NetSupport Manager (NSM) is a package that allows you to manage a set of remote computers from a central location. It's from the same camp as NetSupport DNA which we reviewed last December.

NSM is all about remote control and file interchange. As you'd expect, you sit the manager application on one or more desktop machines, and then you put a small client program on each of the systems you want to interact with over the network - which can, incidentally, be either a LAN or a WAN, as NSM has a Gateway feature which tunnels control sessions though a port 80 connection and thus avoids many firewall difficulties.

The client program runs on Windows desktops, Linux machines and PocketPCs, though the Linux client doesn't have many of the features that the Windows one does (you get remote control but not a lot else). NSM can also remote control Mac clients, though this is a bit of a cheat because it requires you to install a VNC client on the Mac, not a proprietary NSM one.

When you've installed the client and rebooted, the manager PC should be able to browse the network and find the client, assuming the two are in the same subnet (when we installed the client it fired up straight away, but the manager PC didn't find it until after a reboot). You can collect machines together into groups on the management console (useful if you want to chuck, say, a Windows XP patch at all your Windows XP machines).

However, unlike NSM's sister product NetSupport DNA, you can't define groups based on machine parameters - you have to do it all by hand. The GUI could do with some attention here too, as you can't drag and drop stuff into groups, and when you run up the Properties>Members dialogue, the title of the dialogue doesn't mention the group name, so you have to remember which group you're working with in order to get things right.

The remote desktop facilities are wide and varied. As well as taking over control of a remote computer, you can force a remote computer to watch what you're doing, either live or via a record/playback facility. You can also do special actions such as logging out a machine, shutting down or starting up a machine (assuming it has Wake-on-LAN capability), running a remote command window, or examining the hardware inventory. Read this bit with a pinch of salt, though - most of the above is only possible with Windows machines, not Linux ones. If you try it with the latter, you simply get error message 3903: "This function is not implemented on ".

The file interchange facility is well implemented and simple to use. It's a kind of modified Windows Explorer, but with two machines' disks showing instead of one. Again though, it's a non-Linux function, which is a great shame. Files can be interchanged on a one-to-one basis, or you can roll out collections of files to a number of machines at once; you can also script many of the package's functions using NSM's own script builder utility, which allows you to turn a string of activities into a one-click action.

NSM is above average, as remote management packages go. The Windows functionality is excellent, and it's nice that the company has decided to include Linux and PocketPC applications in its portfolio. We're disappointed though that the Linux client is so limited when it comes to features - one would think that the bit they've done (remote screen monitoring and control) is the hard bit, and that the stuff that's missing (file interchange, etc) would be relatively straightforward compared to this. As it is, we get a real "So what?" feeling about it.

In short, then: an excellent Windows remote control and management tool, albeit with a handful of trivial GUI issues that should be easy enough to fix for the next release. In version 10, though, we'd love to see proper integration with Linux computers instead of the rather half-hearted approach that version 9 brings.


OUR VERDICT

If you have a fleet of Windows machines for which you need this type of functionality, go for it; if you want Linux/Mac support, badger NetSupport to do it properly before you buy.