Richard Enkelis is a Redwood City, Calif., lawyer who owns three IBM-compatible PCs. One is in his office, another is on his secretary's desk and the third is at home.
He does most of his work at the office, but sometimes he needs to take work home. Instead of stuffing floppy disks into his briefcase, he enters a single command on his office computer, leaves the machine running and heads for the parking lot. When he gets home, he continues working at his office machine, using his home PC as a remote terminal.
Both Enkelis's home and office machines are equipped with modems and are running copies of Co-Session, a remote access program from Triton Technologies of Iselin, N.J. With Co-Session, Enkelis's home machine has access to all the resources of his office system, including all his files, software, local area network and laser printer.
Enkelis, like many lawyers, uses WordPerfect to write his briefs and legal pleadings. He has copies of WordPerfect on both his office and home machine, but some of his files reside only on the office system. Co-Session allows him to access or transfer those files via the phone.
Once he's transferred the files he needs, he disconnects the modem and finishes the work using the copy of WordPerfect on his home PC. When finished, he logs back on to the office machine and, using his office's local area network, prints the document on the laser printer on his secretary's desk so that it's ready when she arrives in the morning.
Enkelis also uses Co-Session to provide computer support to the Human Awareness Institute, a nonprofit group located in San Mateo about 15 miles from his office. Sometimes the institute staff needs help generating reports with PC-File, its database program. When that happens, they issue a command that puts their machine into host mode, so that Enkelis can take over the machine from his home or office to format and print the report.
Co-Session is one of several remote access programs. Other programs include Carbon Copy from Microcom Software of Norwood, Mass., and pcAnywhere from Dynamic Microprocessor Associates of New York.
Timbuktu from Farallon Computing of Emeryville, Calif., and Carbon Copy Mac from Microcom provide similar benefits to Macintosh users. Like their IBM PC counterparts, these programs give you access to all the commands and resources of a remote Macintosh, even if you're thousands of miles away.
Both Timbuktu and Carbon Copy Mac can also be used to transfer files between Macs that are connected via modem. If the Mac on the other end is connected to a network, the remote user gets access to all of the network's services including printers, hard disks and gateways to other computer systems. For all practical purposes, it's the same as being in the office.
Another program by Dynamic Microprocessor Associates, pcMacterm, allows Mac users to control remote IBM PC compatibles via a network or phone line. The IBM compatible programs run in a window on the Mac while Mac programs run in other windows. It's possible to copy and paste data between the PC and Mac and use the Mac to access resources on the PC's network, such as laser printers or hard disks.
Remote control programs are ideal for training. A trainer, for example, could temporarily take over the screens of remote users to demonstrate a particular task. The trainer could use the same software to watch over the users' shoulders, electronically speaking, as they perform the task.
Such software can be valuable for people who provide technical support services to other users. I have a San Francisco-based colleague who uses one of these remote access products to maintain a local area network for a bank in the Philippines. He is able to troubleshoot problems and make software modifications without having to board an airplane.
With all of these programs it's necessary for the computer that's receiving the call to be placed in host mode. That involves running a copy of the program and entering the necessary commands to permit a remote user to sign on. All the programs allow you to assign passwords to protect the system against unauthorized access.
The only down side to these programs is that they can be very slow. A typical 1,200- or 2,400-bit-per-second modem will allow you to connect the two machines, but running software via a modem can be noticeably sluggish, especially if the software uses graphics.
Readers' comments are welcomed, but the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, P.O. Box 620477, Woodside, Calif. 94062, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.