Eight is great for remote control

Symantec's pcANYWHERE32 8.0 is a grand example of growing old gracefully. pcANYWHERE has virtually owned the remote control market for a decade, and this latest version remains state of the art. With pcANYWHERE, you can connect to your office PC from a remote site, remotely control your PC via a modem or the Internet, and quickly transfer and synchronize files between computers.

I have used pcANYWHERE since the old days, when DOS was king and Windows was still a dream. I hadn't used it for several years, though, and I was interested to see how well Symantec translated text-mode pcANYWHERE to the brave new GUI world.

I installed pcANYWHERE32 first on a Windows NT Server and then on my trusty IBM ThinkPad 560 running Windows 95. I connected this notebook to my network and I installed pcANYWHERE32 over the network from the server’s CD-ROM drive.

When I started my server, pcANYWHERE32 asked me for settings on modem, network, and direct cable connections. I kept the defaults. However, on my notebook I had to choose the correct PC Card modem, because I had used several on this machine.

Then came the decisive moment: connecting host to remote. During my last installation of pcANYWHERE, I had to make several trips between my office and that of the client I was trying to connect to, and I was worried that this installation would be another ordeal. I selected the network mode, because I had installed the software from the server, so I knew the host and remote could see each other.

After starting the host mode on my server, I switched my ThinkPad to the remote mode and looked for a host. After an instant, the name of my host machine appeared on the screen. I clicked the name and was connected. I then took a small gamble and started Dial-Up Networking on the host to connect to my Internet Service Provider (ISP). I thought connecting to my ISP might trip up pcANYWHERE32, because using the host for any communicating beyond the pcANYWHERE connection caused trouble in the past. I had no problem this time. I quickly connected to the Internet and brought up my browser.

I then decided to test pcANYWHERE32's reaction to different screen resolutions. My host was running at 1152 x 862-pixel resolution; my ThinkPad was limited to 800 x 600, but pcANYWHERE didn’t even blink. The software initially put me in aperture mode so that I had to use scroll bars on the remote machine to scroll and pan around the larger host desktop. Screen 1 shows the scrolled version of the host screen on my ThinkPad.

If the big picture is more important than a pixel-for-pixel view, you can choose scaling mode, which displays the entire host desktop in the remote’s full screen. As Screen 2 shows, this resolution is not legible enough for close work, but for some uses, not having to scroll and pan to move around the host desktop is handy.

My next concern was speed. In the old days, I used an 80 x 25 character text screen so pcANYWHERE didn't need to send much data over the connection. Even then, the screen was slow to respond so I was concerned that with all the data now displayed on high-resolution GUIs, pcANYWHERE32 would crawl. I need not have worried: Modems are several times faster and pcANYWHERE32 takes advantage of today’s high-performance processors to strip unneeded information out and send only what is necessary to keep the remote updated.

Over the network, the synchronization was excellent. It was eerie to hit the scroll bar on one machine and see the other machine respond. I thought the modem connections would be slow, but they were not as bad as I had expected. Screens took a second or two to change, but I found it easy to keep in step with the server on my remote. The software uses several methods to keep in sync. It takes advantage of today’s faster modems and it uses processor power to do smart compression of the data stream. The product can turn off wallpaper and screen savers on the host, which create a lot of traffic on the pcANYWHERE32 connection.

File transfers can take place in the background of a remote session. The software offers a SpeedSend option for transferring only the parts of a file that have changed. This feature is another example of pcANYWHERE32’s ability to use processing power to cut communications needs. Older systems didn't have enough horsepower to optimize communication.

You can integrate pcANYWHERE32 8.0 with NT’s security so that you can maintain user and group permissions through User Manager. You can use either public key or symmetric key schemes to encrypt communications between host and remote. Because pcANYWHERE32 uses the Microsoft Crypto API, integration with NT is seamless.

Another important security issue is what to do with the host machine, while the remote machine is accessing it and after the remote machine disconnects. Because the remote user logs on to the host, you need to see that the host is not left vulnerable when the remote machine disconnects. The software will log users off when they disconnect or lock the workstation while it waits for another connection.

Dial-up lines are not perfect, so Symantec has built in a security feature. When an abnormal disconnect occurs, you can have the host accept another logon only by the same user or by an administrator. During my testing, I tried to get into the host by ringing in immediately after a manual disconnect and found that this security feature works.

In another laudable bit of NT integration, pcANYWHERE32 reports incidents to the NT event logs. Symantec clearly has put a lot of effort into NT compatibility.

The pcANYWHERE32 software lets you restrict access to host resources through user or group privileges. You can also allow (or prohibit) remote printing to route print jobs on the host to a printer on the remote machine. Although this feature is handy, it poses security problems; pcANYWHERE32 lets you decide whether to enable the feature.

Another connection option that pcANYWHERE32 offers is TCP/IP over the Internet. Because pcANYWHERE32 usually advertises its existence, administrators can also control this feature. I did not try a remote session over the Internet.

Other Conversations
The pcANYWHERE32 software lets you switch between voice and data conversations over a standard data/fax modem. This feature is handy for remote support operations in which only one phone line is available. The old pcANYWHERE I used had a chat feature that would let host and remote operators converse through text windows. This scheme was adequate, but many times I wished I could pick up the line and talk to the other operator. Now I can. In addition, pcANYWHERE32 comes with a copy of CU-SeeMe video-conferencing software. I don’t think the standard audience for a remote control product will find video conferencing useful, but it is a nice add-on.

Another slightly different feature of pcANYWHERE32 is single host, multiple remote. By using TCP/IP Multicast, you can hold a conference or training session over pcANYWHERE32.

Other Voices
Not only will pcANYWHERE32 run on NT and Windows 95, it also will run on Window 3.x and DOS. Version 8.0 comes with a parallel cable for directly connecting two computers. You can use infrared ports to connect two notebook computers. Despite this broad base, pcANYWHERE32 is limited to Intel platforms. The software supports Symantec's Live Update, which lets you connect to the Symantec server over the Internet and automatically download the latest updates to the software.

Symantec's pcANYWHERE32 is every bit as useful as it was 10 years ago, when it had no peer. Although it has to deliver more functionality than it did in the past, pcANYWHERE32 is up to the task.

pcANYWHERE32 V 8.0
Contact: Symantec * 541-334-6054 or 800-441-7234, Web: http://www.symantec.com
Price: $149
System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 95 for database creation, 25MHz 486sx processor or better, Windows NT 3.51 or 4.0 or Windows 95, 8MB of RAM, 16MB of hard disk space