Business-like, isn't he?


 

 



Remote control software: the next best thing to being there

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, September 1994

Close-Up, Version 6.0
$199 (US list)
Norton-Lambert Corp.
P.O. Box 4085
Santa Barbara, CA
93140 USA
805-964-6767, fax 805-683-5679

Norton pcAnywhere for DOS, version 5.0
$179 (US list)
Symantec Corp.
10201 Torre Avenue
Cupertino, CA
95014-2132 USA
800-441-7234, 408-253-9600, fax 800-441-7234
 

I don't know about you, but I end up calling several
computers 'home' at one time or another.

Of course, there's the computer in the basement at home.
At work, I either use one in my classroom, or one in the
main office (when my clerical worker isn't using it).
And there's another in my summer cottage. And sometimes,
I find myself using yet another machine, somewhere. I
often seem to wander through life with a floppy disk in
my pocket (it's hard to remember how I coped with 5 1/4"
disks!)

And inevitably, no matter how well prepared I think I
am, some critical file or application is invariably on
whatever computer I'm farthest from.

You'd think that having a portable would solve that
problem, but instead, since most portables have smaller
hard drives than comparable desktops, that's just one
more place for the needed files NOT to be.

Remote control software might provide the answer. This
software category has some similarities to the more-
familiar telecommunications programs, but instead of
simply letting the user connect to a formally
established BBS or on-line service, it lets any two
computers run as 'host' and 'remote'. And not only can
the remote user access data files on the host, it is
also possible to make use of the host's peripherals,
such as printers, and even to run programs on the host,
viewing the host's screen on the remote computer.

I looked at two popular remote control programs-- Norton-
Lambert's Close-Up, a DOS program now in version 6.0, and
Symantec's Norton pcAnywhere, also a DOS program that's
up to version 5.0. A Windows version of pcAnywhere is
also available.

The two programs have much in common-- both ship on a
single high density floppy, taking up a mere 2 meg or
so of hard drive space (DOS programs are so modest!)
Each sets up almost automatically, including lists of
several hundred popular modems, for simple
configuration. Each one lets you set your computer as
either the host or the remote, and as remote, you can
also connect onto on-line services or BBSs. While both
are DOS programs, they each include simple Windows
modules, and both let you run your choice of DOS or
Windows programs on a distant host.

Close-Up offered the nicest installation, automatically
checking COM ports for a modem, and testing to see that
one was available and functioning. Its installation
made no changes to DOS or Windows setup files, and kept
all its own files neatly in its directory. It keeps a
nice log of the installation and its tests, along with
copies of your configuration files.

While it adds a pair of icons to Windows Program
Manager, the Windows Host program notes that it cannot
run unless the DOS Host TSR has been previously loaded.
Once that is done, however, the 75k TSR provides a nice
feature-- it can free up your communications port for
other programs, such as a fax program, while remaining
in memory.

Even though it doesn't change any of the Windows
configuration files, it manages an interesting trick...
in host mode, it wants to run Windows in 16 colours.
When you run the DOS Host program, it changes your
Windows video driver to one more to its liking... but it
neatly puts things back in order when it's done running.

From the DOS  host module, you can set passwords, create
users, set levels of permitted file access and re-
configure your modem. You can set it to automatically
call back following a log on, either to set number or to
a 'roving' number of the user's choice. This not only
provides extra security, it makes your employer pay the
phone bill for your remote session.

Running a Windows program remotely requires sending a
lot of information everytime the screen changes. Close-
Up tries to speed up that process with 'photographic
memory'-- caching frequently used Windows screens so
they don't have to constantly retransmitted. The result
is that it is more or less possible to run Windows
applications remotely. Of course, a high speed modem
helps a lot. And even then, it is clearly much slower
than running the same application directly on the remote
computer. DOS text-mode applications run much more
smoothly.

While I wouldn't want to run applications remotely any
more than I had to, it is easy to use for file
transfers, and even to synchronize directories between a
pair of computers. You can tag multiple files on either
machine, and when transferring files, it writes to a
temporary file so if the process is aborted, nothing
critical is overwritten.

Symantec pcAnywhere is, in some ways, more ambitious
than Close-Up. For example, it can be used to provide a
network gateway permitting multiple users on the net
access to a single modem.

On the other hand, it proved harder to setup and
configure. While Close-Up configured and tested my modem
automatically when installed, Symantec's product forced
me to identify the modem and comm port when actually
running the program... and to do this four separate
times, for different functions of the program. While
this gives the user the power to use different ports and
modems for different modules, it felt more awkward.

It adds a dozen or so files to your \WINDOWS\SYSTEM
directory, and rewrites your SYSTEM.INI file, to use its
own video, keyboard, and mouse drivers. It adds a simple
Windows program that automatically starts up with
Windows, to put your computer into host mode. It creates
backups of your original Windows configuration files,
which you must restore to get back your original
operation.

Despite these inconveniences, this is a powerful program,
featuring a simple user interface,
with a main menu in the center of the DOS screen.
Travelling through the menu permits access to a wide
range of functions... file management on both host and
remote computers, setting user access levels, foreground
or background file transfers, record-keeping of both
host and remote activities, callback on log in, and more.

It can be used over modem, via a null-modem cable, or
across a network. As well, it provides powerful
scripting capabilities (along with a separate manual
just for the script language). This permits users to
automate remote sessions, or sessions on mainframes or
BBSs.

Reomote control software has suffered from a reputation
of being slow, hard to install and use, and handling
security issues and Windows poorly.

Both these products have gone a long way to overcome
these sorts of products. While still slower running
Windows than DOS (so what else is new?), and limiting
your Windows video resolution, either could be an
answer, if like me, you're forever shuttling between
machines and locations.

Of course, you DO have to remember to leave the modem
turned on...
 
 


(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review. A decade or so later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan