It's the day before a big presentation, and you'd planned to sit at your office computer all day to get everything ready. But, as Murphy's Law would have it, you're stuck at home because your child has the flu. Or you're on the road, and you desperately need a file from your home computer. In the past, these situations might have seemed unmanageable. Today, with the help of remote control software, you can be virtually anywhere and have access to your home or office PC. Of course, you'll have to be prepared by pre-installing remote control software on each of the machines you're using. In this column, we take a look at three top remote control programs: Symantec's PCANYWHERE32, Traveling Software's LapLink and Microcom's Carbon Copy 32. All are 32-bit programs that work under Windows 95 or Windows NT.
These programs share the same basic functionality. Their main prupose is to give users an easy way to access a remote computer and use it as if you were actually sitting in front of it. After dialing into the computer via modem (these programs also let you connect to computers via the Internet), you can open programs and files, make changes to them, save them, move them and more. If an employee is sitting at the computer you're accessing, you can chat with him or her in real time.
The other important function shared by these programs is something called "file transfer." If you use two computers--one at home and one in the office, for example-- you're probably aware of the wide array of problems that can arise when you've worked on a file in two places. For example, you may leave an important file behind or unknowingly access an older version of a file. By using a program with file transfer capabilities, you can do more than simply copy files from one machine to another (a process that can lead to errors when the wrong file is copied over the right file). Instead, a file transfer program manages the process, making it easy for users to see what files are being transferred to and from each machine. As notebook computers become more and more popular traveling companions for businesspeople, file transfer is becoming increasingly important. In fact, Microsoft includes Briefcase, its own file transfer program, with Windows 95.
On The Road Again
Since its DOS days, Traveling Software's LapLink for Windows 95 has long been the favorite among laptop users looking for a quick and easy way to synchronize files between two machines. With this version of LapLink, Traveling Software had improved on its file synchronization capabilities by adding Xchange Agent for scheduling automatic file transfers and improving file transfer speeds. LapLink's SpeedSync feature also helps speed up the file transfer process by comparing files on your two machines and transferring only the changes that have been made since the last connection. If the connection between your computers fails while performing a file transfer, LapLink will send only the missing portion of the file upon re-connect.
There are numerous ways users can achieve a connection between two computers. In addition to basic parallel port and direct dial-up connections, users can also perform remote control and file transfer functions via the Internet (both machines must be logged on) or by dialing into a company's local area network (LAN). LapLink incorporates data encryption for safe and secure remote sessions. Once connected to another PC--either via modem, direct cable access or a network connection--users can access its contents and peripherals as if they were sitting in front of it. Additionally, because LapLink is very laptop-oriented, users can easily set it up to support a wireless connection using infrared ports.
To get users through these processes, LapLink includes a Quick Step dialog box. This help program walks you through the steps of making a connection and performing a file transfer. The LapLink interface isn't exactly intuitive--menu icons are unmarked and their functions are not very obvious--so Quick Steps are a must.
Any time, Anywhere
Symantec sent me an early release of PCANYWHERE32 8.0, a 32-bit version of the company's extremely popular remote control program, for review. The program comes with support for all major operating systems, including Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows 3.1 and DOS. It installed quickly and easily on my Windows 95 system.
This program's extremely advanced functions are hidden under a simple-to-operate interface. Where LapLink lacks intuitiveness, PCANYWHERE has plenty. Its icons are clearly marked (for example, "Be a Host PC," "Remote Control," "File Transfer" and so on), and once you click on the icon, each process is easy to follow. For first-time users, there's an icon marked "Quick Start" for setting up a variety of connections. Once the connections are created, icons reside within PCANYWHERE for one-click connections--whether you're accessing the remote computer via parallel port, modem, Internet connection or LAN.
If your office uses a Windows NT server, PCANYWHERE, with its enhanced Windows NT integration, may be the right choice for your organization. For example, this program integrates with Windows NT to monitor remote control access. The program also lets users perform multiple remote sessions from a single PC using various devices, such as a modem, a LAN connection or a parallel port.
Symantec's PCANYWHERE comes with plenty of bells and whistles, including a video-chat function that lets users videoconference from within the program. This technology allows up to 256 users to view a presentation or demo. There are also four levels of encryption security built into the program so users need not worry about sending sensitive data across phone lines.
Microcom's Carbon Copy 32, like Symantec's PCANYWHERE, comes with a parallel port cable for direct PC-to-PC connections. This product was easy to install--it comes on just two floppy disks--and was relatively easy to set up, though I found the other two products more intuitive. Carbon Copy is the runner-up in this category and has done an admirable job keeping up with the two leaders. This 32-bit version incorporates all the functions offered by the other two programs, including a Windows 95-like interface and Long File Name support. It also has extensive file transfer capabilities, including the ability to resume a transfer where it was cut off in case of a lost connection and the ability to automatically disconnect after a transfer is completed. It will also transfer only the changes to a file instead of an entire file. Its remote control functions are similar to the other products reviewed here: There's support for multiple users, voice and data chat, Internet connections, and much, much more.
All three products' features are truly comparable. They all offer fast remote transfer speeds by letting users adjust the amount of graphics that are being transmitted. Similarly, file transfer capabilities have become streamlined in all three products so users are able to perform this maintenance function as quickly and painlessly as possible. Additionally, all three products offer multiple, simultaneous connections between numerous users, though Carbon Copy's and PCANYWHERE's support for 256 users beats out LapLink's ability to support just 11 users. They also all support various types of connections, though I found both LapLink and PCANYWHERE easier programs to set up. If you're torn between these products, check out their Web sites and download trial versions. You can test them and see which one works best for you.
List Price: $149
Pluses: Easy-to-follow interface
Minuses: None of note
LapLink for Windows 95
List Price: $149
Pluses: Very laptop-to-desktop friendly
Minuses: Interface could be more intuitive
Carbon Copy 32
List Price: $149
Pluses: Very robust program
Minuses: Not as easy to use as the other programs reviewed here
New and Notable Software
ACT! 2.8 for Macintosh: In other good news for Macintosh users, Symantec recently announced an upgrade to its ACT! for Macintosh. The new version of this contact management software offers direct links to Microsoft Word, making it easy to integrate this popular word processor into daily contact management functions, such as letter, fax and proposal writing. ACT! also incorporates Internet capabilities, giving users direct links to pertinent Web sites, such as weather information, maps and Yellow Pages data. In addition, ACT! includes direct e-mail integration with Qualcomm's Eudora e-mail software. Users can send a single e-mail message or broadcast an e-mail message to an entire database using the Eudora program. ACT! 2.8 for Macintosh supports most popular browsers including Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. ACT! for Macintosh costs about $170 off the shelf or $70 as an upgrade. Call (800) 441-7234 or visit http://www.symantec.com
Pocket Four11: Four11 has become the de facto Web site for finding individuals on the Web. Whether you're looking for an e-mail address or a phone number, Four11 is a good place to start. Now, Four11 is bringing Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange users added value by giving away Pocket Four11. The program creates a direct link to Four11's extensive e-mail directory from the toolbar of Outlook's e-mail box. In Exchange, Pocket Four11 creates a link from the "Tools" menu. This means you can just click on the Four11 button to call up a search form, enter the name and location of the person you're looking for, and click "Search Four11." You'll get the same information you would if you visited the Four11 Web site, but it's located directly in your e-mail program. Then you can add the contact to your address book or insert an e-mail address directly into an e-mail message. Visit http://www.four11.com or call (415) 617-2000 for more information.
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for eight years.