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Remote-control file-transfer programs give managers almost total control over remote systems--and field reps a little peace of mind.
For the rest of the December 1999 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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In the old days, if a traveling salesman needed to talk to the home office in Wichita, Kan., he would send a telegram from the nearest train station. A hundred years later, despite the growth in wireless technology, many sales reps still rely on wires to communicate with the home office. The only major difference is that they use a computing device, not a telegraph key, and send e-mail instead of Morse code. Actually, in a kind of back-to-the-future sense, both modes of communication are the same. A telegraph key creates virtual dots and dashes by opening and closing an electric circuit via a mechanical contact. Computer keys use binary codes (strings of 1s and 0s created by a silicon chip opening and closing an electrical circuit) that are truly the spiritual descendents of telegraphy.

The first interactive communications systems, which transferred data between physically separated computers by a single operator, were developed to allow laptop owners to copy and sync files between portable and desktop systems. The computers were usually connected by a serial cable and had to be in close physical proximity. As modem speed and reliability increased, the ability to transfer files over phone lines was added, as were remote-control functions.

Remote control allowed users to run programs on distant computers and move the completed projects back to the remote computer. It allowed them to exchange data with remote networks and print documents on network printers.

These days remote-control and file-transfer programs give system managers almost total control over how they are deployed and used. They also give administrators specific tools-remote system maintenance and database updating at a minimum-to increase their own productivity. Security, both internal and external, has also been strengthened and the determination of rights and permissions has been put firmly in the hands of IT professionals.

LapLink Tech
Face contorted with grief and fear, an insurance adjuster sits on a narrow hotel bed in Pekin, Ill. A laptop sits under the 25-watt lamp on the end table. Somewhere on the hard drive are files full of data on 17 accounts scattered throughout rural Illinois, but the adjuster can't find them. The cursor flits across the screen, menus pop up and go away, and a search is launched. Far to the north of the dingy chamber, in Milwaukee, Wis., an IT manager is working to locate the missing files. Breathing a bit easier, the adjuster sits and waits. Suddenly, without warning, the words "DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TOUCHING THAT KEYBOARD" come roaring out of the laptop's speakers. The adjuster soars three inches off the bed and lands with a howl on a broken stub of bedspring.

As they say on Madison Avenue, you gotta have a gimmick. And the Voice Chat feature on Traveling Software's LapLink Tech definitely qualifies as that. It's a useful gimmick in that it allows verbal communication between the system manager and the client while the computer is in use and ties up the only phone line in the room, but a gimmick nonetheless. And hardly the best reason for selecting this first-class remote-control and file-transfer utility.

LapLink Tech, the PC support professional-specific model in the LapLink line, offers features like disk cloning (Norton Ghost SE), virus protection (Dr. Solomon's WinGuard), multi-level password protection, automatic data encryption, the aforementioned voice chat (client computers must contain a sound card, microphone and speaker) and remote system administration and diagnosis. You can also schedule automatic file-and-folder synchronization across Windows 95/98 and NT platforms. (A separate utility for use with Windows 3.1 systems is included.) All these features are add-ons to what is arguably the best program of its type ever written, LapLink Professional.

LapLink offers a full palette of ways to "shake hands": network, Internet, landline modem, wireless modem, ISDN line and fast IrDA. It also offers three types of direct cable: serial, parallel and USB. The USB option, with transfer speeds at least five times faster than serial or parallel port connections, can be a significant IT productivity enhancer when configuring portable computers prior to deployment. Another "bonus" for system managers with clients using handheld devices is the inclusion of LapLink CE as part of the Tech package.

LapLink uses SpeedSync technology to compare files, while only compressing and copying the differing parts. SpeedSync is one of the first innovations that made LapLink famous, and its latest incarnation is the best yet. LapLink also excels at scaling host computer displays to fit properly on remote monitors and allowing remote users to print to any printers connected to a host-local or network, monochrome or color. In addition, it also supports direct printing of content from a host to remote's local printer, a feature unique to LapLink.

Finally, LapLink Tech manages to retain the look and feel of LapLink's many "legacy" versions. Though myriad features have been added and the GUI and the desktop have been streamlined many times over the years, clients familiar with previous versions-even very old ones-should have little trouble intuitively using Tech immediately upon installation.

Specifications for both hosts and remotes are Windows 95, 98 or NT 4.0, 486DX 100 megahertz or higher CPU, 16 megabyte RAM and 9 megabyte HDD space.

The price of LapLink Tech is $199 with five host licenses (volume licenses available); USB cable, $40. For more information, contact Traveling Software at www.laplink.com, or call (425) 483-8088.

pcAnywhere

Version 9.0 of Symantec's perennial best-seller features an improved, explorer-like user interface. It also offers inauguration of pcAnywhere sessions via Yahoo Pager (you just gotta have a gimmick), enhanced security via the inclusion of CheckPoint Security's SecureRemote VPN client and support for launching third-party applications on the remote computer during a pcAnywhere session. Note: This should not be confused with pcAnywhere's ability to allow authorized remote users to open and work with applications on the host computer, an integral part of pcAnywhere's remote-control capabilities. An example of the new feature would be starting a pcAnywhere session on a remote PC, opening Word, adding something to a document and transferring it to the host.

pcAnywhere connects through standard modems, ISDN lines, network, direct serial and parallel cable and infrared. It enables administrators to transfer programs and database updates to multiple clients simultaneously and troubleshoot and manage both single-computer clients and enterprise-wide networks via remote control.

Like LapLink, pcAnywhere speeds data transfers by moving only those parts of files that differ from each other and managing the resolution and color depth of host display screens for accurate viewing on remote systems. Users can also create "AutoXfer" lists of files they want automatically updated or synced whenever the remote client is connected to a host.

Included with pcAnywhere 9.0 are copies of pcAnywhere 2.0 for Windows 3.1 and pcAnywhere 5.0 for DOS.

Site-licensees also get Symantec's upgraded version of the pcAnywhere Host Administrator, a Microsoft Management Console Snap-in that gives systems managers the ability to connect, to reconfigure and close the host from a remote. The Snap-in also provides Norton Anti-Virus scan, support for third-party network-management tools and authentication of clients and groups on the NT domain server (Windows 95/98 and NT clients only).

The pcAnywhere Corporate Solutions CD, available to purchasers of 10 or more site licenses, contains four different versions of pcAnywhere for DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows 98 and NT. (Note: Versions 1, 2 and 3 can all be configured to support network, modem-to-modem, Internet or direct cable connections.) These versions are:

  1. Host/Remote: A PC is permitted to act as either a host (controlled) computer or a remote (controlling) computer.
  2. Remote-Only: This configuration provides only one-way functionality. On the IT end, the remote computer can usually call hosts individually or en masse to troubleshoot problems, conduct group training sessions and upgrade software or contact lists.
  3. Host Only: A PC, usually at the field worker's end, can contact another over a network, modem or the Internet and get access to online help desk support and training files. It also uses the host as a gateway for incoming calls, but it cannot access programs or remotely control it.
  4. LAN Host Only: The host can be controlled by the remote, but only through a network connection, not a modem. This offers enhanced security because the client must be physically connected to the LAN, as well as use the proper authentication protocols.

Specifications (for Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0): Windows 95, 98 or NT Workstation and Server 4.0, 486sx 25 megahertz or higher CPU, 16 megabyte RAM (20MB recommended) and 32 megabyte HDD space.

The price of pcAnywhere 9.0 is $169.95 for single-user version ($70 rebate through 6/14/00). For multi-site pricing contact Symantec at www.symantec.com/pcanywhere or call (541) 334-6054.

Timbuktu Pro Enterprise 2.1
Back in the dark ages, Traveling Software produced a cross-platform Windows/Mac version of LapLink. It worked quite well, but was discontinued anyway, ceding to Netopia's Timbuktu sole proprietorship of the Windows/Mac cross-platform remote-control market. Ever since, Timbuktu's main claim to fame has been its ability to remotely control and transfer files seamlessly between computers running Windows 3.x, 95, 98, NT 3.5, NT 4.0 and MacOS. But this is far from all that Timbuktu has going for it. Its V-wedge technology allows screen sharing between Windows NT and non-NT workstations without changing a computer's video driver or system settings. It also supports cross-platform long file name support (excluding Windows 3.x systems), intercom and chat functions, and centralized management of all client remotes singly or en masse. Connectivity between hosts and remotes of all the above OS's is available only with a PPP server on the host and PPP client software on the remote or through the TCP/IP Internet protocol.

Timbuktu Pro Enterprise 2.0 is essentially an IT-enhanced version of Timbuktu Pro 32. Added to Pro 32's feature set are a bevy of remote-management capabilities, enhanced security measures and a utility called the "Administrator's Toolkit," which contains NT and 95 Network installers for fast deployment, integration for intranet Web-based remote control, a Web-based reference guide accessible by any client and, like pcAnywhere, support for third-party solutions. Pro Enterprise also integrates directly with Windows NT security systems to enhance firewall support, offer secure screen blanking, allow multiple privilege and access levels, establish "guest-only" or "host-only" modes and automatically log off upon disconnect.

In addition to allowing IT administrators to upgrade programs, exchange data and diagnose and resolve problems on client machines from the IT office, Pro Enterprise 2.0 also lets them manage their entire systems remotely.

As an IT manager in charge of two separate networks-one in New York, the other in Atlanta-owned by a major importer and wholesaler of craft supplies, Alan Sacco knows all about trying to be in two places at once. "We've been using Timbuktu for almost three years." he says. "During that time there have been numerous occasions when we've had problems I've been able to fix entirely by remote control. For example, I was in New York a few months ago when someone in Atlanta enabled a bad e-mail forwarding rule that kept bouncing letters in an endless loop until the system overloaded and crashed. Using Timbuktu through a dial-up connection, I was able to find and delete the defective rule, clear the server and get the system running again in under 45 minutes. With copywriters and accounting personnel using Windows PCs, artists using Mac G3s and sales and purchasing agents using laptops from as far away as China, I find Timbuktu's cross-platform capability a must for this company."

Technical specifications for Timbuktu Pro Enterprise 2.1 are as follows:
  • Network: TCP/IP support, Novell IPX, AppleTalk.
  • Windows NT, NT 4.0 or 3.5 workstation or server, Intel-based CPU, 16 megabytes RAM.
  • Windows: Windows 3.x, 95 and 98, DOS 5.0 or higher, 386 or higher CPU, 4 megabytes RAM (8 megabytes recommended).
  • Mac: 68020 CPU or higher with 5 megabytes RAM (8 megabytes recommended) for 68020 and up or 8 megabytes for PowerPCs (16 megabytes recommended), OS 7.5 or higher.
  • The price of Timbuktu Pro Enterprise 2.1 varies by number of computers, with the minimum of 100 licenses (one license per computer). For more information, contact Netopia at www.netopia.com or call (510) 814-5100.
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