Managing your own computer from afar or troubleshooting a family member's PC is much easier when you can rely on a good remote desktop utility. This week we're going to look at five of the best remote desktop and management tools, based on your nominations.
Title photo by Greg Mote
We've looked at the issues involved in remotely controlling your PC from anywhere and troubleshooting other people's PCs. Now that one of our favourites, LogMeIn, is killing its free service, we thought it was time to take a fresh look at the field.
Teamviewer supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS, and is free for personal use. Not only does Teamviewer offer remote support and remote management -- which means you don't necessarily have to have the remote side set up before you need to connect -- it also sports useful features such as wake-on-LAN to wake up a sleeping computer and put it back to sleep when you're finished, file transfer capabilities, clipboard passthrough, and support for connecting from mobile devices like phones or tablets. Teamviewer supports online meetings and collaboration, so multiple people can connect to one host or share a session if they need to.
The beauty of Teamviewer is that all of the I mentioned are free and setup is incredibly easy -- you won't need to make a lot of firewall modifications or set up port forwarding, and you can add two-factor authentication if you wish.
Splashtop supports Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, and is free for personal use on up to five computers. It's best-known as a tool that allows you to stream audio and video across computers with minimal latency, making it useful for watching movies on your tablet that are stored on your desktop. You can use it to access any applications on your remote device, and manage files without transferring them first into their own native applications.
The main downside to Splashtop is that it starts to get pricey when you really need remote access. You'll have to pay $US2/month for the ability to access your home computers off-network. It does require a little setup on the client side before you can connect too, but if your goal is to enjoy media remotely and do some light troubleshooting, it's worth a look.
Chrome Remote Desktop supports Windows and Mac (and Linux, sort of), and is completely free for personal and commercial use. It's essentially a Chrome app that you have to install on any computer you want to connect to. You'll have to be logged in to Chrome on those computers as well, which is a limitation for support contexts. That said, it's super-easy to set up and remarkably fast. It's not packed with additional features, but if all you need is some quick, cross-platform troubleshooting remote file access, it gets the job done. The video above from Tekzilla shows you how it works.
It's not perfect. Chrome Remote Desktop has no mobile apps or support at all (although the word is it's coming soon). It has some trouble with multiple displays, and it lacks extras such as wake-on-LAN, file transfer, streaming, and other support tools. What you trade in heft you get back in simplicity and ease-of-use.
Microsoft's RDC protocol and Apple's own Remote Desktop platform both use existing technologies within each respective operating system to give remote administrators the ability to connect from anywhere they need to, access their files, troubleshoot problems, or work with files and applications as though they were using the remote device. If you live in a Windows world, for example, enabling RDC on your home server and connecting directly to it over your LAN is much easier than downloading and setting up a third party tool. If you're connecting remotely across the internet, you can still do it, but you'll need to forward ports and lock things down for security's sake. There are also mobile clients available.
Apple's Remote Desktop is more complex -- instead of just remote access, you get complete remote management, including the ability to update software, install software, manage users, and fully support a remote computer. It's not free; you'll pay $84.99, though that lets you manage any number of remote Macs.
VNC (Virtual Network Computing) is a standard, not a standalone product. It uses existing protocols to send keyboard and mouse actions to a remote computer, and in turn it sends the screen from that remote system back to your viewer. Depending on the VNC client and server software you choose, you may get additional features such as clipboard syncing or file transfer, and more. There's a VNC client and server that supports every operating system, mobile and desktop, and as long as you know what you're doing and set it up properly, you'll be able to connect to any system you control, anywhere you have internet access, completely for free. The "official" VNC software is RealVNC, which offers its client and server apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS and even Chrome for free (but will happily add features and support if you're willing to pay for them). TightVNC has always been one of my favourites, and it's free. UltraVNC is another option.
While setup can be more fiddly, VNC definitely has the benefit that your data isn't passing through a third party, there are no proprietary tools or services to subscribe to, and you're in complete control. You do have to set it up in advance though, which makes it better for remote access than remote support.
An honourable mention this week goes to Mikogo, a cross-platform remote management and online meeting platform that supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. On the desktop, using it is as simple as opening your browser, and you don't have to install heavy plug-ins to connect with it. It's richly featured and great for web conferences, remote support and presentations.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to argue the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn't included in the list? We're all ears in the comments.