Remote Access Is Affordable, Full-Featured--and Complex--With Remote Utilities

There are plenty of good reasons to install a piece of remote control or remote access software on your home computer. If you're travelling, for example, and there's something sitting on your home computer that you absolutely must get your hands on, this kind of program can make the task virtually headache-free. It's also a handy way to tinker with your basement computer when you're hiding out upstairs--or doing a little relaxed laptop surfing in the back yard on a summer day. Remote Utilities ($20 for the home version, 30-day free trial) sets out to do exactly that, with some success; its complexity makes it a better fit for power users than for average home users.

Remote Utilities has a nice feature set for power users, but it's a little hard for newbies to navigate.
Like other similar programs, Remote Utilities requires the installation of its server software on the computer(s) you'd like to be able to access remotely and a viewer that gets installed on the computer you'll be making connections from. You can access your server systems from anywhere in the world, as long as both the server and viewer have an active Internet connection.

For power users, there's plenty to like about Remote Utilities. Several connection modes are offered beyond the full remote desktop experience. There's also a file transfer mode, remote device manager, registry viewer, remote webcam access, and a terminal mode--which is an excellent way to perform simple command line tasks from a distance.

Multiple monitors are supported, and there's a stretch mode which will automatically scale your remote computer's display to make it fit on the viewer. Image quality is very good, too--the icons on my 20-inch monitor were still readable when viewing my desktop on a much smaller notebook display using Remote Utilities.

Connection speeds with Remote Utilities are good, and are on par with competing programs like TeamViewer and GoToMyPC. Performance, of course, is dependent on both the speed of your home Internet connection and also the one over which you're attempting remote access. The viewer's dashboard is also very cool--and useful--providing thumbnailed views of all your remote servers which automatically refresh while you have a connection established. It's a very handy way to see what you're doing on which computer when you have several things on the go at once.

There are, however, some aspects of Remote Utilities which may be off-putting to home users. Its installation is more complicated than that of TeamViewer, which offers a single file for both the server and viewer and requires virtually no user input beyond clicking next and entering a password. You'll need to jump through a few additional hoops to get the Remote Utilities server up and running on your system, and it's not always obvious what step you need to take next.

Those of you using Windows Vista and Windows 7 should be prepared for UAC prompts when installing Remote Utilities or making changes to its settings. While other similar applications have been carefully designed to offer a UAC-free installation and configuration process, Remote Utilities prompted me three separate times during setup and each time I accessed its server settings. There's also no server application for Mac or Linux systems, something competing applications like Teamviewer, ISL, and Remobo can provide.

The settings interface is also a bit clunky, with a solitary button displayed inside a pop-up window. Rather than offering a single window with all its settings offered on individual tabs, Remote Utilities uses a separate window for each item on the drop-down menu you see above. It's an unintuitive setup, and one which isn't ideal for less-savvy users.

While Remote Utilities does what it sets out to do--providing remote access to your computers' desktops--very well, its interface needs to be re-worked. With a layout that makes settings easier to locate and modify and fewer UAC interruptions, Remote Utilities could certainly be worth its $20 price tag. Right now, however, a free option like TeamViewer is a much better choice for the average home user. For power users who crave features like command prompt access and a visual connection dashboard, Remote Utilities is worth a closer look.

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