By Greg Ross
Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5 is a remote control application that allows users to operate a computer from any other computer in the world -- include PCs running a different operating system. Is pcAnywhere really the ultimate cross-platform remote desktop tool? We put it to the test in this review.
Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5 can connect almost any two computers, regardless of what OS either is running. However, as with any non-Web-based remote desktop program, pcAnywhere users need to know the exact IP address of the target computer (which never works well in my experience). Moreover, to connect via the Internet, pcAnywhere requires a third-party VPN.
The basic view for pcAnywhere 12.5 is very self-explanatory and resembles XP's play-toy interface. From here, you can access wizards to start using the most important features of the program. Clicking Remote Control starts up a wizard to connect to a computer at a known location, File Transfer starts up an FTP session wizard with a known pcAnywhere host, and Host launches the program necessary for the local computer to be remotely controlled. Quick Connect pulls up a window that is a little more advanced as it automatically scans for pcAnywhere hosts on the local network (good for home networks with DHCP enabled), and allows the user to invoke encryption protection during the remote session.
Remote Operation provides quick access to settings that largely impact the quality of the remote session experience. High-quality remote session streaming is useful when plenty of network bandwidth is available, while low-quality streaming is best for bridging two computers over the Internet. You can also set up a remote printer that can be accessed during the remote session.
The most important feature found in the Settings tab is the ability to configure pcAnywhere 12.5 to boot automatically with the computer, which I think should be mandatory in any remote access software. Callers are client computers that connect to the host, and a wide range of authentication options are available (including support for Windows user logins). One can never have enough security options in remote access software and pcAnywhere 12.5 certainly excels here.
While the overall user experience with pcAnywhere 12.5 was good, the various layouts and wizards were not exactly user-friendly a times.
When a remote session is running, the target computer's screen is front and center within the same interface.
The web browser version of pcAnywhere 12.5 is not as refined as the main program, but then again the Java web client is meant to be carried around on a USB memory key or used on a computer where the main client program cannot be installed.
During the evaluation period, the target computer was connected to the internet via a 6Mbit DSL connection. The computer used to access the target was connected to the same DSL connection for a high-speed test, or connected to the internet using a public Wi-Fi hotspot in the same city.
In each test, I never had any issues with input lag or slow refresh rates while I was running office applications. The only time pcAnywhere 12.5 ever had a problem was when I ran my video tests at too high a quality given the network connections I was using. When running on the public Wi-Fi network, pcAnywhere 12.5 defaulted to using low-quality mode with 256 colors. At those settings, I had no issues with input latencies or full screen changes like scrolling and window maximizations.
Performance only got better when pcAnywhere 12.5 was using my 6Mbit connection. Full-screen window changes refreshed in less time and scrolling through long documents was not as stuttered as with some of the competition. Where pcAnywhere 12.5 starts to show off is in successfully streaming video content with decent visual quality. Unfortunately, pcAnywhere 12.5 does not support audio transmissions so the experience was a little bittersweet. Nonetheless pcAnywhere 12.5 provides the best video streaming experience of any remote desktop app I've reviewed.
Connecting to the host using the client's web browser Java application was an interesting experience. Controlling the computer was almost as easy as from the main program, except that I could never get the scrolling wheel to actually work during these sessions. Scrolling was stuttered, but otherwise performance was acceptable given its intent.
In the end, pcAnywhere 12.5 certainly shines. The user interface is not as polished as I would prefer for a consumer application, but there is a wide array of powerful configuration options that are available. Performance was in line with the competition but, under the right circumstances, pcAnywhere 12.5 downright impressed us. It has incredible cross-platform support that should meet just about anyone's demands, and it even has a web interface that operates just like its web-based competitors.
In the end, the adage that 'you get what you pay for' is definitely true when pcAnywhere 12.5 is concerned. At $200 retail, it is certainly an expensive product. However there are no monthly fees and you can use it as long as you wish. Keep this product on the short-list, and look out for rebates.
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