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Best free remote access software

Have you ever had a call from a friend or relative who is having problems with their computer? It can often be frustrating when they’re trying to describe what they are seeing on their screen. And despite your best efforts to understand what they are describing, it just doesn’t make any sense... Luckily, in today’s connected world there is a solution for this problem: remote desktop software.

Logmein iPhone
Need to help a friend or relative with computer problems? Remote desktop software could be the answer.

Remote desktop software allows you to see what is happening on another computer's screen whilst using your own PC, and the majority of remote desktop programs allow you to control the other person’s computer as if it was your own.

Remote desktop software has been bundled with Windows since Windows Vista was released in 2007; however there were many different types of third party software available long before this. There are now literally hundreds of different types of remote desktop programs available. Many are free to use but some charge subscription fees. It’s just a matter of what level of service you require and what you will be likely to use the service for. I’d recommend trying out as many as you can before settling on your favourite. Here are my favourite ones.

RealVNC - Free

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RealVNC is ideal for controlling computers on the same network as yours, with a minimal interface and iOS and Android apps - so you can even control your PC from your smartphone!

Pros:

  • Simple to use on the same network
  • Minimal user interface
  • Viewer apps also available on iOS and Android.

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to set up to use over the internet
  • Free license only allows installation on 5 computers
  • Data not encrypted unless subscribing to one of the paid services.

I’ve been using RealVNC for years now and I’ve found it is great for controlling computers on the same network as the one you are using. RealVNC works by installing ‘server’ software on the computer you want to control and ‘viewer’ software on the computer you are using. When you install these on both computers they automatically modify the Windows firewall to allow you to use the software properly. Simply start the server software on the computer you want to remote desktop to and a small window will pop up that says “VNC Viewer users can connect using the address...”. Then all you need to do is open the viewer on your own computer, type in the IP address provided by the server computer and you’re connected! You can control the computer as if you were sat at it. You can also download the official viewer apps for iOS and Android, so you can even control your computer from your smartphone.

RealVNC can be set up to control computers over the internet too, but this requires you to forward ports from the router to the computer you are connecting to. A comprehensive guide to achieve this is provided on the RealVNC website.


Logmein - Free

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Logmein features a simple web broswer login that is free for personal use on up to 10 computers.

Pros:

  • Works flawlessly over the internet
  • Data encrypted
  • Simple web browser login.

Cons:

  • Android and iOS apps are expensive
  • No option to disable on boot.

LogMeIn is free for personal use on up to 10 computers. It works differently to some other remote desktop programs as it uses your computer's web browser to view the other machine's desktop.

Firstly you need to visit the LogMeIn website and create a free account. You then need to log in to this account on the computer you wish to view remotely (the host). At the top of the browser window you will have the option to ‘add computer.’ Select this and then select ‘try LogMeIn Pro’. This installs a 14-day free trial of the paid service on to the host computer which will then revert to a free account. You will then be prompted to download the LogMeIn software. Follow the steps to install the software. You then need to log into the LogMeIn website on your own computer and you will see that the host computer you just set up is now available to connect to. Click on it and you may be prompted to install a browser plugin. Follow the steps and voila: you now have access to the host computer! LogMeIn also starts when the computer boots so you’ll have remote access whenever you want. This can increase your computer's boot time though and there is no option to disable it.

Again, Android and iOS apps are available but they come at a price. LogMeIn Ignition for iOS is £89.99 and Logmein Ignition for Android is £20.14. I’d certainly make sure that LogMeIn is the software for you before committing to purchasing one of these apps.


TeamViewer

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TeamViewer: easy to install and works across many devices for free, providing greater versatility.

Pros:

  • Easy to install and use
  • Works across many devices for free
  • Portable version available to run from USB sticks.

Cons:

  • Some confusing options
  • Requires installation on both computers.

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TeamViewer is a recent discovery for me and I have to say I am very impressed with it. Simply visit the TeamViewer website on both computers and click ‘Download.’ Run the .exe file that is downloaded and select ‘personal/non-commercial use’ if you’re only using it to help friends and family and you want the free service. TeamViewer will install quickly onto both computers. Both computers will be assigned an ID and password that will appear on screen. Type in your ‘partner's ID and then you will be prompted for their 4-digit password too. Type this in, hit enter and then you have a connection. Easy peasy! So far it doesn’t sound too different to Logmein, but what makes TeamViewer really special for me is the support for mobile devices.

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TeamViewer also make free apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 and support for Samsung Android devices, so you can even remotely control a friend's phone.

TeamViewer make free apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 so there is never a reason to say no to helping your mum out with her online shopping (!). Additionally, TeamViewer have also introduced support for controlling Samsung Android devices. So now you can even remotely control a friend’s phone wherever you are.

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