There was a time when I (and probably you) struggled with Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop software on a Windows PC to remotely access someone else’s computer. It was a terrible experience and never worked for me as it involved quite a few network settings and protocols — which I still don’t understand much.
And there were few free and premium remote desktop connection managers like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, etc. at that time. But I was least interested in trying those remote desktop connection managers as it was of no use to me.
Then, with the advent of the smartphone era, I tried remote desktop apps for mobile like Splashtop, PocketCloud, LogMeIn, Join.me, and TeamViewer, etc. and almost all of them failed to impress me. It was simply not the kind of productivity apps that I wanted or even care about.
My impression completely changed when Microsoft and Google introduced their own Remote Desktop apps for web and mobile a few years back. The good thing is… both works perfect and is free without any restriction.
So here is a quick review (plus comparison) of the 3 (and only 3) best remote desktop access software that are free.
1. Chrome Remote Desktop
Chrome Remote Desktop is a Google Chrome app that lets you access all your computer(s) from another computer or from your mobile device(s). It can be used for a variety of purposes like to access your own computer from a remote location or to provide (or get) remote support or to securely access your files or software applications on your computer from a mobile device, and so on.
What I really like about Chrome Remote Desktop is that it’s linked to your Google account. So there’s no such thing as an extra user id or special codes to access your computer from another device of yours. And the installation and setup is pretty simple. All you need to do is install the Chrome Remote Desktop app on all your devices (computers, tablets, mobiles) and you’re good to go.
When you open the app for the first time you will be asked to authorize it and it’s a one-time process. And you will then see two functions: “Remote Assistance” and “My Computers”. “Remote Assistance” as you might have already imagined lets you share your computer with someone else to get remote support. “My Computers” lets you add all your computers (Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, and Ubuntu Linux) and access it from your other devices (computers and smartphones).
If you want to use “My Computers” then you need to install Chrome Remote Desktop app on all your computers and enable remote connections. You will then be asked to set a PIN of at least 6 digits and it will be required when you connect from another device or location. When the PIN code is set and remote connection is enabled you can see a list of all your computers added to Chrome Remote Desktop when you open the app.
Now if you have an iOS or Android device then you can install the official Chrome Remote Desktop app for iPhone, iPad, and Android and access any of your authorized computers from your mobile devices.
Note: When you access a Windows computer from a mobile device or another computer you do have the option to select “Don’t ask for a PIN again when connecting to this host from this device.” so that you won’t have to enter its PIN code again. But for Mac OS X, you have to enter the PIN code every time you want to access it (whether it’s from another computer or a mobile device).
Again, if you want to share your screen with someone else to get remote support or anything like that then you can use the “Remote Assistance” feature of Chrome Remote Desktop. Just “Get Started” and you can share your computer with another user by generating and sharing an unique “Access Code”. And you can control another user’s computer by entering the “Access Code” generated by that user. The access codes are obviously for one-time use only.
One more thing… when you enable remote connections, it will automatically download and install the Chrome Remote Host Service (apart from the Chrome Remote Desktop app). It’s a service that runs in the background so that there is no need for Google Chrome to be opened on the remote computer. In fact, you can use Chrome Remote Desktop to access your PC that’s already logged out or locked.
- It’s 100% free with no restriction.
- It’s super-fast.
- It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. And the mobile app is available for iOS and Android.
- It gives instant access to all your computers — as long as it’s turned on.
- It can be used to access your own computers or your friend’s computer.
- It’s linked to your Google account so there’s no need to create another account or generate any one-time codes (unless you’re sharing the screen with someone else).
- It can play sound from the remote computer.
- It can access any computer on the web without adjusting any network or firewall settings.
- It can’t be used to transfer files from one device to another (let me know if you’ve figured out a way) but you can copy-paste texts.
- It doesn’t give you much options other than Window resizing and print screen option when you access a remote computer.
- It doesn’t give you an option to turn off audio.
- It doesn’t support audio, video, or instant messaging.
- It’s not the best remote desktop software for commercial usage.
TeamViewer is perhaps the most popular remote desktop software for personal as well as commercial use. It’s a lightweight application that’s simple, fast, and intuitive — and that’s why it’s a “can’t live without it” kind of tool for network engineers. The best thing? It’s 100% free for personal use. In fact, it’s TeamViewer that showed the true potential of a simple remote desktop client.
But I’m a bit disappointed with its free version as it doesn’t work perfectly for my personal use. Because I was not even able to connect to my own computer for few hours. Of course they have mentioned on their website that it’s free for all non-commercial users and it’s true. The problem is… they will disconnect the session automatically if they think that you are using it for commercial purposes.
For instance, try to connect to another computer and keep the connection alive for an hour or two. They will automatically disconnect the session by saying that it detected commercial usage.
- It’s free for personal use but with usage restriction.
- It’s available on Windows, Mac, and Linux. And the mobile app is available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry.
- It’s also available as a web app (you need a TeamViewer account).
- It can be used to transfer files from one computer to another.
- It can setup “unattended access”so that you can access your computer from another location.
- It can send files to your contacts (requires a TeamViewer account) without establishing a remote connection.
- It works even if you do not have a TeamViewer account.
- It has a built-in messaging feature that also supports audio and video.
- It can play sounds and music from the remote computer.
- It can establish multiple remote connections at the same time.
- It gives you a lot of extra options. For example, you can remove remote computer’s wallpaper or sound , adjust bandwidth, single window sharing, and can even record a session.
- It’s perfect for both personal and commercial usage.
- It will disconnect your session if commercial usage is detected (even if you didn’t use it commercially).
- It requires a TeamViewer account and the application must always run in the background to access our computer from another location or device.
- Its paid version is expensive — starts at $749 (one-time).
3. Microsoft Remote Desktop
Microsoft introduced their Remote Desktop apps for iOS and Android few years back but it’s good for accessing your Windows computers only (home editions are not supported unless you install a 3rd party software to support it).
Recommended Read: Over 21 Microsoft Apps For Your iPhone & iPad (And Android Too)
For example, if your primary computer comes with Windows 8.1 Pro then you can access it from a mobile device (iOS and Android), Mac, or from another Windows PC without additional setup or software.
And it’s totally free without any usage restriction. Unlike Chrome Remote Desktop, the setup process is a bit complicated when you do it for the first time.
Microsoft Remote Desktop apps are available for mobile devices as well. You need to install Microsoft Remote Desktop on your mobile devices (iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) and computers (Windows 8, Windows 10, and Mac) to remotely access a Windows PC.
Once you install the application, you can add all your PCs by entering its details. You can access computers on your home network only but can follow this tutorial to enable Remote Desktop connections from outside your home network. For additional help, refer this documentation.
- It’s fast and easy-to-use — after the initial setup.
- It’s totally free without any restriction.
- It gives instant access to your Windows PCs — if they’re all turned on.
- It works best if your primary computer is Windows. But the mobile app is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
- It doesn’t need any one-time codes or authorization to connect to your own PCs.
- It can be used to access Windows PCs only — from a remote location.
- It automatically logs out the remote computer when you establish a connection.
- It can’t transfer files from one PC to another but can copy-paste texts.
- It’s got no additional options — other than resolution and audio.
- It needs a Windows Professional or Server edition to work (unless you installed a 3rd party client to support it).
- It can’t be used to give or get remote assistance/support.
As you might have already imagined, this is a list of free remote desktop managers — that’s primarily for personal usage. That is, to access your own computers from another location using another PC or a mobile device. Or, to get or provide remote support.
You should definitely consider the alternatives — like TeamViewer Pro, Join.me, Ammyy Admin, Splashtop, GoToMyPC, RealVNC, etc. — for professional/commercial usage. For me, the Chrome Remote Desktop works best because it’s platform independent. I can access my computers (Windows or Mac) from virtually any other device — without any limitation.
For instance, now I can check the status of a download or can exit or open an application from a remote location using my mobile or tablet or another computer. And the best thing is… I do not have to install and keep a 3rd-party desktop client open all the time to access my computer. Also, I can also use it as a TeamViewer alternative because it supports “Remote Assistance” as well.
So, what is your favorite remote desktop software and why?
First Published: August 13, 2015; Last Updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2018.