Five Best Remote Desktop Tools
Managing your own computer from afar or troubleshooting a family member's PC without being in front of it is much easier when you have a good remote desktop utility to rely on. This week we're going to look at five of the best remote desktop and management tools, based on your nominations.
We've talked about remotely controlling your PC from anywhere
While LogMeIn is a fine product, the fact is there are other utilities out there that offer the same-or better-features to users for free, and you came through with tons of options
Teamviewer supports Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS, and is free for personal use. It's probably the most obvious alternative to LogMeIn, and the most popular contender from the nominations thread. Not only does Teamviewer offer remote support and remote management-as in you don't necessarily have to have the remote side set up before you need to connect-it also sports useful features like wake-on-LAN to wake up a sleeping computer and put it back to sleep when you're finished, file transfer capabilities, clipboard passthrough, support for connecting from mobile devices like phones or tablets, and more. Teamviewer even 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 features I mentioned are free, setup is incredibly easy, and the app actually has more features built-in to it than you'll probably ever really need. Those of you who nominated it praised its ability to manage multiple systems from one computer without having to remember them, the fact that Teamviewer works well without you having to make a ton of firewall modifications or do port forwarding, their support for two-step authentication, and more. Read more in the nomination thread here
Splashtop supports Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS, and is free for personal use (up to five computers, and depending on how you use it). It's perhaps most notable as a tool that allows you to stream audio and video across computers with minimal latency, so if you love watching movies on your tablet that are stored on your desktop but don't want to deal with apps or compatibility issues, Splashtop is a great tool. It's not limited to that these days though-You can use the applications on your remote device like you were sitting right there, manage files without transferring them first in their own native applications, and more.
The only downside to Splashtop free is that it starts to get pricey when you really need remote access. $2/month will get you the ability to access your home computers off network, which is arguably the biggest draw of a remote access tool-so you can actually access your PC when you're away, or a friend or family member's PC without going to their house. 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. Check out its nomination thread here
Chrome Remote Desktop supports Windows and OS X (and Linux, sort of), and is completely free for personal and commercial use. It's essentially just a Chrome app that you have to install in Chrome on any computer you want to connect to. You'll have to be logged in to Chrome on any computer you want to connect to as well, which is a bit of a bummer, but the great thing is that it runs in your browser, is super-easy to set up, and it's remarkably fast. It's not packed with additional features, but if all you need is to do some quick, cross-platform troubleshooting or access some files remotely, it's fast and free, and uses a web browser you probably already have installed. 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), has some trouble with multiple displays, and it's pretty featureless when it comes to things like wake-on-LAN, file transfer, streaming, and other support tools, but what you trade in heft you get back in simplicity and ease-of-use, which is exactly what those of you who nominated it praised it for. Check out the nominations thread here
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. Plus, there are mobile clients available
The biggest benefits to both though is that once you're set up, and with minimal effort on the client side, you don't need to do anything else, and you have tons of options and features that let you manage, access, and troubleshoot the remote PC. Since both platforms use protocols built in to their respective operating systems, cross-platform support is a matter of finding a tool that works on each OS that connects to the other, and that offers the features you want. Those of you who praised each mentioned as much, and noted their ease of setup. Check out the nomination thread for RDC here
VNC, or Virtual Network Computing, is less of a specific product and more of a platform. 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 use, you get more features, like clipboard syncing, file sync and transfer, and more. That's the catch though-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, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, and even Chrome for free (but will happily add features and support if you're willing to pay for them).
The other nice thing about VNC is that because it's a simple protocol, you don't necessarily have to match client and server-you can use one server on your PC at home and a free client on your phone to connect to it. VNC isn't difficult to set up, but it can be tricky to set up correctly-as in, in a way where there's minimal latency when you're trying to work with your computer remotely (easier said than done, especially over the Internet), VNC can communicate securely through your firewall at home, and without worrying that your home IP address will suddenly change and prevent you from connecting. Again, not hard, but a knowledgeable hand should do it. RealVNC may be the official VNC software provider, but TightVNC has always been one of my favorites, and it's free. UltraVNC is another option. 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 may make it great for remote access, but not necessarily remote support. Check out the nominations thread here
Now that you've seen the top five, it's time to vote for the Lifehacker community favorite:
The honorable mention this week goes out to Mikogo, a cross-platform remote management and online meeting platform that supports WIndows, OS X, 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. We mentioned Mikogo a while ago
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn't included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn't get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it's a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Title photo by Greg Mote.