Handle work from afar

Handle work from afar<@VM>These seven products will let you access computers from the field

Remote-access software gives you control for telecommuting, maintenance and file transfers


Remote-access software, originally conceived as a simple means of controlling operations or file transfers between two cabled-together computers, has adapted with the development of large networks, the Internet and wireless technologies.

LapLink.com Inc.'s LapLink Gold includes cables to connect two computers directly. The product must be installed and configured on client and host computers before making any connections. LapLink offers wizards to simplify selecting ports to support connections, after which you can simply select from a list the remote computer to which you are connecting.
It also supports many activities that are important to government agencies, including telecommuting, remote-control of servers, distance learning and technical support.

Using remote-access software is just like being there. From your local, or client, machine you access a remote, or host, machine.

The connection can be made in practically any way that two computers can communicate. Once the connection is made, you can run applications on the remote machine, move data between the machines, or communicate with the remote location via text chat or voice chat. The accompanying chart lists only products that include remote control.

You can connect the local and remote machines in several ways:

Direct connection. A cable connects the two computers through serial ports, parallel ports, or, most recently, Universal Serial Bus ports. Direct connection is the most reliable, and potentially the fastest, means of communication. But it requires that the computers be physically near each other.

LapLink gives you many options for level of performance and security. During remote control sessions, it displays the screen of the controlled computer.
Modem. In this method, the client calls the host over ordinary phone lines. Both computers need modems and telephone access. Speed is limited to modem speed.

Network. Both computers are part of the same network. Speed is limited to network speed.

Internet. Clients can access the host computer using standard Internet protocols. Both computers must have Internet access, and speed is limited to the speed of the slowest connection. Expertcity Inc.'s GoToMyPC operates completely as a Web-based service.

Connection methods can be combined. For example, a client computer may use a modem to access a network with the host computer.

The Lowdown

' What does remote-access software do? Remote-access software allows you to control one computer from another to run applications, perform system maintenance, transfer files and use text or voice chat.

' How would I use this? For telecommuting, accessing applications that only run on one machine, maintaining servers and systems remotely, diagnosing and fixing computers remotely, distance-learning workgroups and collaboration, and for file transfer and synchronization.

' What are the most important factors in choosing a product? First, make sure it supports the computer platforms you use. Second, be sure that it can use the type of connections between computers that you prefer.

' What is the most important consideration about using remote-access products? Security. Unless properly secured with passwords, encryption and whatever else the product offers, remote access could leave a security hole for hackers to exploit.

' What's next? Accessing computers from wireless devices, and using Internet services to access computers from anywhere.

With remote control, file transfer and chat capabilities, the uses for remote access are limited only by your imagination. The key is that it is simpler for a user to access the remote computer than to travel to it. Common uses include:

Telecommuting: A user at home connects with a computer at the office to run applications and access data.

Application access: A proprietary application may only run on a single machine, but other machines can access that machine remotely.

Maintenance: Systems administrators can access remote servers to perform, for example, system administration and e-mail maintenance remotely from home as required.

Technical support: Tech support personnel can control your computer from theirs to diagnose or fix problems without a face-to-face visit.

Distance learning: The teacher can access student machines to demonstrate tasks, or students can access the teacher's machine to try new applications.

File synchronization and cloning: Administrators can ensure that remote workers have the files and applications they need by making identical copies of approved systems. This doesn't require remote control.

Workgroups and collaboration: Users can exchange information via chat, share files and access each other's machines as needed.

Before you buy a remote-access system, consider these factors:

  • Platform. Choose a product appropriate to your platforms. David Scott, product manager with Symantec Corp., said that Symantec still offers free versions of pcAnywhere for MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows 3.1 systems. One freeware product, PalmVNC, even allows remote access from Palm OS devices.

  • Connection type. Choose a product that supports your infrastructure.

  • Security. Remote control of your computers is precisely what you don't want hackers to get. Security includes ensuring that only certain people can access host machines, as well as encrypting part or all of a remote session. Encryption can slow performance, but it's worth it. Symantec has an edge here because their main business is security. Its pcAnywhere, for example, requires passwords; other products make passwords optional.

  • Compatibility. Some of your applications, especially proprietary ones, might not operate perfectly by remote. You should test a remote-access product first to find out how it performs.

Wireless devices and Internet services will transform remote access yet again. Just as users want to check e-mail from personal digital assistants and other wireless devices, they will want to access their computers remotely.

It's likely that remote access via the Internet will change from a product to a service, as is already true with GoToMyPC.

This type of access has its pros and cons: Internet functions are inherently more platform-independent than off-the-shelf products, so security will be a greater concern.

But remote-access software has always been adaptable to changing technologies.

Edmund X. DeJesus is a free-lance writer in Norwood, Mass. E-mail him at [email protected].

Company Product Platforms Connections Features Price
Compaq Computer Corp.



Carbon Copy 5.5 MS-DOS; Windows network, direct Internet, modem, voice chat Remote control, file transfer $100
Expertcity Inc.

Santa Barbara, Calif.


GotoMyPC Windows Internet Remote control, file transfer $20 per month
Harakan Software

Web site only

PalmVNC Palm OS Internet Remote control, file transfer Free
LapLink.com Inc.

Bothell, Wash.


LapLink Gold Win 9x, NT, Win 2000, Win ME Internet, modem, network, direct Remote control, file transfer, voice chat, free cables $125
Netopia Inc.

Alameda, Calif.


Timbuktu Mac OS; Win 9x, NT, Win 2000 Internet, modem, network, direct Remote control, file transfer, voice chat $100
Spartacom Technologies Inc.

Tucson, Ariz.


CoSession 2000 Win 9x, NT, Win 2000 Internet, modem, voice chat, network, direct Remote control, file transfer $50
Symantec Corp.

Cupertino, Calif.


pcAnywhere Win 9x, NT, Win 2000, Win ME Internet, modem, network, direct Remote control, file transfer $160


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