Remote control with a character interface

When people think of Windows NT remote control software, they tend to picture software that lets you take over a remote system's GUI or administer a remote system using a Web-based interface. Most people don't think of controlling a remote NT system through a simple, character-oriented interface. Nonetheless, the sheer simplicity of controlling a remote NT system via a character-oriented interface is what makes Seattle Lab's RemoteNT software unique and interesting.

The Benefits of a Character-Mode Interface
If you have UNIX experience (go ahead and admit it, you're among friends here), you know the benefits of controlling systems remotely using a character-mode interface: You can connect at any speed and perform control functions. Graphics-oriented remote control software doesn't work the same way as character-oriented remote control software works. When you use graphics-oriented software to push a screen full of graphical data over a slow connection, the software becomes so sluggish, it's virtually impossible to use.

When you use UNIX, you can use the Telnet service to connect to a remote system and use standard UNIX shell commands to view and control the system. Unfortunately, NT can't accommodate character-oriented remote control. NT doesn't support Telnet; thus, you can't establish a character-mode connection over a network or modem link. In addition, NT doesn't support character-mode commands. For example, you can't view or kill processes from the command line.

Using RemoteNT
Bringing NT's graphics-oriented administration tools into a character-mode environment is no simple feat, but RemoteNT accomplishes the task. RemoteNT acts as a Telnet service to enable character-mode sessions. When RemoteNT receives a Telnet connection, the software prompts you for username and password information. The domain controller that houses the RemoteNT computer then validates this information. Domain integration is a useful feature: RemoteNT instantly integrates into your security system.

After you log on to RemoteNT, a menu of commands appears, as Screen 1 shows. You can invoke either these commands or NT command-line commands. The RemoteNT commands let you perform functions typically restricted to the graphical desktop environment. For example, you can edit the Registry using the regshell command, view tasks using the tlist command, terminate tasks using the kill command, and change your password using the setpass command.

I'm a longtime UNIX user and systems administrator, so RemoteNT's capabilities intrigued me. Installing the software was painless. I downloaded a demo copy from Seattle Lab's Web site and activated the software with the license key the company provided. The demo software is time-limited, but it provides all the features available on the licensed version. After I installed RemoteNT, I launched a Telnet connection from another NT workstation.

When I connected to the system running RemoteNT, a welcome message appeared, and the software prompted me to log on using my domain authentication credentials. I ran through the plethora of RemoteNT commands without much trouble. Editing the Registry from the command line was scary at first, but I mastered my fear. RemoteNT's power and flexibility impressed me. RemoteNT didn't let me do everything I can do with a graphical remote control program, but the software provided a way to access my system quickly, identify a problem, and fix it. In addition, the software didn't use much network bandwidth in the process.

One Complaint
The one complaint I have about RemoteNT is that you can't customize the logon prompts. Thus, you can't change the user and password prompts to other words (e.g., credential and authentication) to deter network sniffers who look for keywords such as user and password.

A Must-Have Tool
The demo copy of RemoteNT expires after 14 days, but I'd be surprised if you needed 14 days to decide whether the software is useful. I needed less than 1 day to conclude that RemoteNT is a must-have tool for administrators of remote systems.

RemoteNT
Contact: Seattle Lab * 425-402-6003
Web: http://www.seattlelab.com
Price: $99 for two-user license
System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0 or later, 2MB of RAM per user logon, 1MB of hard disk space, TCP/IP