ISSUE 477: The high-tech office- Dec 15 1998


New software allows stay-at-home workers
to be fully connected to the head office

Computers are supposed to make everything better, right? While most of us would find ourselves lost at work without these wonder machines, the reality is rarely as bright, clean and easy as the hype claims.

Promises are cheap, but where's the "paperless office"? Web commerce is promising, but hasn't yet saved me from
lining up at the supermarket.

And how many of us have actually gained the freedom to telecommute?

Like other high tech promises, there is a basis in reality. But for right now, it seems as if we're straddling the past and the future, hurtling along at a pace that gives us a whole new set of problems before we've learned how to overcome the last.

California-based software company Symantec is one firm that offers a range of utilities to help us overcome some of the glitches and gotchas that keep technology from living up to its promise in the area of telecommuting.

One of Symantec's latest products,
pcTelecommute, is aimed squarely at stay-
at-home workers. The company's product line has long targeted employees who
work at home. That includes WinFax Pro, which turns a PC into a fax machine, and pcAnywhere, which enables telecommuters to control their computer back at the office.

PcTelecommute builds on technology from those two products. Along with the faxing and remote control features offered by the original packages, it offers call management, work logging, file transfers and synchronization. All these features were available to telecommuters before now, but pcTelecommute offers them in a single package that's attractive and easy to use.

The program's Work Monitor keeps track of hours worked, calls and faxes made and received, and files created and modified. It is useful for at-home workers who are called upon to verify their productivity. (Of course, some of us may prefer to not be so accountable. Luckily, the work log is easily editable.)

DayEnd Sync reminds users at the end of the workday which files have changed and offers to automatically put the files in sync with the office computer.

Building on the phone company's Caller ID service, Call Screening reveals who's calling by flashing a message on the computer screen. This is just one of several products that marry computers and phone services by using the PC to get around the tiny screen and keypad built into telephones.

The pcAnywhere technology allows users to shuttle files back and forth between home and office, and can allow company help-desk workers -- if they're running Symantec's pcAnywhere -- to better support off-site employees. The remote access features go beyond file shuttling -- at-home users can even run applications on their office PC and view the results on their home computer. The program also has faxing capability in the form of a scaled-down version of the company's WinFax Pro.

All these features are accessed in a well-designed Telecommute Control Center, an on-screen toolbar offering one-click availability to the program's power. For instance, you can send a fax by simply dragging a document file's icon and dropping it on the Control Center's fax button.

The handholding goes further. Installation is guided by "wizards" that help to set up and customize both home and office systems. The package also includes tips and video clips designed to make the user a successful telecommuter.

The product's licence allows a user to legally install a single copy of the program onto two computers, one at home and one in another location. This means you can connect your home computer to your office computer without having to buy two copies of the program.

Some of the software's capabilities are modem-dependent. For example, if you want to get the most of this product, make sure that your modem model specifically supports Caller ID.

The package costs about $149 and includes June Langhoff's book, The Telecommuter's Advisor: Working in the Fast Lane, and a phone line splitter.

A free, 30-day trial version is avail-able from the company's Web site (www.
). *


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