Five Best Remote Desktop Tools

Five Best Remote Desktop Tools

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

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

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

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 Remote Desktop (RDC)/Apple Remote Desktop

Five Best Remote Desktop Tools

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

Five Best Remote Desktop Tools

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.


Comments

    I am searching for a Logmein replacement and have yet to find anything quite as good.

    Most easy remote control products (Teamviewer, Chrome) connect by getting the client to run a program each time you want to establish a connection and then pass on a PIN number or code, which is a process I'd rather avoid having to explain over the phone to my less technical relatives.

    I'm testing Splashtop at the moment. It works similarly to Logmein in that you just install a program on the client computers once and then you can access them without any further work by the client. However, it has three drawbacks compared to the old Logmein.

    Firstly, it does not give remote access through a browser, you need to install software on the computer you are accessing from. This means it's no good for remote access from a random internet cafe or from a work computer. It does have pretty good apps for smartphones and tablets though so you can largely work around this if you have a decent tablet and access to wifi.

    Secondly, it charges for remote access, $2 a month or $16 a year. Actually I am okay with this, if Logmein charged this kind of fee I would have stuck with it.

    Thirdly, it is limited to five clients for the "Personal" version. Not ideal as I already at this limit. But I think I can live with this, it is a lot better than the new paid Logmein limit of 2 computers for $99 a year.

    As for the quality of the remote access, it is very similar to Logmein, which is to say it can be a bit slow depending on your connection but good enough for providing technical help, accessing files you've left at home etc.

    The other option I'm going to explore is Windows Home Server 2011's remote access features. I never bothered with them before but I'm going to get them set up now. Basically the same as RDC for your home network computers but much easier to use and can be used through a browser.

      Teamviewer issue you raise is easily fixed; create a free account, check keep me signed in, add the ID number of your relatives machine with a self-defined password.. one-click access with no input from them necessary.

        Ah ha... thanks for that, I will give Teamviewer a shot then.

        Only issue with TeamViewer is that the entry cost for commercial use is fairly high ($800 or so for one client as I recall.) On the other hand:
        - It's cheaper for additional client licences
        - There is no limit on the number of systems being viewed; licence limitations only apply to the systems doing the viewing.
        - It's fairly fast, especially compared with VNC, even over fairly high-latency links.

    I'm in the same boat, logmein going from free to $50 per month, with no frigging warning has left me in the lurch. I often need to access machines when no-one is home.

    Jumpdesktop (jumpdesktop.com) is the best iPad to PC client I have used with the iPad
    At the end of the day it's just a VNC & RDP client, but it's auto setup via the webpage is awesome.
    They also do MAC and PC to PC now

    I took ISL Online, works fine for me: https://www.islonline.com/l/logmein-alternative/index.htm

    You can also try http://www.ammyy.com as an alternative to other software.
    Pretty small and quick tool.

    Check out Zoho Assist https://zoho.com/assist. They offer a 30-day free trial. You get File Transfer, Reboot and Reconnect, Unattended Access etc., Their professional edition is the most affordable one in industry. Starts at just $12/month.

    VNC is built into Mac's, you can put vnc:// in Safari to connect to the remote system ( assuming it's a Mac or running a VNC server )

    I had a free license of TeamViewer, but did not like it. It worked slow and blocked sessions every 3-5 minutes. That is why I chose Ammyy Admin. It is pretty fast solution for remote server administration, distant help, virtual classes, etc. The exe file is only 0.5 Mb, there is no need to install it or make specific settings. Later I bough the app for my company. The commercial license is the cheapest one. Paid licenses are lifetime.It was one-time purchase.

    For private usage is Teamviewer good enough for me, for professional usage ISL Online-mostly because are the most known in Japan (where my clients are from)

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