other computers using modems; the Internet through Internet Packet Exchange and TCP/IP networks; Integrated Services Digital Networking; or Windows Dial-Up Networking.

LapLink Pro supports Windows 95, 98 and NT. It includes a Windows 3.1 version on the same CD, and a Windows CE version is available for free to customers from the company's Web site. LapLink CE lets customers control their desktop PC with the palmtop Windows CE 2.0 device.

LapLink Pro installs quickly and easily, but we did experience some difficulty rebooting the first time after the installation.

But after another restart, all went well. LapLink Pro's interface is very similar to LapLink Tech's, with icons on a button bar that are automatically identified by a text description when the pointer stops over the buttons.

LapLink Pro is available on CDW Computer Centers' GSA schedule for $128. Traveling Software offers an $80 rebate for upgrades from previous versions and competitive products.

-- Carney is a contributing technology writer based in Herndon, Va. He can be reached at DanCarney@compuserve.com.

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LapLink TechTraveling Software Inc.(800) 343-8080www.travsoft.com

Price and Availability: Available on CDW Computer Centers Inc.'s GSA schedule for $189. For more information, call (800) 796-4239 or visit www.cdw.com.

Remarks: This is a great product and well worth the upgrade cost. The printer-redirection and voice-chat features are valuable for technical support staff. The included Ghost Special Edition and Dr Solomon's WinGuard are useful extras.

Final Score: Excellent

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LapLink ProfessionalTraveling Software Inc.(800) 343-8080www.travsoft.com

Price and Availability: Available on CDW Computer Centers Inc.'s GSA schedule for $128. For more information, call (800) 796-4239 or visit www.cdw.com.

Remarks: LapLink Pro is ideal for telecommuters and road warriors because of its speed and flexibility. The support for Universal Serial Bus cables boosts speed and reduces the chance for interrupt conflicts. The ability to filter graphics-intensive Microsoft Corp. Windows features also accelerates remote-control sessions.

Final Score: Excellent

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