Only GoToMyPC is easier to set up than LapLink. To connect to another computer, all you do is install the software and give the remote computer a name. LapLink offers a slew of connection options, such as a direct parallel or serial cable or via a Web browser. You also decide which services to allow, such as file transfer or remote control. LapLink's pop-up Quick Step screens lay out the setup process in plain English--a blessing to rookies. (Vets can disable this help by clicking Quick Step in the Help menu.) We connected our first pair of computers for remote control in less than 10 minutes.
LapLink's interface is clear-cut and easy to operate, especially with the addition of the LapLink Shortcut bar at the left side of the window. Much like the Microsoft Outlook Shortcut navigator, LapLink's icons give you instant access to tasks such as file transfer and remote control.
When you control your host computer remotely, a window opens within the LapLink window to display the host's screen. A simple toolbar makes it easy to access commands that let you disconnect from the host, tweak security settings, and so on. And when you select file-transfer mode, you'll see a handy split-screen view, with one pane for each of the computers on the connection. LapLink's file-transfer skills remain the best of any remote control app we reviewed--synchronizing folders and files on the two machines is a breeze. So if you're using remote control mostly to move files between PCs, LapLink is your best bet. It beats the simplistic file transfer in GoToMyPC hands down.
Name that computer
The remote control session itself is straightforward. You'll see the host's display on your remote PC's screen (you can enlarge the former to a full screen if you like), and, using the mouse and keyboard, you can open documents, grab e-mail, launch a browser, and run programs. You can even print to any printer connected to the host or redirect print jobs from apps on the host to a printer jacked into the remote PC. If there's someone at the other end, you can use both text- and voice-based chat to carry on a conversation to, say, troubleshoot problems on the host PC.
LapLink's additional strength lies in its flexibility. You can dial the host directly, modem-to-modem--great for controlling a computer that isn't jacked into an always-on Net connection--or use the Internet to make the link. You can also access machines through TCP/IP and IPX networks; via infrared wireless (Windows 95/98 only); or by connecting them with the in-the-box parallel, serial, or USB cables. (The first two are in the box, but the USB cable costs an extra $20.)
Not all Net
New to version 11.0 is something LapLink calls Surf Up, which lets you connect to a LapLink-equipped host using just a browser and a Net connection, à la GoToMyPC. But though Surf Up is a step in the right direction, it only transfers files--no browser-based remote control in sight.
To control a host using the Internet, you must sit in front of a remote PC running LapLink. Thankfully, you don't need to know the host's IP address, as you do with WinVNC. Instead, you publish the host's name (which you make up; it can be something as simple as an e-mail address) to LapLink's directory server, then connect to it from the remote by specifying the name.
A LapLink-controlled computer runs surprisingly fast, even over a slow analog modem connection (we tested at several speeds, down to as slow as 28.8Kbps). Windows zip open and screens redraw faster here than with GoToMyPC; credit LapLink's aggressive compression for the speed. Boost the bandwidth to a broadband DSL or cable connection (or even a 128Kbps ISDN line), and the lag time between clicking an icon on the remote and seeing the result in the host window is barely noticeable.
LapLink also boasts buckets of security features, from requiring usernames and passwords for incoming connections to 128-bit encryption of all data sent both ways. You can blank the host screen so that Peeping Toms can't see what you're doing, set user privileges folder by folder so that a remote caller can access only specified parts of the host's hard drive (try doing that with GoToMyPC or pcAnywhere), and lock out a user after a specified number of wrong passwords is entered.
Best of all, LapLink now works behind firewalls. You can connect using the Internet access mode to a host hidden behind a firewall using this version of LapLink, greatly reducing the danger of hacker attacks. (Earlier editions allowed only modem-to-modem connections to hosts behind firewalls.) All you need to do is check the Firewall box in the dialog where you set privileges to incoming remote users. After installing LapLink on PCs with and without Norton Internet Security 2002's firewall, we ran numerous port scanners, including Port Detective and Port Checker. As long as the firewall was active, LapLink's ports--it "listens" on TCP Port 1547 for incoming remote requests, among others--were stealthy and invisible to scanning hackers.
One caveat, though: Protect your host with a firewall, and you can't get to it using Surf Up unless you open ports 1184 and 1183, a potentially dangerous breach of security. (You can connect to this host using the Internet method within LapLink, though.)
No help on the weekend
If you need help with LapLink, you have plenty of options. Phone support is free for the first 30 days, but after that, each call costs $29. Unfortunately, LapLink staffs the help desk only nine hours a day and only on weekdays for both phone and live computer chat sessions. If you run into trouble on the weekend, you'll have to search LapLink's online database or resort to e-mail. When we called support, we talked to a smart tech in about 3 minutes (not the 15 minutes that we were warned about) who answered our question in a heartbeat.
LapLink is still not the equal of GoToMyPC when it comes to connecting-from-anywhere convenience; you still must have a copy of LapLink on the remote PC to do anything more than transfer files over the Internet. But this version's improvements, particularly its ability to work behind a firewall, make it our first choice when money matters. You pay just once for LapLink, not month after month.