LapLink Tech utilities keep traveling support teams connected

Pros and cons:
+  Great collection of remote-access and remote-control tools
+  Flexible and easy to use
–  Needs better virus protection and network monitoring


Real-life requirements:
Win9x or NT, 16M of RAM and 9M free storage; sound card, speakers and microphone required
for Voice Chat


For years, technical support personnel have relied on Traveling Software’s LapLink
to copy files from PC to PC. It seems only fitting that tech support people should get
their own dedicated version of the package.


LapLink Tech combines the standard package’s features with capabilities for
redirecting print jobs, cloning disks, fending off viruses, even holding audio chats
between tech support and users across a network.


It’s great for sharing technical information with a specialist down the hall, but
it’s even better for support staff separated by a couple of floors or the breadth of
the country.


One nice surprise is that once the package is installed, it sets up the machine to
refuse LapLink connections until you’re ready—a security feature.


LapLink Tech, like standard LapLink, connects via serial and parallel cables, modems,
and TCP/IP or IPX network connections. All the connectivity options mean great flexibility
in applying LapLink services.


For the many tasks that tech-support people must perform, the Remote Control feature is
a timesaver. One of the most frustrating parts of the job is trying to diagnose a problem
by telephone. Users often do not execute the instructions as stated. Remote Control gives
you the option of watching over the user’s virtual shoulder or of demonstrating the
wanted task.


Combining this feature with Voice Chat is a nice touch. Depending on network bandwidth,
however, it might be easier just to pick up the phone. You and the person you chat with
must both have sound cards, speakers and microphones—an iffy proposition at agencies.


The GCN Lab staff tried Voice Chat during a session in which a computer running
Microsoft Windows 98 had remote control of another running Windows NT Workstation 4.0. I
recommend a headset if you plan to use this feature.


Sound quality was surprisingly good for two machines connected through a 100-Mbps hub
with minimal traffic. Although participants are supposed to talk in turn, the software
could deal with both users talking at once.


We hooked up a radio to the sound input at one end to judge sound quality on the
receiving end. We managed to get radio-quality sound across the network while using the
remote-control function.


File transfer is LapLink’s foundation, and its maturity is plain in SpeedSync,
which transfers only the changed parts of files. This speeds up recopying a directory or
updating resource files significantly.


LapLink Tech can also automate tasks through the Xchange Agent wizard. Unattended file
transfers can be set up to execute under Windows 9x or NT. There is no need to learn
scripting commands, and the wizard is quite helpful in making the transfer smooth. As with
all scripting, however, conduct a dry run before trusting that everything will work as
promised.


Also new in LapLink Tech is the ability to send a print job to a local printer or a
bidirectional print to a unit attached to the remote machine. No one will fully appreciate
this capability until it’s urgently needed.


LapLink Tech can encrypt transmissions between remote host and client. When connecting
across a network, it’s a good idea to enable encryption to guard against packet
sniffers that might capture passwords or other sensitive information.


Included with LapLink Tech is the WinGuard virus scanner from Dr. Solomon’s
Software Inc. of Burlington, Mass. WinGuard supposedly detects all in-the-wild viruses as
well as polymorphic and macro viruses. But there should be a virus disinfector as well.


To round out the package, LapLink Tech has a disk-cloning utility for MS-DOS, Windows
3.x, Win95 and NT 4.0. Not only can you clone disks over the network, you can make the
LapLink parallel cable the transfer connection. Cloning is handled by Ghost Special
Edition software from Binary Research Inc. of Fort Washington, Pa.


Ghost SE clones disks byte for byte, taking care of formatting functions on the fly.
The drives need not even be the same size. Ghost SE can copy a single partition or
multiple partitions instead of an entire drive.


You can also use Ghost SE to copy images of standard operating systems and application
configurations to multiple machines. Best of all, once cloning has begun, you do not have
to monitor it. There are no extra licensing requirements for cloning multiple computers.


Any one of these tools would be worth buying on its own, and as a whole, this is a
great collection of utilities. It would be perfect if it had better reporting about
connection speeds and a true antivirus component. 

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