Geek Chic: Symantec PcAnywhere 12.0

Symantec PcAnywhere provides lots of connectivity, but at a price.

May 23, 2006

3 Min Read
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A few years ago, administrators and tech support personnel had very few options for remotely accessing Windows computers, except for buying third-party solutions. When Microsoft bundled a free remote access solution, Remote Desktop Connection (RDC), into Windows XP, many wondered if remote access software had a future. Symantec believes it does, and it may be right--but maybe not at the price it's asking.

PcAnywhere 12.0 supports new features not found in RDC, such as connection proxy, firewall traversal and cross-platform support. RDC won't let you connect to Mac, Linux or Win2000/ME hosts (though RDC does have a Mac client), so score one for pcAnywhere, which offers these capabilities. Symantec support also extends to Pocket PCs. These features help justify pcAnywhere's relatively high price, but not entirely: Symantec quotes a list price starting at $199 per seat, including full host and remote capabilities. Host-only licenses are estimated to cost $99.95 retail, with bulk discounts available. That's more in line with competitors, but still about 20% too much--especially considering VNC, a free and open-source remote control software, offers even more platform support.

A smaller office environment, where a VPN may not be set up or a desktop management suite would be overkill, may find it easier to justify the purchase, but it's a harder sell at larger organizations where a robust VPN solution helps eliminate many connectivity issues that plague RDC and other remote control software.

During testing it was easy to access computers from a variety of operating systems. A Java-based program can be installed on Linux or Mac OS X systems as host or client, but unfortunately installing the client version requires root privileges. RDC for OS X doesn't. On the other hand, admins usually like locking down a desktop so that users can't install software on their own. A Web-based viewer enables host connection through a Java applet, though with fewer features than the full Windows client. It only allows remote control capabilities, so you can't perform file transfers, instant messaging or kill processes outside of a remote control session.

Also new in this version is a proxy server and host-initiated connections. This allows for a host sitting behind a restricted firewall or NAT device to have connectivity with remote systems. That's neat, as I've had problems connecting by RDC when inbound connections were blocked by a firewall. An "invite" file can be created as well. This small file contains IP/DNS information and settings for the remote client and can be sent to a host by e-mail, instant message or floppy disk. This allows a user to initiate a connection to IT staff tech support computers without needing to worry about inputting network settings.Although the connectivity features help distinguish pcAnywhere from free competitors, it really shines when you look beyond screen sharing. Bidirectional file sharing is simple to perform. I was able to select folders on my local and remote computers and merge the two together. This is handy for a small office environment where a remote user may be remote controlling into his or her own work machine. File transfers can now be queued so you don't have to sit and wait for the transfer to finish.

Symantec also has a group of "remote management" features that's very useful for help desk personnel. Among these is a feature that lets users perform management functions without seeing the remote desktop. That offers better privacy than having to poke around the graphical shell and requires less bandwidth. I was able to connect to a remote computer and access a command prompt, registry editor, and event log and task manager. I was also able to uninstall programs and reboot and lock the computer. A built-in chat client rounds out the picture.

There's much to like in this latest entry of the 20-year-old product. We'd like it even more at a lower price.

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