Reach out and help someone
- By Steve Jefferson
- Apr 02, 2001
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, there are several products that 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 can 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 — pcAnywhere, LapLink
Gold and ControlIT — 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 (see box, Page 40).
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 would 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, Microsoft
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
Jefferson is a freelance analyst and writer based in Honolulu who has been
covering technology for several years.