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Where are the wizards?
pcAnywhere's interface is crisp and free of clutter. Its four large toolbar icons let you designate your office PC as the host, so you can connect to it or control another computer.
Unfortunately, pcAnywhere lacks wizards to walk you through the host/remote setup process--a departure from version 9.0 that we still miss. Instead, you must click through tabs in a complex dialog, definitely a step backward. You can connect from modem to modem (perfect when the host doesn't have an always-on connection such as DSL or cable) using TCP/IP over the Internet (as long as you know the IP address of the host) and on a network using SPX and NetBIOS protocols. We spent a couple of hours configuring connections for pcAnywhere; only WinVNC was tougher to configure.
But once you set up pcAnywhere, it's easy going. Connect to a host PC (for instance, your office machine), and its desktop appears in a window on your remote PC. (You can switch to a full-screen view if you want.) From there, you can launch apps and open files on the host PC just as if you were sitting in front of the computer itself.
You can connect to a pcAnywhere-equipped host machine via browser, rather than by using pcAnywhere software on the remote PC, but Symantec doesn't recommend or support the technique, which relies on a browser plug-in called pcAnywhere Express (it's on the pcAnywhere CD). And security while connecting with pcAnywhere Express is nonexistent. If you want to run a PC remotely by browser, steer clear of this and subscribe to GoToMyPC instead.
Although earlier editions of pcAnywhere suffered from slipshod security, version 10.5 makes protection a priority: it offers seven authentication options--used to verify the identity of the remote caller--via Windows 2000's Active Directory, HTTPS, and Novell Directory Services. This lets companies pick the pcAnywhere authentication method best suited to their networks.
More important, pcAnywhere goes farther than either Timbuktu or LapLink in guarding against outside attacks. You can link host and remote PCs within your organization over whatever connection you wish, including LAN, VPN, and dial-up, through a special code that prevents hackers from using other copies of pcAnywhere to gain access. An integrity check makes it much harder for hackers to modify code, such as a revised DLL, that would help bypass security. pcAnywhere recognizes even the slightest change to its DLLs, Registry entries, and executables and won't work if it discovers modifications. New to 10.5 are several options that log security events, including port scans of pcAnywhere ports and failed connections, making it a bit easier to track hackers, and, in some cases, to follow their trail.
The most useful addition to 10.5 (beyond XP compatibility), is its new Host Assessment Tool, a small utility that you run from within pcAnywhere. The tool quickly checks out the security settings you've engaged on the host and suggests options you can use to better protect the PC. Unfortunately, you can't change these settings from the tool but must flip back and forth between its screen of recommendations and pcAnywhere itself.
You decide who gets access to which PCs or drives and what they can do. You can upload files and blank the screen on the host, restart the host, and even limit the connection time. pcAnywhere's greatest downfall is that it still doesn't let you password-protect individual folders or files for Windows 95/98/Me callers, as LapLink does. (Windows NT/2000/XP hosts have their own drive security built into the OS.) You can limit access only by drive; it's an all-or-nothing deal.
When we put pcAnywhere to the test using port scanners such as Port Detective and Port Checker, they showed that ports 5631 and 5632 were open, and, thus, a potential backdoor for hackers. But when we engaged Norton Internet Security 2002's firewall, it stealthed those ports, making them invisible and more secure. As with other remote control programs, pcAnywhere should be used only when you protect the PC with a firewall. Like all our reviewed apps, pcAnywhere did let us connect and control a firewall-guarded host.
Best for business
Although this version of pcAnywhere adds support for XP (both Home and Professional editions), like its predecessor, it doesn't work on DOS or Windows 3.1. You'll have to dig up an ancient copy of version 9.2 if you run those operating systems.
But file transfer is fast, thanks to pcAnywhere's SpeedSend, a utility that detects only the changed data. SpeedSend reduces transfer time by sending only changed data, such as an icon in a different spot on the desktop. A nifty synchronization feature in the main toolbar lets you match a file in a folder on your remote machine with the same file on the host machine--handy for keeping work current from the road. It's equally easy to send a file from a remote to a host PC: simply drag and drop the desired files from your directory into pcAnywhere's file-transfer pane.
Of course, pcAnywhere can transfer data only so quickly. Its screen redraws build only as fast as the connection between the host and remote machines. Over a lethargic 28.8Kbps dial-up link, for example, the program is almost unusable for total remote control but is suitable for transferring files with few graphics. However, at 56Kbps, you'll be able to perform any task in short order.
pcAnywhere's technical support is first-rate, if expensive. Dial the help desk, which is open 11 hours per day, weekdays only, and you can choose between a $30-per-call charge or a $3-per-minute fee. With those prices, you're better off using the superb online support database, which is thorough and easy to use. Plus, you can post messages on a public discussion area accessible through Symantec's site; when we used it, a tech rep gave us a workable solution within 20 hours.
With pcAnywhere 10.5's emphasis on security and corporate scenarios, it is the best remote control choice for businesses that want to keep out unauthorized users. Individual users, however, should still take easier-to-set-up GoToMyPC for a spin.