Free Remote Access and Screen Sharing
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Feb 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Remote Access and Screen Sharing (Posted: 3 Feb 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved