LapLink Gold 11.0, Symantec pcAnywhere 10.5, Expertcity GoToMyPC 2.0, Microsoft Remote Desktop & Remote Assistance
GoToMyPC tops the rest in usability
LapLink Gold 11.0
Windows 95/98/NT 4/2000/Me/XP

pcAnywhere 10.5
Windows 95/98/NT 4/2000/Me/XP

Windows 95/98/NT 4/2000/Me/XP

Remote Desktop
Windows XP Professional

Remote Assistance
Windows XP
Remote Assistance setup, part of Windows XP (Home or Professional), is the exact opposite of Remote Desktop's infuriating complexity. In fact, Remote Assistance was easily the simplest and quickest of the programs to get up and running. Both parties set up a chat in Windows Messenger; the person on the host computer chooses the Ask for Remote Assistance option, which sends an invitation to the remote user; upon acceptance and confirmation from the host, the remote user is given control of the host.

That's it. For quick and dirty connections it's hard to beat. The host desktop appears in a window (which, curiously, is anamorphic -- if you resize it to a long, thin rectangle the desktop image is stretched like taffy) with a chat window on the left side. But again, there's a price to pay. Some things are too simplified: during a surprise disconnection Remote Assistance informed me that I should contact the person on the other end for more information. The trouble was, the person on the other end got the same message. Neither of us got any clue as to what happened. I also couldn't find anything to reassure me of Remote Assistance's security.

Marginally less easy to install but far more satisfying to use was GoToMyPC, a web-based program. After signing up for an individual or corporate account, you download a small installer to the host computer, which puts a tiny GoToMyPC icon in your system tray. A remote user can then log in to your account from any computer via the Web site, download a small application (Windows, Mac, UNIX and Linux remote users are all welcome), and after providing the password they can take control of the host.

GoToMyPC is very well thought out; I never once had to consult the PDF documentation. Better still, it doesn't sacrifice capability for its simplicity. It includes many of LapLink's features, such as file transfer (though not as sophisticated), printer redirection, clipboard sharing, and lockout functions. Expertcity also uses AES 128-bit encryption for all data passing between its computers, and SSL encryption for its Web site. Another nice touch: the image of the host desktop is antialiased so well, my Microsoft Word screen was perfectly legible at 37% of its original size.

Generally speaking, the world of remote-access software is consistent enough that you know what to expect, yet diverse enough that you can make your choice based on which extra features suit your needs. One caveat: if possible, I would recommend testing these programs out on your systems. My firewall software gave me some initial trouble with Remote Assistance, and I couldn't get LapLink or pcAnywhere to cooperate with my cable modem at all. (I had no problems using a 56K modem, an Intel 802.11b network setup, or a direct cable connection.) Extensive testing and discussions with support staff lead me to believe the problem is with my provider, so you may want to talk things over with your ISP before making a commitment.

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Originally printed in The Computer Paper (August 2002)
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