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Remote control software lets you connect to and take control of a remote computer. When you use remote control software, your computer can display the remote computer's desktop in a window and can transfer your mouse movements and keystrokes to the remote computer. If your servers are located in a closet or at a remote facility, you might need some form of remote control capability.
As a Help desk application, remote control software lets you provide end-user support from your desk. Most remote control programs have voice and chat features so that you and the user can converse over the remote control session. To avoid giving end users the impression that you have puppet-masterlike control over them, you can use the view capability that many remote control programs offer to see the remote user's screen, rather than take control of it.
Remote control software can also give users remote access to your network. By connecting through a dial-up connection or the Internet, users can gain full access to their own or a designated desktop and you can avoid administering special remote versions of applications.
Some programs in this Buyer's Guide are available bundled with other programs. For example, Vector Networks' NetSupport PC-Duo is available separately or as part of LANutil32 Elite, a network management system. When a remote control product is integrated with a general management system, the combination can be more convenient to license and administer than two standalone products are. If you already own the management product, it often makes sense to buy the integrated remote control product from the same vendor.
Much of the software listed in this Buyer's Guide lets you transfer files directly between the local and remote systems. If you use software to administer servers on your network or if you are connected to the server through the Internet, you might already have file-sharing access and this feature might not be important to you. But file transfer capability is convenient because it gives you access to all the drives on the remote system, not only to the shares or the FTP root.
Of course, such capabilities can cause security concerns. Remote control programs on badly administered networks are a welcome mat for intruders. High-quality remote control programs that run on Windows 2000 or Windows NT as a service have a password system. Even if intruders manage to bypass the remote control program's password procedure, they get only as far as the Windows logon screen and must still satisfy NT security. Good remote control programs also encrypt the data they put on the wire.
Some programs listed in this Buyer's Guide include an ActiveX or plug-in client to let you administer remote systems from a Web browser. That feature can be attractive, but you should examine browser-based clients' capabilities carefully. Although browser-based clients offer some convenience, they often lack some of the features of full-blown clients.
The remote control market is surprisingly vibrant and contains many players. This Buyer's Guide offers many good alternatives from a variety of established software companies. For a comparative review of 10 remote control administration products, see "Remote Control Administration for Windows NT Server 4.0," May 2000.