Product review: Mobile Essentials 2.0 keeps users connected

One of the biggest headaches for mobile professionals is managing the host of configuration settings that enable them to connect to the home office. Every time you reach a new location and try to call home, it seems you have to reconfigure your computer with a different dialling sequence, calling card number or country code.

That headache was the inspiration for Symantec's Mobile Essentials, the first version of which appeared on the market in mid-1988. The product allowed users to create multiple locations, each with its own set of dialling rules, credit card numbers, network log-ons and the like.

Since release of the first version, Symantec decided to focus Mobile Essentials specifically on mobile IT professionals, and version 2.0 shows the fruits of that decision.

In fact, Mobile Essentials no longer will be available through retail channels; version 2.0 will be sold only through the company and the World Wide Web.

In addition to letting users set up location profiles that specify the basics of remote dialling -- outside lines, country codes, calling cards -- Mobile Essentials covers more intricate configurations needed by professional IT staffs. Users can specify multiple configurations for network settings, including Microsoft Windows NT domain and Novell Novell Directory Services and NetWare Bindery log-ins.

Mobile Essentials' locations profiles make it a snap to switch between static and dynamic Internet Protocol addresses.

Generally, networked office environments require dynamic IP address sharing, while cable and asymmetric digital subscriber line solutions employed in many remote offices often require static IP addresses. With Mobile Essentials, making the change is as easy as selecting a different location profile.

Users also can specify a default printer for each work location as well as a custom start-up group for Windows. Because Mobile Essentials loads at the beginning of your Windows session and serves as your Windows log-in, you can use it to control the applications that you have automatically start in different locations. Mobile Essentials can even be used to control changes in other programs' configurations, including Lotus Development's Notes and cc:Mail; Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange and Internet Explorer; Netscape Communications' Navigator; and Symantec's WinFax Pro.

Location Profiles

One highlight of the new version is a centralised utility for managing and deploying location profiles for users. Assuming that you've installed the Mobile Essentials Administrator, you can create multiple location profiles, with settings that control every aspect of Mobile Essentials' configuration, and select from among four methods of distribution. The profiles are so small that distribution is fast and easy. You can post profiles to either a Web server or a network server for downloading by users, save the profiles to floppies for distribution or even e-mail them to specified users.

There's even an optional e-mail agent for Mobile Essentials clients that will recognise automatically incoming e-mailed profiles and incorporate them without user intervention.

If, for example, an area code changes where you have a large office, you can e-mail revised profiles that accommodate the area code change, and all users will be updated automatically without being any the wiser.

If your department or agency has a number of mobile users, Mobile Essentials offers surprisingly easy configuration management as well as a degree of protection against a flooded help desk.

Remarks: Mobile Essentials offers an easy way to reconfigure PCs for optimal operations and communications from different locations. Version 2.0 allows administrators to centrally manage multiple users' configurations.

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