Remote Computing

Remote control, file transfer: comparing champs

New versions of Inc.’s LapLink and Symantec Corp.’s pcAnywhere make the products close competitors in terms of performing remote control and transferring files.

The products, from Bothell, Wash.-based (formerly Traveling Software Inc.) and Santa Monica, Calif.-based Symantec, are useful for setting up a new computer or grabbing information from your office machine when on the road or at home.

I tested the shipping Version 9.0 of pcAnywhere and a late beta of LapLink 2000 on a variety of old 486 machines and new Pentium 200MHz Windows NT, Windows 95 and 98 PCs, over various network and dial-up connections.

PcAnywhere ran slowly but adequately on my 486 machine. LapLink documentation states it requires at least a 100MHz machine, although it ran adequately on a 60MHz 486. It had the occasional crash on my NT machine, which I attribute to the beta. I emphasize such old gear because often you’ll use these products to move old data files to a newer computer.

Ease of use is a big deal with these products: You want to get them up and running quickly, get the file transfer done and move on to other work at hand. Also, the user interface with these products has to be simple and obvious. If you’re going to be doing some remote-control sessions, you want most of your screen available to view the remote computer, without a lot of clutter and menus taking up room. LapLink has better help screens but more options to configure, while pcAnywhere has a more spare user interface with minimal icons intruding on screen real estate.

Both vendors have continued to enhance their products for Internet and IP connections, along with modem and direct-cable connections. The increasing sophistication means both programs can easily handle computers with mismatched display settings, such as a machine with a 640-by 480-pixel resolution display controlling one with an 800-by 600-pixel display. Both can also ignore the traffic generated by Windows Active Desktop, should you set up any of your machines this way. LapLink has better control over what information gets sent over the remote-control link and can block bit maps above a certain size configured by the user.

Both programs make use of various network protocols, including IPX and IP, for remote-control sessions as well as dial-up modems, infrared and direct-cable connections. LapLink also adds support for wireless modem connections, although you wouldn’t want to send much data over these typically slow-speed wireless links unless you had lots of time and patience to watch the screen redraw. Because Windows NT itself doesn’t support file transfers over a parallel port, LapLink includes a serial cable.

In addition to basic remote control, both programs support text chat windows and voice conversations if your PC is set up with the right sound cards and microphones.

Security is certainly a concern for any corporation, and both products have several nice features that can lock things down. You can require a user name and password to connect to any computer, limit the connections via IP addresses, require the use of cryptographic certificates to authenticate users, and refuse log-ins after a specified number of failed attempts. Both programs can encrypt data over the link for further protection. They can also make use of existing user accounts in a Windows NT domain server, or you can add program-specific user names and access levels, based on the permitted functions.

You can also control what happens after each user disconnects from a session: For extra security with both programs, you can reboot your remote PC in between sessions. With LapLink, you can also protect particular folders or individual programs, such as your accounting software or certain databases, from being executed remotely. I’d rate both programs equally on the security front.

Overall, LapLink remains better at file transfer, and pcAnywhere is the champ at remote control. But the two are getting closer with these latest versions, and either program should work well for most users.

pcAnywhere 9.0

Supplier: Symantec Corp.

Price: US$169

Platform: Supports Windows NT 4.0, Windows 95/98, Windows 3.1 and DOS machines. CD comes with Version 2.0 for Windows 3.1 and Version 5 for DOS.

Pros: Still the best at remote control

Cons: More cumbersome menus using a property sheet to specify connection types. Lacks support for IPX connections to Windows NT machines.

LapLink 2000

Supplier: Inc.

Price: US$169.99

Platform: Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows 95 and Windows 98.

Pros: Best at file transfer. It displays its various connection types in a drop-down menu on the main screen.

Cons: The file transfer protocol (FTP) client has annoying banner ads as part of its user interface.

(Strom is a freelance reviewer in Port Washington, N.Y.)