Realtime support using remote control

NetManage's OpSession 2.1 isn't just a remote access program. OpSession works with Help desk software such as NetManage's SupportNow Server to provide a complete remote control package and technical support solution. Support for multiple viewers per session also makes OpSession suitable as a distance learning tool.

OpSession consists of host, viewer, and Help desk support. The host program runs on Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 9x. The viewer, as Screen 1, page 142, shows, comes as a standalone application or as a plug-in for Internet Explorer (IE) or Netscape Navigator. The standalone viewer's list of supported platforms is extensive and includes NT 4.0, Win9x, and a variety of UNIX platforms. OpSession supports remote control of 32-bit Windows applications.

Features
You can use OpSession's host support of simultaneous multiple viewer access for many purposes. For example, a teacher can host a class for students who attend as viewers, or a product manager can provide a long-distance product demonstration for multiple participants who watch the demonstration on the host PC. Support personnel can use multiple viewers to address a user's problem on a host PC. Typically, a user starts a host session with one support person. The support person brings in additional experts as viewers until the group solves the problem. Support personnel can view the host from their own PCs. With the Internet as the communication medium, OpSession can host a global problem-solving team.

OpSession's privacy features set the software apart from conventional remote control programs. An OpSession user must initiate a host session, a requirement that prevents a host from taking control of a remote PC without the user's consent. You can also set up a host to wait until a viewer can watch, which lets technical support personnel examine the host PC at their leisure. Standard security options, such as password protection, restrict access.

OpSession's host interface uses toolbars liberally. I found the lack of text menus disconcerting, but floating tool tips eventually told me what actions a tool invoked. You need to use OpSession regularly to become comfortable with the software.

With one click on the toolbar, the host user can restrict viewers to a subset of the host PC's applications—which is useful when providing technical support for one application. The host can easily grant a viewer access to the entire host desktop. Compared with OpSession's host abilities, most remote control programs have full viewer access as the default configuration. These programs let the host user place restrictions on remote viewers, but accessing the configuration dialog boxes is difficult during a session. You can set up other remote control programs to provide most of OpSession's security settings, but you can achieve these settings only after considerable tinkering.

OpSession can publish session pages as HTML files stored on the Web server. Any Windows-based Web server, or other servers that can access the OpSession directory on the NT machine with the HTML files, can view these sessions. The viewer has menus and is easy to use. To view a session, simply click a link from a Web browser after you install the viewer support. SupportNow improves on this model and provides indirect links between host and viewers. You typically use these indirect link types with firewalls and the Internet.

OpSession incorporates a chat mode but lacks IP-based voice communication. Multiple viewers can contribute to a chat session. You can save the chat log to a file, but you can send only one file at a time to participants. Sending multiple files is tedious, so most users turn to a file-packaging application such as PKWARE's PKZIP to send multiple files and directories.

One of OpSession's best features is the animated session recording (or Animated Technical Notes). You can view an animated session record and subsequently analyze the session. You can easily store the relatively compact session files in a Help desk database or email them to others who need to view the session. The recorded sessions are helpful for students reviewing a class session or for technical support personnel analyzing a problem after a session terminates. Viewers must have a copy of OpSession to view the recorded sessions.

NetManage designed SupportNow and OpSession to work together to provide remote control support. The integration of OpSession and SupportNow provides the greatest benefit over the competition. SupportNow is a Help desk product that provides an extensive call tracking system including call ticket management. After you add SupportNow, you can log or even start an OpSession session as part of a SupportNow support call over an intranet or the Internet. Help desk personnel can also use SupportNow to communicate with other Help desk analysts and add Help desk analysts to the host's list of viewers.

SupportNow's Conference Module provides many features, including OpSession connections through firewalls and host information broadcast to 64 viewers. Broadcasting host information to multiple viewers reduces OpSession's overhead on the host and provides better response time for the host. OpSession and SupportNow Server provide long-distance training and a sophisticated Help desk support package.

The OpSession software development kit (SDK) lets users build applications over the Internet. Organizations can use the SDK to collaborate regardless of physical locations.

Installation
OpSession is a multipart product that requires more than just a host installation. You must also install the client (viewer) and SupportNow Server support.

Installing the host component was straightforward. The installation program detected Internet Information Server (IIS) when I installed the host on an NT system. OpSession installed the basic Web server when I installed the software on a Win95 PC that didn't have a Web server running. Web server support is optional. You can view Web support only through a Web browser. The standalone viewers can connect to hosts directly. Integration with the OpSession Web server was automatic, but IIS needed some minor adjustments (e.g., I had to add files in the cgi-bin directory before IIS properly published the OpSession-generated Web pages).

Client installation was simple using the CD-ROM. The Windows support fits on two 3.5" disks but is harder to download. OpSession supplied a UNIX client for each UNIX OS as an individual file. You can publish client software via a Web server, but the network administrator must set up the software distribution.

Setting up the SupportNow services is similar to setting up the host software. The installation process copies the necessary files onto the server. You must provide subsequent configuration before hosts or clients can use the services. You will want to use the SupportNow Server when you need firewalls (e.g., for connections over the Internet). The SupportNow Server's Conference Module provides one point of interchange between hosts and clients. The server can also publish active conferences and act as a proxy for hosts and clients.

Configuration and Use
You configure the OpSession host by using the Configuration dialog box to set global attributes such as general preferences, security, and mail server address. You use the session Share Wizard to set session configuration. The global attribute and session configuration options are on the main OpSession toolbar.

The Share Wizard presents a list of applications that a host can share with viewers. After selecting the appropriate applications from the list, the host must choose a method of notifying viewers. In one notification method, the host uses the Web server support initially installed with the host software. This Web server method shows active hosts on a bulletin board Web page that a viewer can launch. Using another notification method, the host sends an email address with an embedded URL for a viewer to launch. Using the final notification method, the host gives a viewer the host IP address through a non-computer-based means, such as a telephone call. The wizard presents initial session attributes, such as the session name and security passwords, for possible adjustment.

Viewer configuration is significantly simpler than host configuration. When you browse or view an email with an embedded URL to access an OpSession session, you automatically invoke the Web browser plug-in. The Share Wizard typically generates the session's view.

Management
OpSession without SupportNow has minimal management tools. OpSession maintains a log file on the host but can't centrally manage these files. After I configured the host, OpSession used the Web server to automatically publish the host session. An address book is available with Z-Mail Pro installed for email notification of a session. Because Z-Mail Pro is a discontinued NetManage product, you need to manually type the email viewer addresses to notify. OpSession remembers addresses from previous sessions to provide a limited address book capability.

SupportNow brings significant management support to viewers and provides technical support to remote hosts. The Conference Module requires minimal management after initial configuration. Because a Conference Module can handle only one conference at a time, you might need a Conference Module running on multiple PCs. One OpSession host can drive multiple Conference Modules with multiple participants in each to support more than 64 simultaneous viewers.

Documentation and Technical Support
A CD-ROM delivers OpSession's documentation in Adobe Acrobat format that includes a copy of Adobe's Acrobat Reader. You can use Acrobat to generate a hard copy of the documents. Because the online documentation doesn't have hyperlinks, I had to scroll or search for information. The documentation covers OpSession's general operation thoroughly and references many SupportNow-related features, such as the Conference Module, in appendices. NetManage did a fair job with the online context-sensitive Help. OpSession dialog boxes and toolbars provide online Help.

NetManage's technical support personnel answered questions about configuring Web client and host support for OpSession and SupportNow knowledgeably. You can use OpSession to demonstrate remote control and realtime support. Technical support conducts regular demonstrations of SupportNow installation and remote support using the viewer. NetManage's Web site has information about support demonstration times and contacts. I was glad to learn that the company uses OpSession.

Is OpSession for You?
OpSession is suitable for basic remote control support, distance learning, or remote product demonstrations that don't require session tracking and management. The IP capabilities make OpSession ideal for the Internet and intranets. OpSession's collaboration feature set is smaller than that of most remote control products, and the software lacks sophisticated file-management capabilities. However, OpSession's ease of use offsets these shortcomings. SupportNow lets you link users and track support personnel to eliminate much of the manual work associated with service calls. The cost of adding SupportNow Server is worth the investment to use OpSession as NetManage intended—as part of a total Help desk solution.

OpSession 2.1
Contact: NetManage * 408-973-7171
Web: http://www.netmanage.com
Price: $85 (includes 1 year of support)
System Requirements: 16MB of RAM, 9MB of hard disk space, TCP/IP network connection