LapLink vs. PcANYWHERE: You decide

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Rob Lynch at Traveling Software.

His company makes LapLink Professional, a connectivity program that lets you patch into a computer network from the road. “We feel that our features, ease of use and speed surpass our competition,” he wrote. “And we are ready for a head-to-head challenge.”

It’s a tough challenge. The competition is Symantec’s pervasive pcANYWHERE.

But there are people on both sides willing to take up the challenge.

There’s Enrique LaRoche, posterboy for LapLink. The Oakland, Calif., computer consultant is an articulate apologist for the Traveling Software application. A veteran user of both LapLink and pcANYWHERE, he grew disenchanted with pcANYWHERE in its latest version because, he says, “it wasn’t very stable.”

That’s consultant-speak for “it froze up constantly.”

“LapLink seems to work better and smoother,” he told me. “It’s help cut my support trips to remote locations down by 90 percent. It’s all I use now.”

LaRoche appears to be a capable and competent industry insider who knows his stuff, so when he says pcANYWHERE spontaneously stops running, that it refuses to answer the phone when he dials in, I believe him. I also believe him when he adds, “you know, you have to understand, that’s just my experience. That doesn’t mean it always happens.”

But Symantec has its own evangelists too, ready to rebuke all doubters.

Richard Higgins, a technology director at Cigna Financial Advisors is one of those people. His story is prominently featured on Symantec’s Web site (requests for an end-user from Symantec went unanswered, probably because I wrote this column during the holidays). Essentially, Cigna wanted to set up a connection between some of its wide-area and local-area networks and remote users — the business travelers who needed to log on to the networks and retrieve data.

“When we originally looked at remote access solutions, Symantec’s pcANYWHERE was far and away the best available,” Higgins observes. “We started with the earliest version and stayed with pcANYWHERE all the way up to the latest 32-bit version. It met our needs then and has continued to advance as our needs and sophistication increased.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science to read between the lines here. Symantec is using the tried and true Microsoft sales pitch. Yes, the software may choke and sputter under its own weight, yes, there couldbe something sexier out there on the market, but pcANYWHERE is the most established product. It’s the industry standard. What else are you going to use? Surely not LapLink.

I would ask the critics to register their preferences at this point, but that just confuses the issue. PC Magazine’s Jim Seymour thinks LapLink is tops because of its “blindingly fast and easy, hot-pluggable transfers.” Phooey, retorts Symantec, which has gotten just about every editor’s choice award that I know of (and a few I didn’t know of) and shows them off on its Web site like medals won in a war.

Is it up to me to figure out which program is better? No. Actually, it’s up to you.

I could tell you that LapLink really is a superior product, that my tests showed that it outperformed pcANYWHERE in every category. I could also tell you that LapLink sucked, and that serious travelers should run to the store and buy pcANYWHERE. But that would be a disservice to you. And it wouldn’t be true.

The fact is, I liked them both. Each program cost about $150, so there’s no price advantage in buying one or the other. Neither was perfect, but neither had obvious flaws that made it unusable.

Before calling that a cop-out, consider this thought: if you’re so concerned about getting the best remote control software package, why not take the these two programs for a test drive yourself? You can download an evaluation copy of pcANYWHERE at its Web site; LapLink can be bought and – if you don’t like it – simply returned. Bottom line is, if you’re serious about connectivity, you should leave no stone unturned.

This is an important decision – too important to be left to a magazine award, critic or cybercolumnist.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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