|S N E A K P R E V I E W|
Symantec pcAnywhere 9.0 Is Just Right for Control Freaks
November 15, 1999
By Wade Rockett
As a network administrator, I regard the phrase control freak as a compliment. Yes, I want as much control as possible over fast, reliable machines. And I don't want that control to be limited to the space within the four walls of my office building. If something blows a gasket at 2:00 a.m., the last thing I want to do is get in my car and race across town to bring it back online.
Symantec Corp.'s pcAnywhere 9.0 promises an easy, efficient way to exercise control across your network, at a cost of just $169.95 for two PC licenses. Based on my tests, I'd say that the product delivers on that promise. The interface is easy to use, which I imagine will be helpful for those late-night dial-ups when my brain doesn't want to work any harder than absolutely necessary. The time and energy required to set up connections and caller identities is minimal, and the security options one can enable on these items, as well as those which govern remote sessions, sets up a decent barrier against tampering by the curious or the malevolent.
The downside: While my initial connection time was fast, the remote session was sluggish, even across the LAN. The sole exception to this was remote control of an NT server.
I tested pcAnywhere 9.0 using two Dell laptops running Microsoft Windows 95, two Gateway PCs running Windows 98 and an NT 4.0 server. The pcAnywhere software was loaded onto each machine's hard drive. My object was to test pcAnywhere's capabilities with dial-up networking, modem-to-modem and LAN connections. First, I wanted to control my own PC at work via a dial-up connection to the network. Once inside, pcAnywhere would seek out my workstation and take command.
The wizard available to set up and customize connection items is intuitive. It was a breeze to configure the host PC for my dial-up sessions using settings I'd created in Windows 95's Dial-Up Networking feature, though I could just as easily have used pcAnywhere's interface to create those settings. I set up several different caller items, each with its own password and each with different rights and privileges.
Authentication to the host PC can be accomplished using pcAnywhere or Windows NT authentication. This was misleading at first; the radio button used to set this simply says "Use Windows authentication with pcAnywhere privileges," which led me to believe the program would make use of the host PC's primary Windows client, whatever it was. This is a feature I would have liked to see included.
Having thus set the rules of engagement, I double-clicked my custom connection item. The dial-up routine ran, establishing a PPP connection to a terminal server at my workplace. Once I was in, pcAnywhere sprang into action; it swiftly found my PC via its IP address and brought up a window to my desktop.
That's the good news. The bad news is that once my remote-control session was established, things slowed significantly. Every application I called up painted my screen with methodical, deliberate strokes, as if worried that it would omit some crucial detail. I instructed pcAnywhere to transfer a file from my workstation to my laptop, which it accomplished with admirable speed, but overall the session response was sluggish.
I then tested remote control across the LAN, using my work PC as the remote and a user's PC as the host. I don't want our users to feel as though they are completely at the mercy of our IT department's whims. pcAnywhere helps accomplish this by letting the administrator require user confirmation before remote access is allowed.
This time I didn't specify an IP address or host name. pcAnywhere scanned the network and presented a list of TCP/IP hosts, color-coded to indicate their status: available, busy, in conference or unknown.
The connection time between our PCs proved to be faster than the previous dial-up session. I had expected this, but to my surprise I observed little or no change in the speed of the remote-control session itself. At Symantec's suggestion, I went into the Application Options menu and changed the color scale under Remote Operation from 256 colors (the default setting) to 16. This seemed to speed up some actions, such as the opening of pop-up menus, but it didn't make much of a difference in overall session performance.
My next test was of a modem-to-modem connection between two laptops. The connection time for this session was the fastest yet; after double-clicking the connection item, I glanced away from my screen for an instant. When I looked back, I found the host computer's desktop before me, patiently awaiting my attention.
However, the session itself was again sluggish. The only time this was not the case was during my final test, when I remote-controlled an NT server across the LAN. In that setting I encountered both swift initial connection time and speedy session response.
I spoke to some Symantec technical support staffers about this issue, but as of press time we could find no explanation for the sluggishness I encountered when running pcAnywhere in my environment, or for the difference in session response time when controlling our NT server.
Wade Rockett is network administrator for the Chatham County government in Savannah, Ga. Send your comments on this article to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.