Symantec’s pcAnywhere remote computer
access software just got upgraded to version 12.5 and should be available in stores right now for a
smidgen under $200. Don’t pick up v12.1 by mistake – the new version is out there and it’s worth
hunting it down. For your money you get a CD and a slim 60-page getting started booklet in
Symantec’s familiar yellow packaging.
The getting started book has only eight
pages in your favourite language, but there are 22 choices so it’s unlikely you won’t be able to
read at least one of them. You won’t need to refer to the booklet very often, if at all, after
installation as the program is pretty easy to figure out, and with the 12.5 upgrade of pcAnywhere
(PCA) the program now looks almost identical on all the supported platforms – Windows, Mac OS X and
You get all three platforms for the
price, in both remote and host versions – you need to install it on each end of your remote link so
you can connect via the Internet to control one PC or server from another. The good news is that
you don’t need matching platforms at each end. You can install a host PCA on a Windows Server 2008
and then control it using PCA remotely from your Macintosh or Linux computer. And you can do this
vice-versa and in any cross combination you can dream up.
So, what did Symantec put in the new
version other than making each platform look as similar as possible? Users of the previous v12.1 on
Macintosh won’t notice too much difference – it’s their interface experience that has slithered
over to the Windows and Linux clients. For starters there is now a separate tab showing you all the
sessions you have open, making it much easier to switch to the one you want. Yeah, okay, not
everybody will have multiple sessions, but if you do, v12.5 makes it a lot easier to manage
The other main area of improvement will
appeal mostly to users with Windows servers they want to remotely control. Previously you had to
choose whether to use the host server’s Active Directory to control logins, or use PCA’s built-in
users and passwords. Now with v12.5 you can have both at the same time, which means you could allow
users with limited admin powers to connect via the AD and still allow a “superuser” to login via
PCA to take control when things have really gone pear-shaped.
There is also a big improvement in the
level of logging, reporting and notification options, so you can keep informed about who is using
your host remotely, if it isn’t you and your support team. The logs contain fully qualified domain
names of computers in session, IP addresses, logged-in user names, keyboard and mouse status
changes, and additional chat conversations – if you choose to enable logging them of
The new v12.5 will connect remotely to
earlier version hosts, but once you install v12.5 host you’ll need to install the same version on
your remotes to get connected. And if you decide to install the free download trial version, it
won’t connect with the full v12.5 retail product, which is a tad annoying. Even more annoying is
that you must uninstall the trial version to install the real v12.5 – there’s no “click to
authenticate” button. This isn’t a major problem but it is inconvenient if you’re trying to do
everything remotely via PCA. A classic case of Catch 22 in real life.
Of course, you don’t have to go out and
buy PCA to remotely control your Windows servers from your Windows PCs. You can use Microsoft’s
built-in Remote Desktop Control (RDC) for the same purpose and it’s free in the box with the
operating system. But RDC takes over the PC or server console when you connect, shutting out anyone
who was sitting in front of the screen. PCA takes over in a co-operative way – so you can let them
watch you perform your remote magic. It’s nice to have both available. Sometimes you want to keep
the remote users in the dark.
PCA also includes a very handy button,
which can sometimes save you from a totally frozen server situation. If you can still connect, but
nothing is happening when you get connected, say a typical console hang, while the server is still
running in some limited capacity, you can press the “restart host computer” button. When all else
has failed this little button is almost worth the price of admission all by itself.
Of course, to make any of these remote
control programs work, you’ll have to open a few ports on your router and forward them to your host
computer as well as allowing PCA or RDC through any intermediate or host-based firewalls. Opening
any ports on your router and/or firewalls does involve some element of risk, but Symantec’s
pcAnywhere v12.5 now supports smart card logins for that little extra peace of mind on the security
front. Now you’ll have to go out and get some smart cards won’t you?