Remote access software going mainstream

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #568  June 4 - 10, 2002 High Tech Office  column

Remote access has always seemed like one of those magic technologies. Using it, you can sit at one computer and get another computer's desktop in a window on your screen. Click on a menu on the picture in the window and the menu drops down, on both your screen and on the remote computer. You can open programs, access documents, or print on a computer that could be in the next office or halfway across the world.

This particular magic trick is nothing new. Products such as Travelling Software 's Laplink or Symantec's pcAnywhere have been around for years, selling to niche markets like users who want to use their computers at home or on trips to access the system back in their office. Such software has been a real boon to technical support people. With it, they can check a user's setup, even making configuration changes as required, all without leaving their desk.

Where these products once had to use proprietary technologies, now they are able to take advantage of the Net's open standards and near-universal availability. As a result, remote access technology is showing up in other products. For example:

Microsoft's Windows XP Professional (though not the Home version) offers a Remote Desktop. The computer being accessed needs to be running XP Pro, and will be locked so no one else can access that computer's data or applications. You do not need to be running XP Pro on the other computer, however. Client software is included on the Windows XP CD for any Windows version from Win 95 on.

Intuit's QuickBooks is a popular program aimed at small and home-based businesses. Two new versions add remote access features for increased productivity. QuickBooks Premier 2002 ($499) builds on the previously-available $329 QuickBooks Pro and $169 QuickBooks with more report templates, enhanced reconciliation reporting, and improved journal entries. But the big addition is remote access, working over the Internet with customized software from WebEx. Leaving QuickBooks Premier running on a computer in the office, users can connect to their accounting data from any computer with Internet access and a Web browser. No custom software is needed. The connection is password protected and cannot be used to access any data or applications on the remote computer except the QuickBooks accounting data.

As the name suggests, QuickBooks Premier: Accountant Edition, is aimed at professionals. It too uses WebEx to allow remote access of accounting data, but with a twist. Where the regular Premier version aims to allow users remote access to their own data, the Accountant Edition allows accountants to remotely access their clients' data, but only with the client's authorization.

In this way, with the accountant and client each at their own computer, the accountant can provide training and support, update accounts, or back up and transfer files. The accountant can circle questionable data, and each party can type in questions to the other, all in real time. The accountant needs to be running Accountant Edition; the client, however, can be running any 2002 version of QuickBooks. Professionals obtain the Accountant Edition by joining Intuit's $359 Intuit Advisor Program .

More than ever, no computer need be an island unto itself. (Worth checking: VNC: Virtual Network Computing from AT&T's Cambridge (U.K.) lab. This is free remote control software for Windows, Mac, Linux, and other systems. You can access a Windows machine from a Mac or vice versa: ).

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