Free Remote Access and Screen Sharing

Category: Networking

If you need to access your own computer or someone else's from a remote location, you probably already know about GoToMyPC or LogMeIn.com, which are advertised on radio and TV. GotoMyPC's remote access service costs $10/month, and LogMeIn's free version was recently killed off. But you can still do remote access and screen sharing for free! Here's how...

Still Paying for Remote Access? Get it for Free!

GotoMyPC and LogMeIn both allow you to log on to a remote computer, access the desktop, open files or run programs, just as if you were sitting at its keyboard. This screen sharing ability can be handy for technical consultants solving clients' problems; people who are away from their home or office computers; or just showing Grandma how to save photos of the kids on her hard drive.

Until recently, I had used and recommended the free version of LogMeIn. But recently, they decided to do away with this freebie, and now require you to pay to use the service. CrossLoop was another nifty screen sharing program that I really liked, but the company was acquired by AVG Technologies, who decided to shut it down early in 2014.

The good news: there's no need to pay for remote access and screen sharing, when there are other tools that let you do it for free. In some cases, these remote access or screen sharing software tools run as a downloadable program that you install on your laptop or other remote machine. But most of the functions of the remote access component are built right into modern Web browsers, so an additional program is not always necessary.
Free Remote Access tools

Here is a run-down of some of the most popular FREE alternatives to GoToMyPC and LogMeIn. Each operates slightly differently so you should experiment with several solutions before choosing the one that's right for you.

Free Remote Access Tools

TeamViewer is an awesome, free, full-featured remote desktop program. You can control another computer that's connected to the Internet, or share files with a group of co-workers. TeamViewer works on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Apple, and Android devices. After both parties download the TeamViewer program, the party who needs help provides a password to the helper.

In a few seconds, the remote computer's desktop becomes visible to the helper, who can then control it just like he or she was sitting right there. Both parties can see everything that's happening on the screen, and either party can type, move the mouse, etc. It feels like magic, but I am assured that high-tech, high security stuff is happening behind the scenes to make it work.


Almost as awesome is the Chrome Remote Desktop app. This is an extension for the Google Chrome browser that enables cross-platform remote access between Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. The only caveat is that both parties must be using the Chrome browser, and then download the app.

Setup is very simple, and requires no download. After giving permission for the app to run, one person clicks the Share button, and the other clicks the Access button. The sharer provides the other party with an access code, and poof! -- instant screen sharing. If you currently use Internet Explorer or Firefox, you can download the free Chrome browser here.


ShowMyPC is a teleconferencing service that offers a free download of an app that enables remote access and sharing. With just three clicks, you can download, install and launch the ShowMyPC app. After starting the app, just click the “Show My PC” button to generate a password you can share with the person(s) you wish to commune with. Uncheck the "Allow Full Control" box before proceeding, if you want to share your screen without giving control of the desktop to remote viewers.

The name implies that only Windows PCs are supported, but Mac and Linux users can play too. A java-based version of the program is required for non-Windows computers. There's one possible bump in the road here. If you took my advice last year and disabled Java in your browser, you'll need to temporarily turn it back on. See my article Is Java Safe and Do I Need It? for more details on that. (If you want to connect Windows PCs only, the Java version is not necessary.)


Screenleap simplifies the screen-sharing process as much as possible. No software needs to be downloaded and installed; no account to set up; no restrictions on the type of device of operating system required to use Screenleap. The free service gives you up to 2 hours of use per day with up to 8 simultaneous viewers of what’s on your screen. Several paid plans offer more hours, encrypted connections, and other benefits.

The downside of Screenleap is that it's one-way sharing only. The person viewing the remote screen can see what's happening on the other person's screen, but cannot control it. So it's nice for someone who wants to show something on their screen to one or more people, but less than ideal for helping a friend remotely. Screenleap is also Java based, so the caveats above will apply.


UltraVNC is designed specifically for tech support applications. It is a free, open-source program developed by people who do tech support for a living, so it has numerous bells and whistles designed for such work. No host software is required with the SingleClick addon. Text chat is supported so you can talk to a client while showing him or her what to do visually. UltraVNC supports multiple monitors for tech support reps who have several clients going at once. It works with Windows and Linux computers. If you turn on the hidden VNC client in Mac OS X, you can connect to a Mac with UltraVNC.

Which Remote Access Tool is Best?

If you want a simple way to quickly connect to another person's computer without the need to install any software, try the Chrome Remote Desktop app. Of course, you and the other party will need to be using the Chrome browser.

If you have a friend or relative who needs frequent help, I recommend that you install TeamViewer on both computers. With a few clicks, both parties can securely connect to initiate a screen sharing session, and even transfer files back and forth if needed. TeamViewer works on any browser, PC or Mac.

ShowMyPC seems like an equally good solution, as long as you're connecting two Windows computers. Screenleap is a nice solution if you just want to share your screen with a few people, without giving them access to your desktop.

You may be looking for something that enables you to login remotely to another computer, without any action being taken on the other end. Maybe you travel with a laptop, and want to login to your home or office computer. Or maybe you have an unattended offsite server where you occasionally need to login. For those cases, I recommend UltraVNC. It allows you to install a small agent program on the remote computer, which sits and waits for your request to login. I use it for the precise reasons given above.

If you have a friend or relative who often needs computer help, these free tools are the next best thing to being right there beside them. They may actually be better, since you don't have to travel to their home in order to help them solve their computer or Internet problems.

Do you have something to say about remote access or screen sharing tools? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 3 Feb 2014


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Most recent comments on "Free Remote Access and Screen Sharing"

(See all 30 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
03 Feb 2014

I recommend http://join.me. Very easy, very powerful, and free; the setup is faster than with TeamViewer, and it does just as much. For people who cannot wrap their minds about the website "join.me", the link "joinme.com" also works.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Join.Me is no longer free, either. BTW, it's a service operated by Logmein.com.


Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
03 Feb 2014

Doug asked: "Here's what I liked about Logmein (and is unclear in this article feature wise). With Logmein, I had my home PC/Server always on and with Logmein Running. When I travel for work, I could connect to the home PC and do things on my home PC without needing someone there to initiate access. A quick id/pw and boom, I'm in. Are there still free products with this capability?"

Yes. TeamViewer will do this, as long as you preconfigure a static password on the host PC; then from the remote machine, you can connect immediately even when the host machine is unattended. It just has to be turned on, and online.


Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
04 Feb 2014

For years I've been providing technical support and emergency computer assistance (especially for virus infections) for my relatives' computers using LogMeIn.com. Hence I was severely disappointed to learn that the free version was being discontinued. I researched alternatives, and TeamViewer looked pretty good. Yesterday while visiting my brother to watch the Superbowl I downloaded TeamViewer onto his computer and was able to connect it to my computer at home. (It was kind of amusing when I then used LogMeIn to connect back, and got one of those infinite regressions with smaller and smaller windows disappearing into the center of the monitor. Fortunately there was split second delay between each new reqression, so I quickly disconnected the feedback connection before it could destroy the entire Internet and end civilization as we know it.)

LogMeIn has a seven day grace period during which the free version can still be used. So I'm busy using LogMeIn to connect to other computers to download the TeamViewer utility onto them so that I'll still have access.

My initial impression is that there's nothing the free LogMeIn version could do that TeamViewer can't, and in fact TeamViewer may have some nice additional capabilities. What could have been a huge inconvenience for me and my relatives -- the end of free LogMeIn -- has turned out to be an inconsequential one.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Whew, sounds like that was a close call! Without that quick thinking, you might have created a black hole. Peyton Manning might have liked it, though... :-)


Posted by:

Lou
04 Feb 2014

On the Teamviewer site, there is a page to aid
in switching from Logmein to TV. I did it and
TV seems to work fine!


Posted by:

George
04 Feb 2014

Thanks for the info about TeamViewer which I was not previously aware of. I have long wanted remote access capability but was never willing to install LogMein because I always thought it was a dish in a Chinese restaurant - sort of similar to ChowMein and I'm allergic to Soy Sauce.


Posted by:

Darryl
04 Feb 2014

I've used LogMeIn, CrossLoop and ShowMyPC before settling on TeamViewer, with Avast! as a backup program in case TeamViewer wasn't working (hasn't happened yet). I found less lag on TeamViewer than on the other programs. And when I had a bit of trouble with an update I found they have a toll-free phone number with very friendly and helpful staff on the other end. So you know where my loyalties lie.


Posted by:

M H Earp
04 Feb 2014

What do you do when Microsoft automatically downloads a new upgrade and then reboots the computer. Without someone at the host to enable LogMeIn, the connection is lost.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Logmein, TeamViewer, and UltraVNC have the option to auto-start at boot time, so this won't be a problem.


Posted by:

lisa
04 Feb 2014

Ammy Admin (Zero-Config Remote Desktop Software)is the tool for me, been using it for years now. Most important, my mother is almost 75 years old and has absolutely no difficulties using it.


Posted by:

Dave Ruedeman
04 Feb 2014

There are a ton of vnc style applications. I use RealVNC of which there is a free version. Some of the free VNC applications are very slow which is why I use RealVNC. It is reasonably fast even with an encrypted connection but you have to pay for that feature.
All vnc apps are completely cross-platform so you can control a Linux Box from a PC which I do all the time.

The downside of using a vnc style application is that you need to access port 5900 on the remote server.

The only other remote desktop that I've used is Webex which works reasonably well. Of course it isn't Free.


Posted by:

Magman
04 Feb 2014

Nice summation here; your thoughts on join.me?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Join.Me is no longer free, either. BTW, it's a service operated by Logmein.com.


Posted by:

BallyIrish Bob
04 Feb 2014

TeamViewer (free non-commercial version) has given me excellence every time I've used it. Highly recommended.


Posted by:

Tem Moody
05 Feb 2014

I followed your recommendation and downloaded & installed TeamViewer. I now have uncontrollable advertising popups. I have uninstalled TeamViewer and the download program that came along with it as well is uninstalling FireFox and reinstalling. I have run Malwarebytes and Ad-Aware and they show no problems. FireFox has blocked 327 popups. Where do I go from here? Thanks for any help.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Tem, I'm positive that TeamViewer was not the cause of the popup troubles. I recommend that you use System Restore to return to a recent prior date, then go back and check the download link you clicked. Most likely you got tricked into downloading something else.


Posted by:

John
07 Feb 2014

As a computer tech private customer base is easy to take over their machines repair or clean them using TeamViewer personal free. I have used this free service for years. The way it works is simple both yours theirs install teamviewer. I install this service for all my clients. Set up everyone with their permission of course.

Their unique User ID and password I insert into my viewer. Do the fixes sign off done. It's that easy. Highly recommend this free program to everyone.

J.Crowder Merced Ca.


Posted by:

DamCar
07 Feb 2014

Sorry Bob, LogMeIn is no longer free. I had been using it for several years, but now wanting to pay for LogMeIn Pro, I moved over to Teamviewer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, I did mention the demise of LogMeIn Free and Crossloop in the article.


Posted by:

Mike Regan
08 Feb 2014

Thanks Bob... Been using TV for a few years now and its made me the occasional buck as well. The frustrating part I find though with TV , probably because I use the portable versions and advise my customers the same also, is both users must use the same version. Not sure if thats the same with the fully installed versions or not. Often times I simply transfer the zip folder via a chat program and its full steam ahead. I will now however try the Chrome ext as you advised as most people I know, except for the odd stubborn one, use chrome anyways.

Thanks again mate... mike


Posted by:

vopthis
08 Feb 2014

Is there still a free version of join.me?

CURRENTLY Yes

http://help.join.me/knowledgebase/articles/272452-is-there-still-a-free-version-of-join-me-


Posted by:

Ellie
10 Feb 2014

This is just what I was looking for, but -- I have DSL at the office, but I'm on dial-up at home. Is remote access reasonable in those circumstances, or will I just be engaged in another Battle in Dial-Up Hell? :-D

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's likely you'll have significant lag if dialup is involved on either end.


Posted by:

Peter Thompson
10 Feb 2014

I'm often helping Family and friends with PC issues and so use TeamViewer on a regular basis. My dad's computer is in our conservatory and so gets cold so I prefer fixing it from my own PC.

The one thing that has made me stick with TeamViewer is its ease of use. While trying to help a friend we tried others first and found them tricky to work alongside their firewall. TeamViewer did bring up the usual Firewall prompts as to be expected but once it was set to allow it worked no problem unlike the others.

The program has been improved vastly lately to. TeamViewer 8 brought the ability to hear sound and view videos in real time and version 9 brought tabbed sessions and copying files from one to another. Add to that the account system which makes TeamViewer one of the best remote access programs out there


Posted by:

Derosoft
11 Feb 2014

I am surprised that no one mentionned that while Teamview may be the best remote software, it is only FREE for private use, and unfortunately, for commercial use, it is very expensive. When I read comments of people helping their "clients" with it, I am surprised that they did not mention the commercial limitation aspect of this superb, albeit expensive software...


Posted by:

11bravo
07 Mar 2014

Teamviewer also has a teamviewer host agent which allows you to login to an unattended computer. Runs as a service, so starts when windows (at least) starts, so will allow you to remote login, reboot, etc., without anyone being at the other end. Very convenient when traveling to be able to login to your home desktop from your laptop. With dropbox enabled, easy to transfer files, at least small ones.


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