Touchy remote software [Portfolio]

Having access to your personal files from anywhere in the world is promised by a number of technologies, usually with the help of wireless or broadband Internet.

Mississauga, Ont.-based 01Communique’s latest version of its I’m InTouch software makes use of the latter to let users access their Windows-based PC from anywhere, letting them access and edit files, read and edit contact and calendar entries and run any desktop application.

And while broadband access is a big part of making this possible, it’s also the software’s Achilles heel.

But let’s talk about trying to install the software first.

It took (count ’em) five attempts — both using the provided CD and a downloaded version — and we still couldn’t get the green light. Specifically, a little green satellite in the taskbar that says the machine is available for remote access.

To the company’s credit, tech support was quite responsive, but it was still very much a trial and error approach, with particular focus on the fact the Windows 2000 test machine was connected to a home office LAN with a Linksys router.

Ultimately, the solution was a minor setting change in Internet Explorer — unchecking “detect settings automatically” was all that was standing in our way.

Once it was running, we tried accessing the system from a Mac machine at CDN’s offices. While we had no trouble logging in to the computer remotely, once we tried to make use of any of the functions, the Mac froze up, whether we used Netscape Navigator 4.0 or Internet Explorer 5.0.

These problems would appear to be the fault of the Mac system, since the next step was to give it a whirl on a Windows 2000 machine here in the office. Success! This also meant that our failed attempts on the Mac did take the remote system down.

But the thrill of victory waned quickly once bandwidth limitations were realized. It’s painfully slow to do anything on the remote desktop, whether it’s manipulating files or checking e-mail via Outlook or Outlook Express. Memories of accessing the Web via dial-up came flooding back.

Accessing files remotely, in theory, should be a productivity gain, but waiting several minutes just to load the remote desktop was enough to realize that remote access software is only really effective in ideal conditions.

I’m InTouch obviously loses points for installation headaches, but it does have all the right elements remote access software should have.

Unfortunately, bandwidth limitations simply kill its usefulness, which is an issue that in all likelihood is not unique to 01Communique’s efforts.

It’s important to note that having the remote system on a LAN was one reason for slower access, and that the company is addressing bandwidth issues in the next release.

Originally published in Computer Dealer News, June 13, 2003, Vol. 19 No. 9

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