We are now in an age where we can realistically expect to have access to every: photo we’ve ever taken, song we’ve ever purchased, document we’ve written, and anything else stored on our computer. Many of us have a computer at home (usually an older computer) that we refer to as our server. On or attached to this server is all the media we have to our name. In this guide, we explore top five remote access applications available to help you get to this, and other, information. These applications can be used to:
- Have a multi-PC meeting.
- Have access to your own PCs wherever you are.
- Help a friend with their PC.
- Have desktop access to your PCs on your home network.
What is Remote Access?
To have remote access is to have entry to a PC, resources, data etc. even though you are not physically present. There are many different types of remote access: that you are reading this website now means you have accessed the files on my web server remotely from your home PC. If you’re reading this in a library or at work, you are not doubt remotely accessing resources on the network in which your computer currently resides.
For the purposes of this guide, we refer to remote desktop access or, in other words, access to your Windows desktop outside the home/network.
Top 5 Remote Access Applications
LogMeIn comes with a free option, LogMeIn free, that I’ve used for many years. All you need to do is sign up for an account at the site and download and install the LogMeIn software to the PC you’d like to access remotely. Then, from any computer around the world, you can access your PC via LogMeIn.com. LogMeIn works best with its client software/plugin installed on the PC from which you’re accessing your home PC, but it will work, at a basic level, without any installation, which is very useful if you are accessing your PC from a computer on which you do not have administrative access.
There are various paid versions of LogMeIn and even an iPhone app (which I use quite regularly) but the free version will give you pretty good access minus a few perks like file transfers etc.
I’ve only used Mikogo once but had a great experience with it. One of the big advantages of Mikogo is that you can have multiple people in a conference session so you can view and take control of multiple PCs at the same time. The only downside is that, like Team Viewer, someone needs to be at the other end to accept the meeting invitation.
TightVNC is one of the more sophisticated (read: more difficult to use) remote access clients, but I use it all the time and highly recommend it. I mainly use TightVNC to access a Linux box, which I haven’t connected to a screen. TightVNC is a slightly less integrated version of Remote Desktop Connection (see below) but, if you don’t mind connecting to machines via local network IP addresses and tweaking a few settings here and there, TightVNC is for you and is free. When you install the product, you can either make your computer a server (if you want to access it remotely) and client (if you want to use the computer to access servers) or both. I recommend both as you will probably want bi-directional (there’s probably a better word for that) access to all the machines on your network.
Remote Desktop Connection (RDC)
Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) comes with all Windows XP, Vista, and 7 editions; however, if you want to access a PC using RDC, it will need to be running Windows XP Professional, Vista Business/Ultimate, or Windows 7 Business/Ultimate. As long as your “server” is running one of the previously mentioned Windows editions, you’ll be able to access it just fine. If not, I recommend using TightVNC.
Like TightVNC, RDC can be used to access machines outside your Subnet or network but this gets a little more tricky and, depending on the security in between, can require port forwarding, NAT setup, and static IPs. If you want to access your PC outside the network, I recommend LogMeIn as it’s far easier to configure.
The final program is my de facto tool used when helping family members with their sick PCs. TeamViewer is designed for meetings but can be used to easily connect to someones PC if you’d like to help them.
TeamViewer works better than Remote Assistance does and with a few clicks, sends an email to the person you want to help giving them instructions and a program to download to allow access.
Which Program Should I Use?
- If you want to have a multi-PC meeting, use Mikogo.
- If you want to have access to your own PCs wherever you are, use LogMeIn.
- If you want to help a friend with their PC, use Team Viewer.
- If you want to have desktop access to your PCs on your home network and are using Windows XP Professional, Vista Business/Ultimate, or Windows 7 Business/Ultimate, use Remote Desktop.
- If you have Linux boxes on your home network or don’t have Windows XP Professional, Vista Business/Ultimate, or Windows 7 Business/Ultimate running on your computers, use TightVNC.
Which remote desktop applications did I miss? Let us know in the comments.