Reach out and help someone

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

like these.

Jefferson is a freelance analyst and writer based in Honolulu who has been

covering technology for several years.

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