Remote control: the long arm of support gets more fingers

Test shows a plethora of painless PC remote-control wares

Network World tests nine remote-control appliances.

Today remote-control tools have multiplied in number, evolving to run faster and look better, and making it easy to drive another computer located across the hall or around the world.

In this Clear Choice Test of nine remote-control products on the market (we invited all remote-control vendors, but some declined), we found that all offerings cover the basics.

They encrypt traffic between systems; help perform file transfers; and offer some level of logging activities, instant messaging and printer redirection. The feature list for each product spans from minimal to extensive.

The good news is that network administrators can choose a small and lean product if they simply need to remotely support PCs, or a more comprehensive offering to monitor every internal function of remote PC, Linux and Macintosh systems.

One complication we found almost across the board was that while the push-installation method was a great success on Windows 2000 systems, Windows XP Service Pack 2 blocks such operations. You can tweak the XP units to accept the pushed software, but your time is better spent installing and configuring the remote-side software on units that will be controlled by a central administrator.

LogMeIn's IT Reach and NetSupport Manager from NetSupport both offer excellent feature lists, easy installation and fast performance. They have been named co-winners in this match.

If you manage only PCs, both products will work great, but NetSupport Manager includes Macintosh and Linux support from Windows consoles.

LogMeIn offers more remote-client details and is less expensive. Remote PC Support from SecurityCoverage offers remote control on a budget, while DameWare NT keeps the low price and adds a set of PC troubleshooting and reporting tools.

ProductLogMeIn IT ReachNetSupport ManagerKaseya
VendorLogMeInNetSupportKaseya Internation Limited
Price as tested$39.95 per computer per year for 100 computers.$5,880 for 100 PCs.Minimum purchase level is $13,200 for 100 agents.
ProsOutstanding connection performance; excellent PC configuration reporting.Outstanding connection performance; full PC configuration report; supports Windows, Linux and Macintosh clients.Heavy-duty service-provider product; drills deep into remote side PC details.
Cons

Remote Windows clients must individually download software and register.

Resource heavy on the administration side; performance lags.
Score4.74.74.1
ProductPCAnywhereLaplink Gold 12Timbuktu Pro
VendorSymantecLaplink SoftwareNetopia
Price as tested$8,520 for 100 seats.$4,600 for 100 seats.$4,500 for 100 PCs.
ProsDetailed printed manual; supports Windows, Linux and Macintosh.Multiple options to connect, including cables; one-year free virus check for file transfers.Excellent support for Macintosh administrative consoles; use Skype to locate and connect; automatic screen scrolling.
ConsLinux installation clunky; performance lags.Slow performance; involved installation with key confirmation.PC administration tools lag behind Macintosh.
Score3.63.53.4
ProductRemote PC SupportDameWare NT UtilitiesAnyplace Control
VendorSecurityCoverageDameWare DevelopmentAnyplace Control  
Price as testedOne to five Support Admini-strative Consoles cost $35.00 per month per license, with each console supporting an unlimited number of client PCs.$290 for NT Utilities and Remote Administrative console to manage an unlimit-ed number of remote PCs.$500 for 100 computers.
ProsHosted service for easy connections; small client software quick to download and start.Includes an excellent diagnostic toolbox; only product tested with smart card support.Clean file-transfer interface.
ConsSlow performance; no connection unless user types in the code.Performance lags; clunky file- transfer option.Performance lags.
Score3.23.02.2
The breakdown LogMeIn IT ReachNetSupport ManagerKaseya PC Remote ControlpcAnywhereLapLink Gold 12Timbuktu ProRemote PC SupportDameWare NTAnyplace Control
Remote management 40%555444432
Features 30%554343232
Installation 20%443323533
Documentation 10%443533032

Total score

4.7

4.7

4.1

3.6

3.5

3.4

3.2

3

2.2

Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Subpar or not available.

Open source players

Open Source developers have long played in this market. One of the first (released in 2002), RealVNC, also sells an enterprise product $1740 for 100 PCs), but the personal version remains free. The project’s site claims the founders are the original developers of VNC, but we'll leave the origination arguments of open source products for another debate. RealVNC supports PCs, Macs and Linux systems.

Other open source players with buzz in this market include UltraVNC and TightVNC. Mac only installations may be interested OSXvnc or Chicken of the VNC. Companies looking for customization options may find the control they can get modifying the source code is worth the extra aggravation of flakier client connections, limited support of odd hardware, and few console features beyond basic remote control.

Gaskin writes books (16 so far), articles and jokes about technology and real life from his home office in the Dallas area. He can be reached at readers@gaskin.com.

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