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Carbon Copy

Volume Number: 7
Issue Number: 7
Column Tag: Tools Of The Trade

Carbon Copy Mac

by Neil Ticktin, Los Angeles, CA

About the author

[Neil is the President of The Truin Group -- a consulting and software development firm in Los Angeles. He is one of the authors of Extender DialogHandler by Masters Publishing and has been developing Macintosh software since 1986.]

What is Carbon Copy Mac?

Carbon Copy Mac™ by Microcom allows you to control and/or watch one Macintosh on another Macintosh. In addition, you can transfer files between these systems. And, these two Macs can either be on the same network, connected networks, or connected via modem.

What can Carbon Copy do for you?

As a developer, your utility and application needs are different from other users. Carbon Copy helps you carry out your work in a few ways.

First, you can control other machines from your desk to reduce the load on your workstation. For example, most developers don't run multiple applications on their machines because as development systems, they crash more frequently. Carbon Copy allows you to take control of another Macintosh to do the additional work.

Second, you can provide support to others in your organization. If your development work includes in-house or corporate development, you already know about the problems of supporting people within your organization. Carbon Copy gives you the tool to support those people without leaving your desk.

Third, you can provide support to others on your network but at a different location. Now, in this case, you don't have the choice of just running upstairs. Here, you are in the position of needing to provide support to someone in a different building, or city, or state, etc?

Fourth, you can provide technical support to your mass market customers. Not everyone will have a copy of Carbon Copy Mac, but some will. In the higher end or vertical market applications, this type of support may give you an edge over your competition. Microcom seems open to working out a licensing agreement.

Fifth, during in-house alpha testing you'll be better able to track and see bugs. Most every developer initiates testing within their own company, using Carbon Copy is another way to speed up the process.

How does it work?

Carbon Copy Mac comes with four copies of the product each with a different serial number. On each floppy is a copy of the Carbon Copy DA, Carbon Copy INIT, serial setups, help files, and the ADSP and AppleTalk files. The Carbon Copy file is the INIT that does all of the work. All of your interface takes place through the Carbon Copy DA.

When you select Carbon Copy from the Apple menu, you will see the window in Figure 1. In Carbon Copy terminology, host means the computer being controlled and the guest is the computer doing the controlling. The possible hosts are listed in the "Available Hosts" list box. To become a host, the "Be a Host" check box must be checked. As you can see, you can select a host and "Visit" or "Leave" by pushing the appropriate buttons.

The "Connection" can be an "AppleTalk" or "Serial" connection as selected through the pop-up menu. When a serial connection is chosen, the ports are listed where the AppleTalk Zones normally are listed.

Figure 1: The Carbon Copy desk accessory

To choose different host options as in Figure 2, you would have pressed the "Host Options " push button in the desk accessory. This is the only modal window (other than passwords) that is in the product -- a feature that I really like.

Figure 2: Host options window

Once you have set up your configuration, you can become a guest to any machine registered as a host. To do so, you select the host and press the "Visit" button as shown above. When you do this, you will get a window such as the one in Figure 3. This window will be maximum size possible on the guest machine but no larger than the size of the host machine's screen. Incidentally, for those of you who are planning to use this product to control a "headless" or screenless server, you will need to contact Microcom first for the additional INIT needed (called GhostScreen™).

Even though the window does not have a standard Macintosh "grow box", you can resize the window by dragging the lower right corner. In the situation when you have a smaller window than the screen size of the host, Carbon Copy uses an auto scrolling feature that scrolls the screen when the cursor approaches the edge of the Carbon Copy Guest window.

On the host machine there is a Carbon Copy icon in the menu bar. When a host has one or more guests, the number of guests is in this icon. Incidentally, you can reposition this icon by pressing the option key and dragging it back and forth in the menu bar.

Figure 3: Macintosh within a window

Another useful feature of Carbon Copy is its file transfer capabilities. The file transfer window is shown in Figure 4. It allows you transfer files in either direction between hosts and guests in the background. When a file is transferring in the background, an indicator window that shows the progress of the file transfer. Unfortunately, you can only select one file to transfer at a time. However, after you've selected a file, you can return to the file transfer window to make another request. What is interesting here, is that you can actually send and receive files at the same time. In addition, the common Drive, Eject, and Open buttons are confusing. You need to make sure that you press in the right list first. Microcom should have followed the more standard approach found in Apple's Font/DA Mover where there are separate sets of buttons for both the host and the guest.

Figure 4: The file transfer window

The Cons

As with any product, there are pros and cons to using them. First, let me say that I really like Carbon Copy and I have spent a considerable amount of time playing with it. But, it does have its problems and weaknesses.

The first set of problems is that the utility does have bugs. I found problems with the StyleWriter™, Radius Tear Off Menus™, FileMaker Pro™, Microsoft Word™, and After Dark™. Most of these have work arounds such as not having a Carbon Copy guest window open while launching FileMaker or using the StyleWriter. But other problems are a little more severe. For example, the ADSP INIT which comes with Carbon Copy (although it is Apple's not Microcom's software), has incompatibilities with one of the other INITs on my system and makes Microsoft Word crash when keyboard selecting a new style. Keeping in mind that this is still a 1.04 version of the product, I'm sure that Microcom will get them fixed and I have written Microcom a detailed e-mail indicating the problems.

The newer version of ADSP solves at least some of these problems. And the other problems are likely to be not incompatibilities between the applications and Carbon Copy, but with other INITs.

Putting bugs aside, I wish that Carbon Copy did some things that it doesn't. First, I wish that it was faster (but I don't know if this is possible).

Second, I wish that in the standard version I could be a guest to more than host at a time. The software says that this is not available in this version, but I didn't see anything in the manual that tells me what version does.

Carbon Copy does not allow you to be set up to be both a host and a guest at the same time. Now, while I understand the problems that could be encountered by actually being a guest and host at the same time, I don't understand why one can't be set up to be both. In this setup, Carbon Copy would only have to prevent the user from actually being a host and guest at the same time.

Predictably, certain things didn't work such as some QuicKeys. Since you are seeing a bit mapped representation within the Carbon Copy window, there is no way for such utilities to find the scrollbars in a window you are using. Keyboard equivalents worked fairly well, but you have to make sure that you have control of the machine first.

The manual needs some help in the areas of serial connections. It took a call to Technical Support for us to get this working.

The only really annoying problem with the product is that it noticeably slows the host machine down when in host mode and especially when it is in serial host mode. This makes such a difference that I have to manually turn the host mode on and off.

Of course, there are always problems with how much information can you stuff on a modem line. I performed some remote control over a machine at the office from home on a 2400 baud Hayes compatible modem. Even with the screen compression algorithms on, it was painfully slow to control the machine. It was not a problem though to perform file transfers or watch the other machine being used. The latter is useful in and of itself for remote technical support. [Microcom recommends using a 9600 baud modem for remote control-ed.]

I was also interested in getting to my files at the office from a remote location. I tried to use Carbon Copy in conjunction with a Shiva TeleBridge, but was unable to dial into the office network. Microcom technical support says that this is a known problem with Shiva's product. They suggested the use of Liaison version 2.0.6 (Farallon's Version 3.0 had not been tested yet).

I did run into the always present memory problem. I tried to install Carbon Copy on a Macintosh Plus with 1 megabyte of RAM and a hard drive. Unfortunately, this machine also runs TOPS and QuickMail, so there was not enough room. Be careful about your memory assumptions.

The Pros

Although it took me two phone calls to get to technical support (one to the number listed which was Sales and the next to call the number they referred me to), I did find their technical support competent and helpful. In addition, the manual for the product is overall fairly good. In most places it is concise and clear and can be read very quickly.

Finally, don't look at the length of this section compared to the Cons. Remember, that things that work are transparent and things that don't require longer lists.

The Bottom Line

I like the product and it has been useful. One of my biggest uses is controlling our QuickMail server from my machine. From the developer point of view, to be able to provide technical support to either in-house or off-site users is a big plus. 2400 baud modem connections are better for file transfers and watching another machine than actually using one. With the advent of newer, faster, cheaper modems or even ISDN, this becomes much less of a problem.

The good news is that many of the problems discussed here are fixed or changed in a newer version that will probably be shipping by the time you read this. This includes speed enhancements, file transfer, new security features, virus detection and other features.

As a developer, if you want to provide the highest level of technical support, you should consider Carbon Copy. Install it on a test basis to make sure that its problems and performance don't prevent it from being a solution, and then, if it works, run with it.

For more information, contact:
Microcom Systems, Inc.
55 Federal Road
Danbury, CT 06810
(800) 822-8244

Retail Price: $199 for single pack, $299 for twin pack.


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