Remote access applications square off

Expertcity's GoToMyPC is the chocolate-chip cookie to Symantec Corp.'s long-standing layer cake of a remote-access application, PCAnywhere. While PCAnywhere's complex user interface and feature set speak to experienced users and corporate customers with an IT staff, GoToMyPC's simplicity and Web-based access are a better fit for new and home-office users.

Symantec's recently released US $179 PCAnywhere10 offers new and improved features over its previous version. Among them, a Packager tool allows for more flexible installs by letting you select which features and protocols to install, such as modem or TCP/IP, for example. The application also includes an Optimization Wizard that configures systems for different performance needs. With this feature, PCAnywhere suggests ways to speed system performance and optimize transfer speeds.

Expertcity's free beta of GoToMyPC version 1.0 is available now; it will cost $10 to $20 per user per month when the final version is released this spring. In conjunction with Expertcity's Web servers, GoToMyPC provides users with views of and the ability to control a system's desktop from a remote location. It also permits file sharing between remote and local computers.

GoToMyPC and PCAnywhere run on Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, and Me.

Local and Remote Security

To keep your data safe at the remote and local levels, the two applications offer several security features. Both let you lock the keyboard of a PC from a remote location to protect your settings and to prevent someone from working on it. And both programs let you encrypt data and passwords.

GoToMyPC lacks PCAnywhere's extra helping of security features, such as the ability to limit log-in attempts, or to restart the remote computer at a session's end. It doesn't offer PCAnywhere's Integrity Checking feature to prevent modification of settings via the registry. GoToMyPC also doesn't password-protect the host machine's settings to restrict access like PCAnywhere does. Nor does it use PCAnywhere's RAPS (remote access perimeter scanner) to scan networks and phone lines for unprotected systems.

But GoToMyPC provides 128-bit SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption of data streams. The application can bypass firewalls because the host and client computers receive all communications through an outgoing TCP connection that they initiate with each other--which probably won't sit well with companies in possession of very sensitive files. You can configure a firewall to allow access to computers behind it via PCAnywhere, but that access isn't available by default. The only GoToMyPC customization we were able to tinker with was to change our computer's nickname or delete it from our list.

Accessing Your PC Here, There, and AnywhereInstalling PCAnywhere can be a bit daunting for those who haven't used this type of application. After installing the software on our local system, we launched the application, clicked the Remote button, and right-clicked an icon to indicate the type of connection we were using. After that, six tabs appeared with customization options for setting connection information and security options. The application instructed us to select the IP address of the host. Once we'd gone through the same routine with the host computer, we were able to connect the two machines, and the remote desktop appeared as a window within the PCAnywhere application window on our own desktop.

In comparison, setting up and using Web-based GoToMyPC was easier. We first had to visit the site and set up an account. Once we received our activation code via e-mail, we downloaded the GoToMyPC software and installed it on our local machine. From there, we specified the names of computers we wanted to access remotely. (Of course, you must install the GoToMyPC software on every machine you want to access.) We then went to another computer with Web access (and on which we had already installed the software), logged into our account, and clicked the Connect button next to the host computer name. Its desktop popped up a few moments later. (To connect to your host machine using either application, both systems must be online.) The simple GoToMyPC Web interface will charm new users, but the lack of customization may make IT managers uneasy about rolling the app out to hundreds of employees. Still, average consumers should find GoToMyPC a handy way to retrieve files from home--without having to get approval or assistance from their company's computer support staff. Enterprises will feel more comfortable using PCAnywhere 10.

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