Take your work home with you

Feature

Take your work home with you

Working from home offers greater flexibility, less stress and increased productivity. One of the key tools of any mobile worker is remote control software

The problem never goes away. No matter how careful you are, there will come a time when you're working at home and the file you need is on the computer at the office. Or you'll be doing technical support for a user in another city, and you need to have a look at exactly what his machine is doing.

If you have remote-control software on both PCs (the same program ( they're not interchangeable, unfortunately), then that file, or a peek at his screen, is only a phone call (or other connection) and a mouse click away.

You can dial in, seize control of the other computer, call up its document on your screen and control its actions through your local keyboard and mouse. File transfers become a drag-and-drop exercise, no more complicated than copying the file to a floppy disk.

Remote-control software works by redirecting keystrokes and screen images to a communications line, so whoever is on the other end of the line can type commands that run on the remote system, from the comfort of their own home, and see the result on their home PC screen. It often works across operating systems, so, for example, someone on their home 486 PC running Windows 3.1 can control their office Windows 95 Pentium, run its 32-bit programs, and work with its interface. If the remote machine is on a network, you can even map network drives and work with their files.

Making the connection

You can connect to a remote PC, depending on the remote-control software you're using, over a dial-up line, a direct serial or parallel cable connection, or various flavours of local area network (LAN). The world of remote access and remote-control software expanded exponentially with the advent of the Internet, when TCP/IP networks suddenly became worldwide.

Now many remote-control programs include an Internet component. This is especially useful when you have a direct connection to the Web, such as Wave (Internet access via cable modem), or a LAN hookup. Of course, particularly when operating over a public network such as the Internet, security is important. All of the programs allow you to protect the host PC with user IDs and passwords, and even offer the option, at the end of a session, to reboot the machine to ensure that there are no residual back doors.

Buyer's bonus?

When Computer Associates bought Cheyenne, along with the well-known backup software, it also picked up a remote-control product called Remotely Possible. The current version, 4.0, includes support for both 16- and 32-bit systems, over modem (Windows 95 and NT only), TCP/IP, IPX (NetWare), or NetBIOS (Microsoft networking). You can have multiple instances of the program running at once, which allows you to work with several remote systems simultaneously.

If a machine is hosting several remote-control sessions, only one can control it, while the others watch ( an ideal training scenario. The controlling machine can pass control to one of the others at any time. You can also record and play back sessions. Controlling a remote computer over a dial-up link, Windows 95 to Windows 95, was straightforward. The software automatically pans if you're working in full-screen mode and the machine you're dialed into is running at a higher resolution. Screen painting is somewhat leisurely, but colours and icons are accurate and crisp.

More buying power

To prove that the problem was neither computer nor phone line, the same transfer was undertaken with the next product, Compaq Carbon Copy 32. Yes, it's the same Compaq we know as a hardware manufacturer ( it acquired this product when it bought Microcom recently.

Carbon Copy is a mature program, and it happily transferred the 5Mb file, at about 2,500cps, without a hiccup. And its interface, a four-pane Windows Explorer-like drag-and-drop setup, was simple to understand and use. There's also a synchronisation option that simply copies differences between two files or directories, speeding up the transfer. You can restrict the available files and directories, for security.

Carbon Copy's remote control was also robust. It works over modem, IPX or TCP/IP networking, RAS, or direct cable connection (there's even a parallel cable in the box). ILS (Internet Locator Service) support lets you find other Carbon Copy PCs on the Internet, without knowing their IP addresses and Voice Chat lets you talk to the person at the other end, without losing your data connection.

Interestingly, Carbon Copy seems to force its host to work at remote-control speed ( that is, the host painted its screen and performed commands much more slowly than it would have, had it been running without Carbon Copy active. It looks odd, but in most cases you won't see the phenomenon because you'll be at a distance. As an added bonus, if you own a Windows CE HPC, you can use it to control your personal computer (slowly), through the included Pocket Carbon Copy.

Reach out and control someone

Stac's ReachOut Enterprise 8.0 (or rather, 8.02 ( for modem use, you really need the patches found on Stac's website) is the latest incarnation of a product that has also been around for a while. It supports the widest range of connections, including NetWare, TCP/IP, Microsoft, Banyan VINES, and other NetBIOS or NetBEUI networks, regular or ISDN modem, direct cable, infrared (Windows 95 only), or remote-access server. It provides solid, fast connections through a relatively simple interface, although connections are a bit messy to set up. It's not that the exercise is complex ( you just have to fiddle with things in unexpected places.

For example, the modem type in a connection's icon had to be adjusted after telling the program which modem to use ( you'd think the information would have carried over. Carbon Copy's Phone Book connection organisation is somewhat easier to operate, although it had its own idiosyncrasies.

In remote-control mode, ReachOut's screen refreshes are faster than Carbon Copy's, and no less accurate. It does not offer automatic panning, as Remotely Possible does, but it can scale the remote desktop to the controlling machine's screen (fonts and icons tend to be illegible, however, if the host resolution is high). But colours are reproduced faithfully, with no weird artifacts. File transfers use a four-pane, Windows Explorer-like interface, and run slightly faster than Carbon Copy's at about 2,800-2,900cps. A 1.69Mb file took about 10 minutes, one minute faster than Carbon Copy's effort.

(c) 1999 Adaptec Inc.

Compiled by Paul Phillips


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This was first published in August 1999

 

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