2009 Remote Access Software Home Buyer’s Guide

by Reads (8,287)

By Greg Ross

We’ve reviewed five remote access tools each with their own capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Some programs worked flawlessly, others did alright, and one fell flat on its face. Read on to see which Remote Access program earned our Editor’s Choice.

JUDGMENT FACTORS

Each program was rated in the following categories.

  • Slow network performance
  • Fast network performance
  • Security
  • Ease of use
  • Extra features

In each category, programs will be given a rank of WINNER, PASS, or FAIL and a quick explanation provided.

THE CONTENDERS

The following products participated in our review:

SLOW NETWORK PERFORMANCE

This category is about adaptability, and how well the program can perform given poor conditions.

Winners: LogMeIn Free, Vista/XP Remote Desktop Connection

It was really hard to make the call between these two programs, so we judged it to be a tie. Each handles the situation a bit differently. We like how LogMeIn Free is able to reduce the visual quality of the display to a gray scale rendition of the program that did not significantly impact our ability to understand the screen well.

Pass: Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5

pcAnywhere 12.5 came close to being a winner in this category. It definitely did well under adverse conditions, but the program was just ever so slightly slower than the competition.

Fail: GoToMyPC, UltraVNC

We were absolutely shocked at how GoToMyPC performed. While visually it did alright under poor conditions, input latencies were unacceptable. Even a free program should perform better, and GoToMyPC is a monthly subscription! Speaking of free programs, sometimes you really do get what you paid for. UltraVNC utterly failed in this category with frequent lockups and poor speed and visual performance.

FAST NETWORK PERFORMANCE

Assuming the program has a half-way decent connection to work with, how well can the program work? How well does it scale, and how far can it push the envelope of remote control? Could you even stream video remotely?

Winner: Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5

We were absolutely shocked at how well this program performed over a high speed DSL connection and a local home network connection. Despite the higher up-front price, this program really did well. Streaming video was actually possible on a remote connection, and when in a home network environment performance took off to levels not seen in other programs.

Pass: LogMeIn Free, Vista/XP Remote Desktop Connection

Getting a pass in this category is kind of like graduating with a 4.0 GPA, but the only reason you did not win was because the valedictorian took a few extra classes. LogMeIn Free and Vista’s in-house solution did really well maintaining quick screen refreshes and low input latencies, while also providing great visual quality. If every product performed as well as these two, that would be all we could ask for.

Fail: GoToMyPC, UltraVNC

GoToMyPC once again suffers a critical defeat by way of high input latencies, but because it delivered high latencies even while downgrading the visual quality of the connection and turning off optional features of the program. It might have earned a ranking with a passing grade, except that its other web competitor worked better and is free.

UltraVNC did just about as well as the passing products, except that it utilized staggeringly large amounts of network bandwidth while doing it. But hey, if you have the network bandwidth to spare and do not have any cash this program might still be worth looking into.

SECURITY

Do we need to worry about someone hacking into your remote connection?

Winners: Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5, LogMeIn Free

These two products provided the most powerful encryption options available. LogMeIn Free actually pulls ahead slightly, if only because by default it turns its encryption on. Meanwhile pcAnywhere 12.5 has several encryption options that are just as safe as LogMeIn Free’s, but users have to manually enable them.

Pass: GoToMyPC

GoToMyPC always invokes encryption on their remote control sessions, but the encryption is not as powerful as the winners in this category. In any event all three programs should protect the user against all but the most dedicated attacks.

Fail: UltraVNC, Vista/XP Remote Desktop Connection

Remote Desktop Connection has few security options available in the standard interface, though apparently additional security measures can be achieved using advanced registry changes. Who has the guts to do that?

UltraVNC once again proves that you get what you pay for. It does not cost anything, but it provides no security either. Absolutely no encryption options are provided and the computer is only protected by way of a password mechanism. A quick Google search might be able to get around even that. The program apparently allows you to lock down the monitor of the host computer during a remote session, but that feature frequently failed to work for us…leaving all our actions visible at the host’s desktop.

EASE OF USE

How easy is it to setup a connection between two computers?

Winner: LogMeIn Free, GoToMyPC

Both of these programs win for one simple reason: They install a helper program onto the host computer so that you can log into a website and automatically connect to the computer by using any web browser. These two programs remove any difficulties in configuring your network, setting up a VPN, or most any related issue.

Pass: Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5

Users trying to run a remote desktop connection between two computers on the same local network will find it fairly easy to set up the connection since pcAnywhere 12.5 actively searches through your network to find the connection. To reliably connect over the internet, a VPN service is going to be needed. But this is the only program that supports Windows, Linux, and OS X as hosts and clients. You can even use a Pocket PC to control a host.

Fail: Vista/XP Remote Desktop Connection, UltraVNC

Remote Desktop Connection is always able to make a solid connection, but even on a local network you will probably have to know the exact IP address of the computer to make a connection. While it is not difficult to do, it is annoying. But like the other non web browser solutions, it also needs a VPN service to work across the internet.

UltraVNC, however, did not work well. It suffers the same weaknesses as Remote Desktop Connection, but the program frequently failed to connect for no reason at all.

EXTRA FEATURES

We were really looking for three things in all the programs in this roundup. File transfer support, audio support, and remote printer support.

Winner: Vista/XP Remote Desktop Connection

Sometimes, Microsoft gets all the glory. This time, they earned it. Remote Desktop Connection supports sharing drives between computers, copying data between the two computers, drag-and-drop, audio streaming, and remote printer sharing. It has it all!

Pass: Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5

While pcAnywhere 12.5 does not have audio streaming capabilities, it does have an easy to understand file transfer wizard and supports printer sharing.

Fail: LogMeIn Free, UltraVNC, GoToMyPC

GoToMyPC supports file transfers, copy/paste, printer sharing, and audio streaming. But in the end few of these features worked well, if at all. File transfers were clunky, copy/paste was unreliable at best, and audio streaming was not exactly ‘streaming.’ But hey, at least you paid that monthly fee for printer sharing that works.

This is the one time you get what you pay for where LogMeIn Free is concerned. This program does not support printer sharing, or file transfers, or copy/paste, or audio streaming. We hate to give this program a FAIL rating in any category, but the truth hurts. Fortunately, LogMeIn Pro (not reviewed here) does have those features and still costs less than GoToMyPC.

UltraVNC fails again, because once again it does not include any of the necessary features in this category. However, it does have complex user interface layouts and supports around 20 forms of audio visual compression standards. It also comes with free migraine headaches for those brave enough to try and understand all the features.

NOTEBOOK REVIEW EDITORS CHOICE AWARD: LogMeIn Free and Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5

While several of these programs certainly worked well, both LogMeIn Free and pcAnywhere 12.5 have earned their place as leaders in this category of software solutions. LogMeIn Free provides a great user experience for most consumers, and it is ridiculously easy to setup a machine as a host computer. Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5 provides a staggeringly useful array of options and abilities, and if you need a few of those features or the best performance the higher price tag is certainly worth it.

Remote Desktop Connection does well it its own right with features galore, but security was a bit lacking. If the desired host computer does not have a premium version of Windows, you would have to purchase a more expensive copy of Windows and reinstall all your programs and settings unlike the winners in this roundup. But if you already have that premium version of Windows, this program is certainly worth a try and in all reality it will probably suit your needs.

We hate to fail UltraVNC as it is a free application, but this program really does need to go back to school. It does not have many useful features, many useless ones, and stability was certainly lacking. But we do not have a problem flunking GoToMyPC, since this subscription based application is slower and has higher latencies as the free LogMeIn Free or cheaper LogMeIn Pro. A few advertised features did not even work well, which certainly did not help its ranking in this roundup.

If you are just looking for quick computer control, LogMeIn Free is going to be your one stop shop. For the premium experience, go pick up that copy of Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5!



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  1. allanroger

    Yeah, Greg. PCAnywhere is one of the best leading remote access software solutions by Symantec. But as much as I liked it, I still preferred using RHUB`s remote support appliance b/c it provides me 6 collaboration apps in one box. Just like one stop shop.