A Remote Possibility

The introduction of Microsoft's Remote Access Service (RAS) created significant confusion in the remote control software market. After all, why do you need remote control software, such as Symantec's pcANYWHERE and pcANYWHERE32? You can use RAS on any client system to easily dial in to an NT server and access files and printers on the network. Oh, sure, it's not the same as taking complete control of another system, but RAS is an effective solution for a variety of remote access problems.

Symantec recognized the challenge of RAS and responded by introducing new capabilities to the company's line of remote control products. As a result, Symantec's latest release, pcANYWHERE32, provides impressive features that you can use with--or instead of--RAS (pcANYWHERE32 can outright replace RAS; you can configure it to dial a call on the controlling system and to answer the call on the host system).

Symantec's pcANYWHERE32 is for both the Windows 95 and Windows NT environments (Symantec does not, however, endorse pcANYWHERE32 with the beta version of the Windows NT Explorer user interface). The product bears the Win95 logo, so its appearance is decidedly Win95-like. Appearance notwithstanding, pcANYWHERE32 offers features that will interest any NT administrator, troubleshooter, or power user.

You can run pcANYWHERE32 in host mode on one system, and Win95, Windows NT, Windows 3.X, and even DOS clients can direct connect or dial in to the host and assume control of it. For example, a DOS PC can run the DOS-based pcANYWHERE client, dial in to an NT Server running the pcANYWHERE32 host service, and access native NT programs (everything that appears on the server's screen appears on the client's screen).

Besides being able to establish a dial-in connection, pcANYWHERE32 can operate over a LAN link or a RAS link. For example, you can initiate a LAN connection to take control of a pcANYWHERE32 host equipped for Internet dial-out and start cruising the Web. Or, you can establish a RAS link to an NT Server and use directory sharing to access server-based files, but use remote control to access server-based applications.

Finally, pcANYWHERE32 includes some rudimentary gateway capabilities that let you share a modem over the network for both dial-out and dial-in connections. These capabilities also let you use two pcANYWHERE32 gateways to establish links between networks. The useful applications for these gateway capabilities are limited, however.

Mainstream pcANYWHERE32 Applications
One classic application for this product is in a Help desk environment. If both a support technician and all the users have pcANYWHERE or pcANYWHERE32, the technician can establish a live link to a user system and watch that user interact with the system and applications. Also, the technician can use the connection to show the user certain operations or to troubleshoot problems on the user's system.

Another popular use for pcANYWHERE32 is remote administration. For example, you can use most kinds of PC to dial in and assume control of an NT Server running pcANYWHERE32. While connected, you can do anything to the server that doesn't require physical action (such as pressing the reset button or inserting a CD). You can run the Performance Monitor (Perfmon), change settings through the Control Panel, and look at the Event Log. With the exception of physical proximity, it's just like being there. Also note that because this capability is available over a LAN, a server administrator can use pcANYWHERE32 to take control of any server on the LAN.

Another typical use for pcANYWHERE32 is for power users to dial in to their desktop system. In this case, pcANYWHERE32 can provide access to applications that aren't resident on the home (or mobile) system and can facilitate fast file transfers between the systems. This access can extend beyond the host system to the LAN; once you assume control of a host, you have access to all the resources of the LAN the host is connected to.

Both pcANYWHERE and pcANYWHERE32 offer powerful features. Of course, access to such power demands strong security. You do not, for example, want to let just any bozo with a modem dial in to your NT server and take it over. To address the security issue, pcANYWHERE32 lets you configure usernames and passwords for incoming connections. This logon information is specific to pcANYWHERE32 and is not tied to any domain-based or workgroup user structures you have in place. Also, note that in the NT environment, pcANYWHERE32 can run as a startup service, which forces you to go through the usual NT logon procedure after you establish your pcANYWHERE32 connection.

In the Lab with pcANYWHERE32
Symantec provides pcANYWHERE32 on four high-density disks. The package includes a direct-connect parallel port cable (ours was a lovely, bright yellow) and two manuals, a user's guide and a manual for creating scripts. As you probably expect, pcANYWHERE32 is an Intel-only product.

For testing, we installed pcANYWHERE32 on a 50-MHz 80486 laptop (8MB of RAM) running Windows 95 and on a 60-MHz Pentium tower (24MB of RAM) running Windows NT Server. Installation is straightforward, although with both Win95 and NT, you have to restart the system to complete the process.

All the pcANYWHERE32 components (host, client, and gateway) are loaded onto the system during installation--no setup options let you choose which components to install. On the one hand, this lack of options makes the installation process simple and gives you the flexibility of running any system as a client or a host. On the other hand, who knows what average desktop users will think (and try) when they stare at the available options, which you can see in screen 1. They look confusing.

Once you install pcANYWHERE32, wizards guide you through the rest of the configuration process. These wizards work well and simplify a process that could be complex. During testing, we set up both systems to operate as clients and as hosts and tested pcANYWHERE32 in both a LAN (Ethernet) and a dial-up environment. All the settings we needed for tests were fairly apparent and easy to access. This simple setup turned out to be a good thing because the manuals and Help subsystem frequently failed to give detailed technical information, especially about operating pcANYWHERE32 in a LAN environment.

After we had pcANYWHERE32 up and running, we initiated a connection from the Windows 95 client to the NT Server host over an Ethernet LAN. Symantec's pcANYWHERE32 supports a wide range of protocol types (such as NetBIOS, Novell's Internet Packet eXchange--IPX, and TCP/IP), and we started with NetBIOS. Unfortunately, we were unable to make a connection using NetBIOS and had to switch to TCP/IP to make it work. We had a long conversation with Symantec technical support and concluded that the NetBIOS problem was because of some eclectic features of our network and server configurations and not a product deficiency.

For LAN-based pcANYWHERE32 operations, your choice of protocol affects some of the product's features. In particular, if you want the pcANYWHERE32 client to automatically discover the available pcANYWHERE32 hosts in the network, you can't use TCP/IP and must instead use NetBIOS, IPX, Novell's Sequenced Packet eXchange--SPX, or another third-party protocol that supports name browsing over the network. The bottom-line difference is simple: If you use a browseable protocol, the list of pcANYWHERE32 hosts will appear in a dialog, but if you use a non-browseable protocol (such as TCP/IP), you must configure the name or address of the host you are targeting for remote control. In our test, we configured the client with the IP address of the host system, and everything worked fine.

You can configure pcANYWHERE32 to run as either a startup service or user-based service in the NT environment. Clearly, each approach has its pros and cons. If you run pcANYWHERE32 as a startup service, you get the additional security protection of the NT logon process. Logging on to NT using this approach is simple because the pcANYWHERE32 client includes a Ctrl-Alt-Del button to trigger the logon dialog. On the downside, if you run pcANYWHERE32 as a startup service, it is available as soon as the server comes up. In some cases, you'll want to restrict access, depending on who is logged on to the server--in this case, you can run pcANYWHERE32 as a user-based service.

Having resolved our protocol problems, we initiated a connection from a Win95 laptop to an NT server, which was running pcANYWHERE32 as a startup service. After we logged on to the NT server, we received the usual Program Manager display, as shown in screen 2. Although this screen shows the NT connection as a medium-sized Win95 window, we ran the connection in either a full-screen or almost full-screen window (the difference was in whether the client toolbar was visible).

While connected, we ran a number of NT-based applications. The speed of screen updates was acceptable for a variety of applications. We do not, however, recommend pcANYWHERE32 to run a full-blown spreadsheet, word processor, or other heads-down data entry application: The refresh rate is too slow and too frustrating for such applications. Another equally frustrating limitation is that the client's cursor icon does not reflect the state of the host's cursor icon. So, while the host is waiting for an application to start and is displaying the hourglass cursor icon, the client shows an ordinary pointer icon. This limitation is not major, but it can get on your nerves.

Limitations notwithstanding, applications that are not so data-entry intensive, such as the Perfmon, the Control Panel, and the Event Log viewer, look and feel pretty good. We used pcANYWHERE32 to start a RAS dial-in link from the host into the Internet, and then ran the host-based copy of the Netscape browser. Here, the performance was good because our Internet connection is slower than our LAN link (28.8Kbits per second--Kbps--vs. 10Mbits per second--Mbps).

The main factors that determine which applications are usable via remote control are how much patience and tolerance you have. Our levels are pretty low--you may find the performance acceptable for a wider range of applications. We also saw no significant differences when we reversed the roles of host and client--running the Win95 laptop as host to the NT Server client provided the same level of performance and imposed the same operational limitations.

Surprisingly, the performance degradation that occurs when you use pcANYWHERE32 over a modem with a reasonable speed (14.4 Kbps or 28.8 Kbps) is not as dramatic as you might expect. We anticipated a big difference between LAN-based and modem-based connections. The truth is, the difference--although clearly noticeable--did not strike us as being particularly painful. Symantec has invested a great deal of time and technology to optimize modem-based transmission. One final plus for pcANYWHERE32 is that it's easy to configure and operate over a modem connection--pcANYWHERE32 picks up all the modem properties from the Win95 or Windows NT environment and is ready to go once it is installed. All you need to do is enter the number to dial, and you're all set.

Best of Both Worlds
Most people will purchase pcANYWHERE32 for one of its traditional uses: Help desk support, remote administration, or remote desktop access. However, once you adjust to the look and feel of remote control in a LAN or modem environment, you'll be amazed at the uses you can invent for it. Symantec's pcANYWHERE32 can deliver capabilities that RAS can't address, and best of all, you don't have to give up RAS to use pcANYWHERE32. Rarely do you get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Please see the article "Avalan's Remotely Possible/32 Remote Control Software"

pcANYWHERE32
System Requirements: 80486SX 25 MHz or higher, 4MB of RAM (8MB recommended), 16MB free hard disk space, VGA or better video, Windows 95 or Windows NT 3.51
Symantec 800-441-7234 or 541-334-6054
Web: http://www.symantec.com
Price: $149