March 25, 2003

Review: NetOp gives Linux control of remote Windows desktops

- By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols -

From where many Linux users sit, Linux needs third-party remote control software, such as Danware Data A/S's NetOp Remote Control 7.5, like a fish needs a bicycle. After all, with networking built in from the ground up and programs like telnet and SSH, Linux comes with remote control. But if you need to troubleshoot and administer Windows PCs from your Linux workstation or just run the occasional Windows program without worrying about Windows/Linux compatibility software, NetOp is the program for you.

You can also run programs from a Linux system on a Windows box, but this functionality has long been available for Windows users thanks to native Windows clients, Web interfaces, or X Window System client software like Hummingbird's Exceed family. While having this functionality is useful, it's not NetOp's most important feature.

What is important about NetOp is that, like its better known Windows cousins, such as Altiris' Carbon Copy and Symantec's pcAnywhere, NetOp lets you sit at your desktop and remotely run a distant Windows PC. The key difference is that, unlike its competitors, you can do it from your Linux desktop.

More precisely, NetOp supports Red Hat Linux 7.x or higher with xFree86 server and either the KDE or Gnome user interfaces. There are two builds, one for Red Hat 7 and another for Red Hat 8. The hardware requirements are minimal. With bare-bone demands for a 486 or better processor, 30MB of disk space and 64MB RAM, if you can run Red Hat, you can run NetOp.

You can also, with some installation tweaking, run NetOp on SuSE 8.1 Based on my experience, you can probably get NetOp up and running on any Linux based on the 2.4 kernel or higher. Of course, if you do so, you're on your own for technical support. So, while you might want to try that on your home network, you'll want to stick to Red Hat for any NetOp business deployments.

And you may very well want to use NetOp in your business. Remote control software is important to network administrators and vital to helpdesk personnel. Unlike most such programs -- and I've used almost all of them over the years -- NetOp is mindlessly simple to install and run on both Linux and Windows systems.

Timing issues, usually seen as screen update glitches, are the greatest problem with most remote control software even on a fast network. NetOp, though, did as well as the best of the native Windows programs when it came to screen updates and keeping processes in sync between the Linux controlling guest desktop, Red Hat 8.1 on a 1.4Ghz Athlon XP system with 256MBs of RAM, and the Windows host systems -- a trio of Windows PCs running respectively: Windows 98SE, W2K and Windows XP Pro on 1Ghz Pentium III systems.

That isn't to say it's perfect. NetOp supports a wide variety of networking protocols, TCP/IP, IPX and NetBIOS, and can work at speeds as low as those from a 56K modem connection. In practice, however, all the slower speed hookups -- modem and TCP/IP over a 1.5Mbps SDSL line -- were usable, but vexingly slow. Within a LAN, though, using 802.11a and 802.11b, with real world speeds respectively of 15Mbps and 4Mbps, and Ethernet (10Mbps) and Fast Ethernet (100Mbps), NetOp showed outstanding performance.

NetOp also allows you to automatically disable a host system's screen saver or other background programs to give your remote control performance an extra, added boost. Since, in the end analysis, remote control performance is the be-all and end-all of judging remote control programs, this is a very useful feature indeed.

Another useful feature, for serious network administrators, is that you can log sessions. That way, if something goes badly wrong in a fix, you can always 'roll back the tape' and see what happened.

Security is a concern with any remote control program, and NetOp includes the essentials. These include: Secure login with a gateway server, the ability of the host to restrict guest sessions to expressively approved communications, the power to set time limits on guest sessions, and the all important intersystem communications encryption.

NetOp has more than remote control going for it. You can also use it to easily copy and move from one system to the other, use IM-style chat and, with the right equipment, use voice chat. These are all features that anyone who needs remote control can appreciate but a helpdesk worker will absolutely love.

Helpdesk users will also like the fact that they can run several concurrent guest sessions at once. That way, you can work in real-time to troubleshoot one Windows problem while a long patch update is slowly wending its way to completion on another Windows box.

A proprietary program, NetOp's pricing starts at $179 for a single host and guest package and moves up from there to $3800 for a bundle that can handle up to 100 workstations at a go. In North America, NetOp can be bought from CrossTec, a Florida-based distributor.

The program can also support other operating systems including Symbian OS, MS-DOS, OS/2 and Solaris. While I suspect most of its use will be in remotely running Windows systems from Windows or Linux, this added operating system functionality makes it the most flexible remote control software available with the possible exception of the purely Web-based Go to My PC.

Not sure if it's for you? NetOp will send you a free copy of the full working software upon request. It is not, however, available for download. If you like it, though, you can obtain a license key for it over the net and immediately put NetOp into production.

All in all, anyone who runs Linux while needing to keep an eye on Windows workstations will find a lot to like about NetOp.


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