SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - This remote access and control application excels at cross-platform work, but it still has some flaws.
Timbuktu has been around for years, but don't worry if you haven't heard of it.
Mac users know it as the preeminent Apple remote access and control application. In the PC arena, other names predominate, notably Traveling Software's LapLink and Symantec Corp.'s PcAnywhere.
Its latest edition is just out of beta and available as a demo version, downloadable from Netopia's Web site. It offers something those programs don't: support for both the Mac OS and every version of Windows starting with Windows 95. This makes it an irreplaceable tool if your work happens in different locations and on different platforms.
Computers with Timbuktu Pro 2000 can communicate over local networks, the Internet, and modem connections. You can send pop-up messages to another computer, chat using text or voice, observe another system's screen, or even take control of the remote system. And like most remote access programs, Timbuktu lets you transfer files. Forgot to grab that important Adobe Acrobat file from the Mac at work? No problem. You can dial in and download it to your Windows 2000 laptop and empty the trash bin while you're at it.
Timbuktu doesn't come cheap, however. A twin pack (licenses for two machines) costs US$160 if you download it or $190 for a boxed version. The cost per license drops with larger numbers. Fortunately, you can test it out before you buy. Netopia offers a 30-day trial version at its Web site.
A Swiss Army App
Most of Timbuktu Pro 2000's bells and whistles--various kinds of chat and instant messaging, file transferring, and even application sharing--are already included in the Windows and Mac operating systems or as part of Internet Explorer. But these extra features complement Timbuktu's main tools, and having everything together in one interface is handy.
Help desk workers, consultants, and network administrators who need to adjust a remote system's TCP/IP settings can pop up a quick explanatory message or audible warning or copy a file to the desktop before rebooting the machine. And unlike other remote-control programs, Timbuktu lets you open multiple connections to other systems. You can check in on an NT server in Dallas while assisting a Mac user in Denver and a hapless Windows 98 neophyte down the hall.
The program worked flawlessly with my Windows 98 SE shared Internet connection, despite the fact that the system uses two different IP addresses. I was able to control the machine itself and connect to a remote system using the shared connection. Internet connections are encrypted by default, and support for Internet Locator Service and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) lets you locate other Timbuktu users through e-mail addresses and public directories.
The just-out-of-beta demo version has a few rough edges, though. On Windows 2000 machines, the pointer disappears when controlling a remote system. You can use keystrokes instead, but an invisible cursor makes remote control tasks difficult. Netopia promises this problem will be fixed in the shipping product.
Also, the program doesn't display full-screen applications. When I launched a full-screen game on the remote PC, Timbuktu continued to display the Windows desktop. So don't count on using it to play Quake on the machine in the next cubicle.