What is Remote desktop?
Remote Desktop, a function included with Windows XP Professional, enables you to connect to your computer across the Internet from virtually any computer, Pocket PC, or smartphone. Unlike a typical VPN connection (which will give a remote PC access to the company network) Remote Desktop will actually allow you to see and control your connected PC as though you were sitting directly in front of it.
Remote desktop vs VPN : Which is a better choice ? why?
A VPN and Remote Desktop solve two different problems — perhaps slightly overlapping but mostly distinct and frequently complimentary capabilities.
- Remote Desktop (e.g., Microsoft RDP or VNC) let’s you sign on to a remote computer using the keyboard and mouse while viewing the screen much as if “you are there.”
- A VPN allows you to connect your *COMPUTER* to another network much as if “your computer is there”.
This may superficially sound like the same thing but the focus is quite different in each case.
Remote Desktop is about you (the human being) being able to run programs on a single computer as you would locally.
A VPN is about allowing your computer to access network resources, drive shares, email servers, web sites, even help you do RDP to various computers, on a remote network — it allows your computer to work as if it had been ‘teleported’ to that remote network.
For work, I frequently VPN to another network, the use RDP — along with remote drive shares and other resources — as if my computer were on that other (very) private network.
Thing to keep in mind before deciding on the remote desktop solution
- Is the solution just for your own use or for helping friends and relatives? Just because you’re tech savvy and can easily configure things doesn’t mean they will
- Do you need unattended access? A solution that requires someone at the remote PC is no good if nobody is home.
- Do you need on-the-go access from your mobile device? If so, a good mobile client is a must.
Keeps your needs (and the abilities of the people you’re helping with the remote desktop) in mind as you read through the features.
Types of remote desktop solutions
Operating System-Based Remote Desktop: Old School and Baked In
It is provided by the same company behind your operating system.Both Windows and Mac OS have had remote desktop solutions built in for ages. As such, people are comfortable using them–they’re right at hand, free, and supplied by the company they trust enough to run their entire computer.
While they aren’t difficult to use, the biggest shortcoming of the built-in tools is that they need to be configured by the person on the other end. If you’re doing the configuring (either on your own machine or on the behalf of your relative when you’re visiting them in person), this isn’t a big deal. If said relative just called you up and needs help, however, you’re stuck not only dealing with their actual problem but the problem of walking them through turning the remote desktop functionality on. Once turned on, however, both the Windows and Mac OS solution allow for unattended use.
Windows Remote Desktop Connection (Free)
Although it’s easy to setup Windows Remote Desktop, there’s a bit of a catch: while all versions of Windows can connect to other machines via the RDP client, only the professional versions (and above) of Windows have an RDP server. Since most friends and relatives you may be helping are likely running some Home release of Windows or another, you won’t be able to connect to them. In addition to that, if you’re using it outside your home network you’ll need to configure the router of the remote network (e.g. your parents’ home network) to accept incoming remote desktop connections.
Further, you need to know the remote IP address of the server and the login credentials for that machine. If its your own machine you’re connecting to, that’s not such a big deal. If it’s the machine of a friend or family member you’re helping, that might be a deal breaker: maybe they aren’t technically competent enough to look up their own IP address and maybe they don’t want to give you their login.
Although so far we’ve made it sound like Windows Remote Desktop Connection is a terrible product for remote desktop use, it’s actually–in the right context–the best solution. If you’re running a household or office of computers with Windows Pro or better (so they all support RDC hosting), connecting to those machines with RDC is such a smooth experience it’s like literally being right at that computer. The display is crisp, fast, and full color, the connection is responsive, and other than the tiny blue toolbar at the top of the screen indicating your’re using RDC, you’d never know you weren’t using the PC sitting on the desk next to you. For home or office use with Windows computers that support it, using Remote Desktop Connection is a no brainer because that’s what RDC was made for: local network administration in a professional environment, not cross-country tech support calls with Grandma.
Mac OS Screen Sharing (Free)
The Apple solution is a bit more accessible in that all Mac OS computers have “Screen Sharing” built in. Even better yet, Apple’s Screen Sharing allows for a variety of connection methods–you can use your own computer login to login from afar, your Apple ID, send a request, or use a VNC (Virtual Networked Computer) connection. The VNC method is just a pretty repackaging of the ancient (but reliable) VNC protocol, but it makes it easy for non-Apple users to connect to OS X machines.
That means even if you don’t have a Mac of your own, you can walk your relative through turning Screen Sharing on and then connect to it using any number of VNC clients across any number of platforms (we’ll talk more about VNC later in the article).
It’s worth noting here, for the sake of thoroughness, that Apple does have its own institutional/corporate-oriented remote desktop solution that is radically more advanced than simple screen sharing–but it costs $80 a computer and is pretty significant overkill for a home user.
The bottom line with the operating-system provided solutions is that they require a bit of time to set up, some foresight on your part to have installed ahead of time, and the setup process requires ensuring the remote desktop software can pass through your firewall (or the firewall of the person you’re helping)–if you’re looking for an immediate solution to help a friend in need, this probably isn’t it. If you’re looking for a solution for your own machines and you’re willing to set it all up, both Microsoft’s RDP and Apple’s VNC systems are widely supported and pretty flexible.
Third Party Remote Desktop: Flexible And Full Featured
While both Windows and Mac OS have their own remote desktop/server clients, as we just saw, there’s a whole world of third-party remote desktop solutions out there to meet nearly every need. Though we’re only highlighting the most widely adopted and feature rich solutions here, we’d encourage you to check out Wikipedia’s rather comprehensive feature chart comparing dozens upon dozens of different remote desktop products if you’d like to dig deeper into the matter.
By far these solutions shine (save for our last entry, VNC) in pure ease of use. Unlike the configuration requirements we mentioned above, using them is as simple (for the person you’re connect to) as running an application and giving you the login code.
TeamViewer (Free for Personal Use)
Despite the knocks it has taken in the press recently, TeamViewer is a very popular product and, Windows Remote Desktop aside, likely the most widely used remote desktop software around.
One of our favorite things about TeamViewer is how flexible it is. You can run it once to get remote assistance and then never start it again, or you can set it up with advanced security rules for unattended use. Because you can download the TeamViewer app, run it, and get a unique ID and a randomly generated password, it’s super easy to have a friend or relative in trouble grab the app, give you their credentials, and log right in to help them.
Some key differences include:
- RDP does not allow the user of the remote computer to see or control their screen when you connect to them, meaning the remote user doesn’t know what you’re doing on their computer. TeamViewer allows the remote user to see everything you do on their screen, which is important for providing remote support to your customers or friends/family.
- RDP requires you to configure port forwarding on the remote computer’s firewall or router. TeamViewer works without port forwarding or other firewall configurations.
- TeamViewer has much greater platform support: you can use TeamViewer to connect to or from Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome OS, Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Raspberry Pi.
- TeamViewer allows the file-transfer between the computers , It offers a video-chat and voice transmission option in which the users can communicate , It is available for Windows 10 , 8 , 7 , Vista , XP and 2000 , It can run on Mac , IPad , Linux operating system , Android , BlackBerry , Windows Phone , iOS mobile devices and Chrome OS .
- TeamViewer is free if used for non-commercial purposes , It is very secure , It helps a lot when you need to access the system and do work or when you want to help your friend to do some work such as installing anything or if you want to share the files .
- TeamViewer can share the files with the other users , It can allow another member to conduct the meeting , It is easy to do Tech Support for family and friends , It is easy for the other members to point out and highlight and it can be used without installation .
- TeamViewer is audio and video , You can add up to 25 Members , You are able to conduct online training , It can boost the sales potential , You can benefit from highest Security Systems , No router configurations are necessary to setup TeamViewer , The remote installation of TeamViewer can be updated with ease .
- You can access to remote the computers and the servers all the time , You can access your data and applications at anytime and anywhere , You can access your office computer from home , It offers the highest security standards and it has excellent customer support .
- TeamViewer supports chat , Remote printing is allowed , It supports Wake-on-LAN (WOL) , port forwarding configurations are not necessary , There is spontaneous support , It works with multiple monitors , It can be used as the portable program for quick access or installed to accept the remote connections .
- The portable version is available so , no install is required , You can control the remote computer through the desktop program , the mobile device or the Internet browser , There is no costs per customer , you can remotely support many computers and you can purchase without any risk .
- TeamViewer can share the single application window or it can share the entire desktop with another user , The files , images , text , folders, and screenshots can be transferred , The files can be transferred directly from the online storage services such as Google Drive , OneDrive and Box , The whiteboard lets you draw and highlight objects on the remote screen .
- TeamViewer is easy to use , There is no configuration necessary , You can remote access to unlimited remote computers , It offers easy file transfer , It presents Wake-on-LAN & many other features at no extra cost , TeamViewer account with all of your computers and contacts is available with a quick one-click connection .
- There are many PCs which are currently online and they logged into TeamViewer , There is no matter of the PCs location , TeamViewer gives the options to turn off the monitor , It can lock keyboard & mouse input and Remote updating of TeamViewer .
- TeamViewer has the ability to take the snapshots of remote screen , The software gets its name for the reason as you can include multiple parties in a connection , All the parties install the software and connect to the session , Control of the computer can be passed from person to person .
- The great feature is the ability to drag and drop the files from one computer to another , if you are helping someone to solve a problem and he needs the particular file , you don’t need to waste the time downloading it to his machine or emailing it over , If you have the file , you can copy it over with few clicks
- TeamViewer can monitor the software of some type installed within its program to detect when the commercial use is suspected as it requires the license to be purchased for the commercial use , It can not share the huge files and it lags Time To Time .
- TeamViewer does not work through the proxy servers , The version is costly , The business packages are quite expensive to buy , It needs fast continuous internet connection , otherwise it will be troublesome and frustrating to use .
- Two systems are needed at least to use Team viewer that should have the team viewer installed on them , The other system should be active and available for us to access it , If the system goes into sleep mode we will not be able to access it .
- TeamViewer can not be used for free in the commercial settings , It does not allow fast file transfers , It can not be able to upload/download large files over the internet , It does not have the ability to use full screen with high resolution screens .
You can install the TeamViewer program on Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Chrome OS. In addition, there are client apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry. You’ll find all the available downloads here.
Although Splashtop does offer similar functionality to TeamViewer, when you start to compare the products (especially from a cost standpoint), things add up quickly. Splashtop offers a server app (the Splashtop Streamer app) for Windows, Mac OS, and Ubuntu computers. There’s also a client app (Splashtop Personal) for Windows, Mac OS, Ubtuntu, as well as iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. You can grab all of the available apps here.
While Splashtop does offer a completely free option, that option is limited to using Splashtop only on your local network (e.g. to connect to a computer in your child’s room or down in the basement). In order to access machines from outside your house, you’ll need to sign up for the “Access from Anywhere” feature, which runs $16.99 per year. Further, the iOS apps cost money ($20 for the iPad app, and $10 for the iPhone app). File transfer and remote printer access are restricted to the Business grade plan ($60 a year).
With that in mind, Splashtop might be great for connecting to computers on your local network, but it gets pricey pretty quickly when it comes to connecting to your computers away from home (or the computers of your friends).
The cost might be high, but Splashtop does have one shining feature: it’s really good at streaming high quality video and audio. Remote desktop solutions, especially over the internet, are known for choppy and low quality visuals (and typically no audio). On a high speed connection, however, you can actually watch a movie from the remote computer with little-to-no noticeable issues.
Chrome Remote Desktop (Free)
It doesn’t get as much press as some of the more high profile desktop solutions, but several years ago Google quietly rolled out a remote desktop solution for their Chrome web browser. It’s quite easy to set up and completely free.
When using it, you have the option to connect to your own computers (which are all linked to your Google account) or to set up remote sessions to the computers of friends or relatives to help them.
VNC, or Virtual Network Computing, is an open source remote desktop solution. There are many VNC applications, and the open source nature of the protocol makes it possible to use a VNC server from one company and a VNC client from another. The most notable companies on the server side of things are RealVNC, TightVNC, and UltraVNC.
Because VNC is open source and the protocol is free for anyone to use, it’s easy to find good VNC client apps to connect into the remote computer like VNC Viewer (iOS/Android), a free offering from RealVNC.
Speaking of free, for the most part implementations of VNC are completely free except for those that add in additional features on top of the VNC protocol and charge for it. The most notable example of this is RealVNC Personal which includes preconfigured encryption.
We’ll put it this way: VNC is like the Linux of remote desktop solutions. It’s free, it’s open source, you have lots configuration of options, but it’s complicated to set up and requires the user to have a firm handle on topics like encryption and firewall configuration. In exchange, you can do as much (or as little) as you need with it and across every platform you can think of.
If you’d like a hands on look at installing a VNC system, you can check out our guide here.
Remote Desktop Service Advantages
- Security – As all of your important data including files and documents will be held in the most secure data centres in the world, there’s practically zero chance of theft or loss. Connection to the remote desktop are protected by state-of-the-art encryption technology, which eliminates the risk of hacking and other data-loss cases common with standard computing and networking.
- Flexibility – The core purpose of RDS is to allow workers to perform their duties from literally anywhere at any time. The only thing needed is a computer and a secure internet connection, which adds up to the kind of freedom and flexibility that would be otherwise entirely impossible.
- Lower Costs – Often when using a remote desktop system, it isn’t necessary to invest in multiple copies of the same business software packages as they can be used via a single machine. In addition, the computers used to access the host computer do not necessarily have to be high-performance machines with equally high prices.
Remote Desktop Service Disadvantages
- Downtime – If the service provider is anything other than flawless in its consistency and performance, there’s a strong risk of downtime. And when it comes to downtime in the world of RDS, it can leave the entire network/system inaccessible until the necessary repairs have been made.
- Network Dependency – A little like the above, the system will work fine just as long as all third-party computers have strong and reliable internet connections available to them. If not, the system is completely out of reach.
- Bottlenecks – Depending on the power of the host system and how many are trying to access it at the same time, it’s possible that bottlenecks can be caused and reduce performance.
- Knowledge – The administrator of the RDS must have solid knowledge of the subject and be readily contactable if and when any problems should occur during normal working hours. Without the necessary help on standby to turn to in the event of a system outage, the results could be dire.
Remember, Screen Sharing ≠ Remote Desktop
As a final note, you may have noticed we didn’t mention popular solutions like Join.me. That’s because Join.me and other screen sharing apps, even if they might have the option to let the viewer take control of the mouse or some such thing, are really screen sharing apps and not remote desktop apps.
They’re light on features, they’re intended to share the screen for presentations and not for tech support calls and actual remote use, and they’re not as simple as they purport to be. You still have to have your friend or family member go to the webpage, download the app, run the app, and give you the ID number of their session in order for you to connect to them. At that point you might as well be sending them to download the TeamViewer client which is just as easy to download, run, and get an ID number with–but instead you get a very full featured remote desktop app instead of a screen sharing tool.