Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 136 / DECEMBER 1991 / PAGE 88

You're as good as there. (remote-control software)
by Gregg Keizer

Invasion of the Computer Snatchers

You're on the road, far from home and your home office. Or you're tucked into your office at home, working late on a project due tomorrow. But your nagging suspicion has turned out to be true; you left some important files and programs on the other PC--indispensable customer lists and data handlers. The hours you set aside to work have been wasted by a simple oversight. It costs you time and money.

This scenario plays all to often for anyone who uses more than one computer in more than one place. It used to be that all you could do was groan with frustation. Now you can laugh it off--if you have a remote-control package ready to run.

Using modems at both ends and a telephone line in between, remote-control software turns one computer into a host, the other into a guest. Normally, the guest computer calls the host and then takes it over. Connect the two computers with remote-control software, for instance, and anything you type on the keyboard of the guest appears on the screen of the host.

Remote-control software can link the two computers as closely as Siamese twins. You can easily send files, grab files from the host PC, or--if there's someone at the other end--even work interactively on the same document or work sheet (many consultants and software engineers use this capability to tran users in remote locations).

The host can be a stand-alone computer at your home or work office or a machine linked to your corporate local area network (LAN). You can access its disk drives and any printer connected to it or, if the host is part of a LAN, you can even read and respond to your E-mail.

Remote-control software can be a real help to the home office worker, acting at times like a personal electronic bulleting board system, at others like a distant terminal of a primary PC. It multiplies the power of a PC that isn't tied to a network.

You can, for example, head home early from the office and later that night connect to your workplace PC. When you finish a memo or report, you can print it on your office lase printer so that it will be waiting for you in the morning. If you travel with a laptop, you can complete work on the road and then safely store it on your home office PC via the telephone. Or you can access a file or application you couldn't fit on your portable's small hard disk drive. And if you're working for a long-distance client, you can collaborate in realtime and interatively compose a report or design a newsletter.

Remote Commuting

One of the best remote-control packages is also one of the newest. Central Point Software's Commute, offered both as part of PC Tolls Deluxe 7.1 and as a separate program, is about as simple to use as remote software gets. Highlights include a clear interface, data compression to speed up file transfer, and featURes the automate parts of the process. Other programs own a bigger slice of the market--Carbon Copy Plus, Close-Up. pcANYWHERE, and CO/Session come to mind--but the new product from Central Point has earned a niche and deserves your attention.

Calling and control with Commute are straightforward. You install the software on both host and guest, set up the host to wait for a call, and then tell the guest to phone home. In moments, you can access the host's drives or send files to its printer. The display and contro, minus momentary pauses for telephone transmission, is identical to what you would see sitting at your office machine.

Along the way, Commute lets your specify the caller who can legitimately connect to the host, locks out certain callers (or everyone) from accessing drives A: for B:, and prevents gUests from rebooting the host (either accidentally or maliciously). Security conscious, Commute requires callers to identify themselves with the proper password before it completes the connection to the host. You can even set Commute so that the host calls back the guest computer after a few seconds on the line, in effect reversing charges so that the call will be billed to your office phone. If you're calling with a credit card or from a hotel or if there's a time difference in your favor, this feature could provide lower rates.

Sending and transmitting files--easily the most popular application of remote-control software for home office workers--could be easier. You have to provide the path and filenames for both source and destination files, a clumsy manual method that could have been avoided if Central Point Software had thought to provide a graphic directory tree approach instead. Nonetheless, transferring files between host and guest goes like clockwork. You can even transfer subdirectories and their entire contents in a single step.

If you repeatedly step through the same process--filing sales reports from the road, for instance--you can automate Commute so that it calls, sends DOS commands to the host, sends or receives files, and hangs up without your attention. Commute can even call by itself late at night when phone charges are the lowest. You get to choose the remote-control software if you work for yourself, but your hands may be tied if you want to connect with a corporate PC, especially if it's on a LAN. Commute handles LAN traffic, too, but your firm may have already standardized on something else, such as Carbon Copy or pcANYWHERE. All remote-control software works much the same, though, with the crucial differences being in interface, screen speed, and LAN compatibility.

Fast, Secure Control

Remote-control computing depends on the telephone, so the faster you take care of business, the lower your costs will be. When you go to remote control, equip both the host and the guest with the fastest modems you can afford. You will probably find products that claim to work at 1200 bps, but if you value your peace of mind and your time, you will want faster rates.

The guest PC's screen is updated via the phone connection, a laborious and expensive process if you're working with 1200-or 2400bps moderns. Move up to 9600-bps modems if you can. It's especially critical to run a fast connection if you're expecting to control Windows software running on the host from the guest. (Several Windows remote-control programs are nearly ready as this is written and will be available by the time you read this. Chief among these is Ocean Isle's Reach Out for Windows. It requires VGA and a mouse on the host and VGA, mouse, and 512K RAM on the guest. It can make do with a 2400-bps modem, though 9600 bps is recommended. Ocean Isle can be reached at 80 Royal Palm Boulevard, Suite 202, Vero Beach, Florida 32960; 407-771-4777.) Practical Peripherals' PM9600SA is an excellent choice because it includes advanced error correction and data compression features and is often discounted to around $450.

A speed-of-light remote-control connection won't help if the host PC isn't powered up. To ensure that the host is always waiting, you can try one of two approaches. The first, a remote-control power strip, lets you turn on the PC's power with a phone call. You plug the computer and peripherals into the strip and then connect it to the phone line via a built-in jack. Call home, for example, and enter the security code, and your home office PC starts up. Server Technology's Power-ON is a compact four-outlet unit that you can conveniently stash on the floor of your workspace. When you complete the session and hang up from the guest, the Power-ON powers down the host PC until the next call.

If you want to leave the host on all the time but need to make sure it doesn't go down if the power fails, consider an internal power supply (IPS) like the Powercard. Its board fits inside the PC and connects to the computer's own power supply; an external battery provides temporary power. The Powercard detects even the briefest interruption of power, kicks in its battery, and then saves an image of memory to disk. As soon as the electricity revives, the PC is ready to take your call.

Do It from a Distance

Controlling a computer by long distance can make or break a road trip or a workday at home. No matter where you go, remote control software lets you stay in touch with your most important assistant--your PC.