Reviews: Software

LapLink Controller

     One tool I am always interested to hear people say they want is a way to control their PDA from their desktop PC. One tool I think that IT trainers and professionals would want is a way to better train their staff on how to use a PDA. Long time remote computer control company LapLink has introduced a solution to fit both of these needs and more with a product called Controller. LapLink Controller gives you complete control over your device, allowing you to use a keyboard and mouse as input. It does not matter if your PDA is right next to your computer or still at your office. As long as the device is on, Controller can connect to it. The screen updates in real-time so what is on the device is on your screen. Additionally to can take screen captures as well as movies, and you can even create macros to perform repetitive tasks.
     Controller is not a complex application. Almost all the functions are immediately available through the tool bars when you start the application, though before you can use the functions, you have to install the Controller application on your device. Instead of making you use ActiveSync?s Add/Remove function by hand to install it, you can simply choose Install Device Software from Controller. This makes it incredibly easy to deploy Controller to a device. I tested Controller with the Pocket PC version, and interestingly, it will run on Smartphone devices as well. Once the device application is installed to the device, you can connect to it via Controller. Most often I would think users would be connecting to a local device, though it is possible to set it up to be accessible over a wired or wireless network. This means that technically, if you left your device on and connected to a network connection as your work, you could access the device from your home computer and use it as if you had it in your hand.
     While the response time is not exactly the same as if you were using your device via the touch screen, it is pretty close to real-time when connected locally. Longer range connections vary, but that is expected. The device is still useable and most animations play fairly well over a local connection and do not lag the connection so you can?t use the device. The mouse click functions as a stylus tap. The mouse does not appear on the device screen, but clicks (taps) function just as they would on screen. It is possible to use transcriber, though this is difficult because it is a mouse and not a stylus. But with a keyboard there is no real reason to use standard input methods.
     Screenshots are a required piece of functionality for an application like this, and of course with Controller you can click a screenshot. Controller also lets you take a series of screenshots in a row. You can make a video just by the click of the button and can even set the frame rate and the codec used to encode it. By default, Controller takes video at four frames per second which makes a decent training video. The mouse stays in the video so users can see where is clicked, though clicks (taps) are not specifically highlighted. You can see an example of a video encoded in DivX here. (Note that for better quality, full frames can be recorded, but I just wanted a small example so I encoded with DivX, which makes the quality not quite as good.) You willl notice in one point of the video the mouse changes to a pen. When holding down the control key the mouse will mark the screen until the control key is released. This is another nice piece of functionality for training. You not only can record the video of what happens on the screen, but macros can also be created. I am not exactly sure in what situation a macro would be useful, but maybe if you wanted to configure device without having to do each one by hand.
    
One thing I am glad was not left out is synchronized clipboards. That means that whatever you copy on your desktop will be available in the devices clipboard, and what is copied on your device will be available on your desktop. A number of utilities were also included to aid in the more advanced requirements of some users. For instance, you can peer into the device and see what is running, and even kill processes. On top of that, you can monitor system resources including memory and battery life. You can also manage files, but this is nothing different from ActiveSync except that you do not need ActiveSync to do it and can do it over a variety of connections. LapLink also chose to include a DOS interface for using your device. This was an interesting choice because I am really unsure how this would be useful. I suppose you could use it to run scripts, but for the most part it is just a basic DOS emulator for using your device. I do not know may people who use applications like Pocket DOS on their devices so I am not really sure this would be useful to most users. I am very surprised not to see a registry editor. Actually, I was really hoping for that to be included since I don?t like using a registry editor on my device and don?t really want to have to install a development suite to access it from my desktop PC.
     Controller definitely has presentational functionality as well. It is possible to zoom in on the devices screen up to 300%, though the quality of the image becomes worse as the zoom gets further from 100% (up or down). VGA devices will better support a larger viewable range on screen, but most devices are not VGA yet. For landscape devices, Controller can turn the screen so you do not have to turn your head. You can also draw on the screen with an overlay pen (which I talked about earlier) and you can put up a black background around Controller for presentations. And if you feel to far removed from the look of your device, Controller allows you to download skins to make Controller look more like your device. Buttons will even be mapped so you can pretend to press the quick launch buttons on the device (though sadly not all the buttons are always emulated because it is based on the skin). The skins do not quite do it for me because they seem to lack quality. Also I do not like that the skins have to be downloaded (even for older devices like the X5) and some skins are not available (like the Garmin iQue M5).
     LapLink is not a new comer to developing software that allows remote connectivity to devices.  LapLink has put a lot of work into Controller to make it an application that many different users can use it for different things.  Controller can be a remote control tool, a training creation tool, or even a development support.  There are a couple things I personally would have liked to have seen in Controller and some areas for improvement, but overall it is a strong application.  It is priced at $30 for the Windows Mobile version or the Palm OS version and is well worth the cost if you need any of Controller's functionality. 

 

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Feel free to email me about your own PDA, questions, comments, articles, rumors, and reviews.  I can be reached at dave@davespda.com.