The Magic Of Remote Desktop Software
It may be time to take a step back and wonder if we’re getting too caught up in technology when we find ourselves using computers to control other computers. As far as I’m concerned if it makes life easier and more convenient I’m more than willing to go along with it. There are lots of reasons to take remote control of a computer and almost all of them have to do with convenience.
These days most households have several PCs, laptops, tablets, and phones. If your favorite computer doesn’t have a certain application you can hop on to one that does. Instead of running back and forth switching from one computer to another becomes a simple matter of minimizing and maximizing the remote computer screen or placing it on a second monitor.
Another great excuse to acquaint yourself with remote desktop software is remote support. Many times you or someone you know will need help with a computer issue with no one nearby to help. Remote desktop software makes it possible to provide computer help for people who are hundreds of miles away.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you desperately needed to access something on your home computer but you couldn’t because you were miles away from home? Many desktop software programs allow you to get files from a remote computer and easily share files with others.
This chapter will be an overview of four of the leading remote desktop software packages. We’ll start with the most expensive and elaborate example and work our way to the cheapest and most basic. In the case of the last two when I say “cheap” I mean “free.”
Logmein is probably the most full-featured remote desktop application out there. It provides easy access to your computer from any device with a web browser, convenient access to files on your computer, and allows you to easily share files with others. If you or someone gets stuck with a computer problem it provides a way to send an email link that gives the recipient remote control of your computer no matter where they are. Logmein works on Windows-based computers, Mac, iPhones, and Android devices.
The program is web-based and works best with Internet Explorer and Chrome. You start by creating an account on the Logmein website. Once you’re logged in it will provide a download to the Logmein software to install on the computer you want to control remotely. Once the Logmein software is installed you can log in to your account with a web browser from any computer and install a client that gives you control of the computer with the Logmein software.
- Create an account
- LogMeIn offers a 14-day free trial to try out the software.
- Install the Logmein software on the computer you want to control remotely. You can install it on the computer you’re on or send an email link that allows you to install it on another computer.
- If you want to install the Logmein software on another computer the software will send you an email like this.
- The file name of the Logmein software download is “LogMeIn.msi.
- The software installation is easy.
- The Logmein Control Panel gives you access to configuration options, file sharing options, and the ability to initiate a remote session (Desktop Sharing.) with someone you know if you need help.
- You want to leave the computer running and logged on to the account you’ll be using remotely. When you log in remotely you’ll have the same Windows username and password you use to log into the computer at home.
- The “File Sharing” feature allows you to select a file on your computer and send it to someone with an email link.
- The recipients of your File Sharing invitations will get an email like this.
- The “Desktop Sharing” feature allows you to send an email link to someone that allows them to remotely access and control your computer.
- The recipients of your Desktop Sharing invitations will get an email like this.
Connecting From A Remote Computer
Once you have a LogMeIn email account and ID created use that account to login to the LogMeIn Website.
- You’ll see some basic controls on the left and the computers you have the LogMeIn software installed with show up on the right.
- If this is your first time connecting from this computer the website will ask you to install a browser plug-in to make your connection more user-friendly.
- You’ll need to be logged on to an account with Administrator access to install this plug-in. It works best with Internet Explorer. If you have difficulty with this in Chrome try Internet Explorer instead.
- The web interface becomes more attractive and intuitive when the plug-in is installed. Click on “Remote Control” to access your remote computer.
- Click on the computer you wish to control remotely and a login screen will appear. Use the same Windows username and password you use when you’re sitting in front of the computer.
- If it gets stuck here sometimes temporarily disabling your anti-virus software can help.
- If all goes well your remote computer’s desktop should appear in a new window. You can use your keyboard and mouse on this new interface just like you would if you were sitting at your remote computer.
- To avoid possible connection problems later always use the “Disconnect” button to exit instead of just closing the browser window.
Now that you’re connected let’s check out some of LogMeIn’s other features.
- From the menu at the top of the web interface click on “File Manager.”
- The File Manager interface opens. It’s a lot like Windows Explorer except it allows you to move and copy files back and forth between the computer sitting at and the computer you’re controlling remotely! Nice!
- To copy a file from your remote computer to the computer you’re sitting at select a file and simply hit “Copy.”
- The file appears in the folder you have opened on the computer you’re sitting at. This feature can be a real lifesaver if you’re miles away from your home computer and you desperately need a file from it.
You’ll find a ton of other useful features that are easily accessible from the menu on top.
- For example, remote printing allows you to select a printer on your remote computer and have the print job waiting for you when you get home.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the other features loaded into the LogMeIn Toolbar.
- Select a printer on the remote computer and send a print job to it.
- View and change your network settings.
- Use a whiteboard to draw diagrams and illustrate a point to the remote user.
- Open a chat session with the remote user.
- Point to objects on the screen using a “laser pointer.”
- Select objects to magnify for the visually impaired.
- Control the sound settings.
- Enter a CTRL-ALT-DEL on the remote computer to lock or log out of the remote computer.
- Adjust the color quality to accommodate situations with lower network bandwidth.
- Change the screen to a comfortable size.
- Change the resolution settings on your remote computer.
- Toggle to full-screen view.
Logmein is about as good as it gets when it comes to remote desktop software. It’s also not cheap. Many large companies use it for their remote workforce employees and technical helpdesk clients. Logmein has a little brother that may be more suitable for personal use called GoToMyPC but the pricing isn’t much different.
If you liked LogMeIn you’ll love TeamViewer. Team Viewer is nearly as full-featured as LogMeIn and it’s completely free for non-commercial use. Yes, you can expect a few nag messages from time to time but given what it can do it’s a steal for the price.
TeamViewer includes all the bells and whistles as LogMeIn including, chat, whiteboard, file transfer, and remote printing. It even includes a built-in VPN client to ensure your connection is secure. Of the 4 remote control products I mention in this chapter TeamViewer may be the best for controlling computers across the Internet.
Let’s download, install it, and take a look. First, go to the newly-designed Teamviewer website and look for the “Download Now” button.
- TeamViewer_Setup.exe will automatically download to your browser’s default download folder. Usually C:\Users\Yourname\Downloads. Run the install program.
Right from the start, the TeamViewer installation offers important choices.
- Select the Default installation when you expect to have people on both the controlling PC and controlled PC ready to read and enter codes and passwords to initiate the remote control session.
- The unattended version looks a lot like the standard version but it immediately prompts you to set up a permanent user ID and password that you can use from anywhere even if there’s no one on the remote PC. This is a great convenience feature.
- The one-time-use installation is for exactly what it says – one-time use for one-off situations you don’t plan on returning to.
We’re going to start with the Default and finish up with the Custom installation.
- Check all three options as they’re all useful features you may want later.
- Once it’s installed there will be a little TeamViewer icon on the taskbar next to the date and time. The 10-digit number in the pop-up window (Sorry, mine is blurred out.) is the ID you’ll give someone to allow them to control your PC from a remote computer. This will change every time you reboot your computer. Click on it to launch the program.
The TeamViewer control panel is deceptively simple.
- The numbers in the “Allow Remote Control” section are to allow someone at a remote computer to control your PC. Once they enter the ID and Password you give them on their end they’ll have remote control of your computer.
- If you’re at the computer that’s doing the controlling you’ll enter the ID and password they give you in the “Control Remote Computer” section to take control of their computer. It’s that simple! Let’s try it out.
- You’re sitting at computer ID 1 209 486 510 and the person at computer ID 1 711-xxx-xxx gives you their ID and password via email or phone.
- Enter their ID in the “Partner ID” field.
- Select “Remote control” if you want to control the remote computer or “File transfer” if you want to transfer files. The “VPN” option only shows up here if it’s been installed.
- Click “Connect.”
- Note the password they sent you.
- Enter it into the “Password:” field.
- Click “Log On” to connect.
- The remote control screen opens and you have full control of the remote computer!
Remember all the fancy controls in the LogMeIn program? TeamViewer has nearly all the same bells and whistles in its free personal version. Let’s have a look at the most important features.
- Session – End the current remote control session and locks the remote computer. Leave a note for a remote user. (Full version.)
- Windows Options – Lock and reboot the remote computer. Reboot in safe mode.
- Remote Interaction – Send CTRL+ALT+DEL and other key combinations to the remote computer. Disable the remote mouse. Make the remote screen black for privacy.
- Participants – Invite additional participants to your session.
- Information – Provides system information of the remote computer. Update Teamviewer on the remote system.
- Scaling – Resizes the remote screen to find the best fit for your monitor.
- Quality – Choose to optimize your speed or display quality in low bandwidth situations.
- Performance – More adjustments to balance performance and speed.
- View Options – View the entire screen or only one window of the remote computer.
- Full Screen – View the remote computer in full-screen view.
- Computer Sound – Hear sounds from the remote computer on your local computer.
- Control – Switch the direction of the remote control session allowing the “controlled” computer to become the “controlling” computer.
- Conference Call – Use VOIP headsets for conference calls.
- Chat & Video – Hold chat sessions or use webcams to have video conference calls.
- Whiteboard – Opens a whiteboard widget to draw or write on the remote screen.
- Print – Print what you’re doing on the remote computer on your local computer.
- VPN – Start a VPN connection between your local computer and the remote computer for secure printing and file sharing.
- Clicking on the “Start VPN” opens the VPN dialog box and sets up a VPN connection between your local computer and the remote computer.
- Clicking on the “Share files via Explorer” button opens an Explorer window to share files and printers on the remote computer. This is just like entering \\pc\foldershare on your home network. This is an awesome and very secure way to access files on another computer on the Internet.
- Screen Recording – Opens a dialog box to take screenshots and do screen recordings of your session with the remote computer. Once again – awesome!
- File Transfer – Opens a file transfer window that allows you to “Send” and Receive” files between the two computers. You can even use this to access cloud storage!
- Chat – Hold chat sessions between yourself and the remote computer user. Still a great way to communicate.
- On the controlled computer use the TeamViewer window in the lower right-hand corner of your screen to end the session. Use the big “X” on the left in the “Actions” section mentioned above to end your session with the remote computer.
The unattended installation is great for a computer that has no one nearby to give you its ID and password. When you run TeamViewer with the unattended option it will immediately ask you to set up a permanent ID and password. Copy the ID and password to a thumb drive or save it in cloud storage for easy access later.
- Make sure to select “Custom installation” when installing the unattended version.
The unattended setup wizard opens when launching Teamviewer for the first time.
- Your computer’s name populates automatically. Enter and confirm your password.
- Creating an account is optional. You can always do this later.
- When it’s complete the unattended setup wizard will display your ID. Make a note of your ID and password as well as some notes about the computer they go with.
- If you forget your computer’s ID hover your mouse over the TeamViewer icon near the date and time.
To control your unattended computer remotely simply enter the unattended computer ID into the “Partner ID” field on another machine with TeamViewer installed.
- Enter your unattended computer ID into the “Partner ID” field.
- Enter the permanent password you created.
- Click “Log On” to connect.
- You’re now in complete control of your unattended computer with no help from any pesky human beings!
- To disconnect from your unattended computer go to the “Actions” menu.
- Click on the “X” to end the session.
Welcome to the world of remote computer control with TeamViewer. Now you can never use the old “Oops I forgot my files on my home computer” excuse again.
Can it get any better than this? Well, yes actually it can! There is also a portable version of TeamViewer you can install on a USB thumb drive. Now you can carry access to your home computers around with you.
Simply insert the USB stick into any computer and away you go! Note: Some business computers and corporate networks may have this locked down. Always ask first in corporate environments. IT people can get pretty finicky about these things. I know because I am one. J
The first two remote desktop applications in this chapter were mostly designed for controlling computers across the Internet. TightVNC is designed to be a quick and easy way to take control of computers on your local network. It’s easy to install and has almost no learning curve. It’s also free.
Yes, you can use TightVNC across the Internet by forwarding TCP ports 5500, 5800, and 5900 but the connection is not encrypted and with free programs like TeamViewer out there why would you want to?
TightVNC is a no-frills remote desktop software program that does what it does very well. There is no account to sign up for or complicated setup to scratch your head over. You can be up and running within minutes of downloading it.
Go to the TightVNC website and look for the big Download Now! link on the left-hand side.
- Click on the “Download Now!” link.
- You most likely have a 64-bit operating system. It’s been a while since they made any 32-bit systems. Just to be on the safe side you can go to your “System” screen to check.
- Right-click on the “Start” button.
- Click on “System.”
- Click on “System Info.”
- The “System” section will tell you whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit system.
- Go to your browser’s default download location.
- Sort by “Date modified” to find the file you just downloaded.
- Run the setup file (Executable.)
- Choose “Typical.”
- This is the only real choice you need to make. Would you like your remote computers to be a single click away or do you want to play it safe and put a password on everything you use? It’s totally up to you and how much you trust the members of your household.
The installation has two major components. The “Server” and the “Viewer.” Both are installed on all systems by default. The “Server” is the computer being controlled and the “Viewer” is the computer doing the controller. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but that’s how it works.
- To put a convenient shortcut to the TightVNC Viewer on your taskbar enter tightvnc into the search bar. A menu item to the TightVNC Viewer should pop up. Right-click on it and select “Pin to taskbar.”
You can find the IP address of your “Server” machine near the date and time. This is the computer you’ll be controlling.
- Click on the little “up arrow” to the left of the date and time.
- Hover your mouse over the “V” and a little pop-up window displays the IP address you’ll be using in your TightVNC “Viewer.”
- Enter your “Server” machine’s IP address or computer name into the “Viewer” and click “Connect.”
- Enter your password and click on “OK.”
- If your password is correct the connection is almost instantaneous.
- Use the three little buttons on the menu bar on top to initiate the “CTRL+ALT+DEL” command and log in.
- Log onto the computer as you normally would.
- The TightVNC “Viewer” screen is very simple. You may even forget you’re working on a remote computer! A nice thing about TightVNC is you can connect to multiple computers at once. Use the little monitor icon in the upper left-hand corner to open more connections.
- Another nice feature is you can save computer connection settings including your password to your desktop if you have multiple computers you need to keep track of.
- If you have multiple machines open and you forget which one you’re looking at you can hit the little “i” button for the connection information to that computer.
- Click on the Microsoft Windows icon to open the start menu.
- The non-descript “Two pieces of paper” icon is your window TightVNCs simplistic file transfer utility. It’s not as full-featured as what you’ll find in LogMeIn or TeamViewer but it does the job.
- On the far right of the menu bar, we have the usual resizing, scaling, and full-screen options to adjust your screen to the remote computer’s screen. The “A” stands for “automatic.”
- Simply click on the “X” in the upper right to end your remote control session.
I use TightVNC regularly. It’s effective, reliable, and very easy to use. After a while, it becomes second nature to be working on multiple computers at once.
If you don’t feel like downloading, installing, testing, and comparing different remote desktop products Microsofts Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) may be the choice for you. RDP is built-in to all current Windows operating systems. All you have to do to try it is enter rdp into the search bar. Of course, there are some steps to make sure it’s enabled on all your computers first but we’ll get into that in a minute.
The one major caveat with RDP is that it can only be used to control the Pro version of Windows. If you have a Windows Pro computer and a Windows 10 Home computer you’ll be able to control the Pro version with the Home version but not the other way around. If shelling out $99 to purchase an upgrade to a Pro version of Windows is a problem TightVNC might be a better solution for you.
First, let’s make sure the computer we want to control has RDP enabled and will allow requests to port 3389. For this to work, the computer being controlled or “guest” computer needs to be a Windows Pro Edition computer.
- Type allow remote into the search bar and click on “Allow Remote Assistance…” when it pops up.
- On the “Remote” tab make sure “Allow remote connections to this computer” is enabled.
- For security purposes check the box that requires Network Level Authentication.
- Click “OK.” RDP is now enabled.
You can allow specific individuals to be able to remotely control this computer.
- Click on the “Select Users…” button.
- Click on the “Add…” button to add users. If you are in the computers Administrators group your name will show up automatically.
- Click “OK” to save your changes.
While RDP is probably already enabled in your Windows Firewall it may be “too enabled.” We want to make sure it’s enabled for private networks only and not public networks. Enabling RDP on a public network could leave you vulnerable to bad guys in a public setting. Not a likely scenario but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Let’s check the firewall settings to be sure.
- Type firewall into the search bar and click on “Windows Defender Firewall” when it pops up.
- Click on “Allow an app or feature…” to select the firewall settings for RDP.
- Click on “Change settings.”
- Scroll down until you see “Remote Desktop.” The first box in the row on the right is “Private.” The second box is “Public.” Make sure “Private” is checked and “Public” is unchecked. Click “OK” to save your changes.
Now let’s test RDP from the controlling or “host” PC.
- Type in rdp into the search bar of the “host” or controlling PC and click on “Remote Desktop Connection” when it pops up.
- Enter the name of the computer you want to control and click “Connect.” If you’re curious about the different settings you can change in RDP click on “Show Options.”
If you click on “Show Options” you can change various ways RDP behaves.
- You can save your computer name, username, and password so you don’t have to type it in every time. You can then save the connection settings to a particular PC to an icon on your desktop.
- You can change the quality of the video and the size of the screen.
- You can change the display and sound options.
- You can access the host’s local printer, drives, and even the clipboard (Copy and pasting) when controlling the remote “guest” machine.
- Explore the various options available in RDP. When you’re done click “Connect.”
- Enter the username and password you normally use to log on to the computer.
- Don’t worry about the certificate error. Just click “Yes.”
- The “guest” machines screen opens up on the “host” machine you’re sitting at. You now have full control of the remote computer.
Another disadvantage with RDP is there is no screen sharing like there is with the other remote desktop programs. Once you are logged into a computer remotely whoever is sitting at it can not access it. They will be locked out and forced to log back in. If they log in it kicks you out.
- If you click on the “Maximize” button in the upper right corner of the guest screen it will go to full-screen mode. A blue bar will appear at the top of your monitor screen. You can use it for basic functions such as minimizing, maximizing, and closing the window.
If you use the “X” button on the control bar too many times you may get locked out and have to reboot the guest computer to get back in. For this reason, it’s better to use the “Start” menu to disconnect and log out. Using the Start menu offers you several options.
- Right-click on the Start button, run your mouse over “Shut down or sign out” and you are given several options.
- Disconnect – Closes the connection between the host and guest computer completely.
- Sign out – The connection remains but you’ll have to log back in again. This is just like logging out of a computer.
- Shut down – Turns the guest computer off.
- Restart – Reboots the guest computer. You’ll need to connect and log back in again.
Microsofts Remote Desktop Software has its limitations, but if you looking for an easy, free way to take remote control of a Windows Pro computer it’s right at your fingertips and requires no downloading or installing.