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LapLink Gold 11.0, Symantec pcAnywhere 10.5, Expertcity GoToMyPC 2.0, Microsoft Remote Desktop & Remote Assistance
Remote access means you're always just a click away
LapLink Gold 11.0
Laplink
Windows 95/98/NT 4/2000/Me/XP

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

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

Remote Desktop
Microsoft
Windows XP Professional

Remote Assistance
Microsoft
Windows XP
Stop me if you've heard something like these words over the phone before: "I have to reformat this document so that it has a red frilly border. I'm using PowerGizmo 3.0. Could you tell me how?"

Telephone support staff and consultants are no doubt nodding in recognition, as are those of you who've had to help out friends and family with little more to go on but a mental picture and faith in the other person's communication skills. The best thing would be to go over there and demonstrate the procedure in person. (That's why smart IT support staff wear sneakers.) But that isn't always an option, leading to interesting exchanges like this one:

"Okay, down near the left corner there's an icon that looks like a wrench. Click on it."

"The toolbar disappeared."

"You clicked the screwdriver! I said the wrench!"

"Okay, I'll click the wrench now."

"Wait, you have to bring the toolbar back firs--"

"Hey, where did my work go?"

Unless you have a fondness for Tylenol, you can see why remote control software is such an attractive idea. Symantec's pcAnywhere and Laplink's LapLink Gold are the latest iterations of old standbys in PC file transfer and remote control; the relative newcomers are Microsoft's Remote Desktop and Remote Assistance, both part of the Windows XP operating system, and Expertcity's Web-based GoToMyPC.

All of these do essentially the same thing: they let you see and navigate another person's desktop directly on your computer -- instead of hiking down to a different part of the building or trying to explain a complicated task verbally. The look and feel of the remote-control procedure, and even the terminology, is generally the same. The computer being controlled is called the host, and the controlling computer is the client or, logically enough, the remote computer. The remote user sees the host desktop either in full-screen or as a resizable window.

Mouse movements and keyboard activity are passed to the host computer, though special key combinations like Ctrl+Alt+Del, Alt+Tab, and anything involving the Windows keys have to be handled specially. For instance, pcAnywhere asks if you want the keystrokes to go to the local or host computer, while GoToMyPC blocks them outright, but provides a menu option to activate the host's Task Manager. Otherwise, it's like being in front of the computer yourself. (However, the remote user's control isn't necessarily absolute. By default, the person on the host computer can still do whatever they want, which can lead to some amusing onscreen antics if the two aren't careful.) All of these programs also include the ability to chat between the two computers.

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Originally printed in The Computer Paper (August 2002)
Eight people - eight lives - one universal groove