Tactical Advice

Review: Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5

Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5 remote-access tool provides efficient troubleshooting.

Symantec’s pcAnywhere 12.5 venerable remote-control software is a common staple for many help desks. Used to provide secure remote connectivity to workstations or servers, pcAnywhere offers many advantages over the Remote Desktop Protocol native to Windows.

End-User Advantages

How many times have users been on deadline and their PCs just don’t cooperate? Symantec’s pcAnywhere 12.5 allows support staff to see what users are seeing and resolve the problem.

Unlike RDP, which creates a new, separate session when someone connects to a workstation, pcAnywhere allows users to share what they see with someone else. Users can allow someone else to take control remotely, transfer files back and forth, make changes to Windows registry configuration files or restart Windows services.

Why It Works for IT

In my tests across LAN and WAN links, pcAnywhere 12.5 performed just about as well as Microsoft’s RDP sessions. Reliability was not an issue, but what would you expect from such a mature product that has been around since the days of green screens and mainframes?

The remote control tool has a number of configurable features that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Authentication can be made either through Active Directory, a local account or pcAnywhere native authentication. File transfer ability can be turned on or off. There are three Remote Control settings: view only, take control and take control with prompt. In the latter, the host’s user is prompted to let the remote user take control of his or her PC.

Remote Management also is fully configurable. Remote users can start and stop Windows tasks, restart services, edit the registry, or some or none of these three options.You can even record a session if your auditors or compliance officers require it.

Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5 comes with the “pcAnywhere packager,” which helps you choose your favorite options and then creates an installable file. You also can use a desktop management tool such as the Symantec Altiris suite to deploy the package to hosts, and then off you go.

Symantec pcAnywhere also allows you to access remote sites through the pcAnywhere Gateway software, which typically sits in a server’s “demilitarized zone.” Remote clients connect securely to the gateway, which then communicates to the hosts within your private network. This is especially useful if you have outsourced your help desk (or other IT functions) or workers are spread across multiple unconnected campuses.


Connecting across the Internet can be troublesome, especially with packet-inspection firewalls. This isn’t a problem if you’re on the local network or a virtual private network, however.

While pcAnywhere 12.5 supports Windows 7, the pcAnywhere 12.5 host and remote software both require a free service pack downloaded from Symantec to operate at full performance. As with all Symantec products, if you turn on Live Update, this service pack will be automatically downloaded and installed for you, as will any future updates.

Finally, while the packager is certainly necessary for mass deployment of the product, there is no real central console for pcAnywhere 12.5, where one could make modifications to remote clients or hosts on the fly. Each configuration change has to be packaged and then deployed via a desktop deployment tool.

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About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Sheen

Dr. Jeffrey Sheen

Jeff is tasked with separating the “gee whiz” factor from the truly useful when it comes to the latest tech gadgets, and oh, he holds a Ph.D. in physics. He currently works as the supervisor of enterprise architecture services for Grange Mutual Casualty Group of Columbus, Ohio. His biggest challenge is being an avid Wolverine fan while living in the midst of Buckeye country.


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