5 Free Remote Access Tools for Connecting to a PC or Mac

A woman working on a laptop with a child sitting next to her drawing.Ilona Titova / Shutterstock

Sometimes when you are working from home, you may need to access a computer at your office or other location. Remote access tools allow you to use a computer located elsewhere as if you were sitting in front of it.

Most remote desktop solutions take only a few minutes to install. In addition, as long as the remote computer remains online, the connection should work indefinitely.

Configuring remote access

Remote access requires that you install an “agent” on the machine you want to control. You must do this in person, so you will need to configure it before leaving the office or where the machine to which you want to connect remotely is located.

If you want to install software to be able to access your work computer remotely, be sure to ask your boss or supervisor first. Your employer may have policies that prohibit you from installing remote access software yourself. However, IT can provide you with secure software instead.

After the agent is installed, you can use a remote access client to connect to the remote machine. These are usually small, light applications. Depending on the service you choose, you can use a desktop app, a web browser, or a mobile app to sign in.

contrary to technical support solutions, Which rely on the host inviting or granting access to in-person support staff, the remote access tools are designed with unattended access in mind.

This is why it is important to protect your remote access information and not share it with anyone. If someone else has access to your machine, they can easily use it without your knowledge. Scammers posing as technical support strongly target remote access tools; however, as long as you take adequate precautions, there is not much to fear.

All of the services listed below are free, but some have restrictions depending on how often you use them. If you are relying heavily on remote access tools in the coming months, it may be worth paying for premium access. However, these free tools should suffice for light use.

Chrome Remote Desktop

One of the easiest ways to access a remote computer is Chrome Remote Desktop. For this to work, you must be using the Chrome browser on both computers and be signed in to a Google Account. You will also need to configure the remote access extension on all the computers you want to access.

On the machine you want to access, download Chrome and sign in to your Google Account. Meeting on remotedesktop.google.com/access, click on “Remote Access”, then follow the instructions to add the extension to your browser. Just choose a six-digit name and PIN, and you’re good to go.

You can then access this computer remotely from any Chrome browser, as long as you’re signed in to the same Google Account. To access your remote machine, go to remotedesktop.google.com/access, then click on the machine in question.

You can use Chrome for unattended access and it also supports multiple monitors. Unfortunately, features such as file transfer, remote printing and chat (if using it for remote assistance) are not available. However, you can use a cloud storage service, like Google Drive, to transfer files.

TeamViewer

TeamViewer is a premium remote access tool with a generous free option. While many remote access services charge for unattended access, TeamViewer does not. It is also particularly easy to use and requires little configuration.

To get started, download the TeamViewer application on the computer you want to access. For ease of use, it is best to set up a TeamViewer account and log in. In the main client window, click “Configure unattended access”, then follow the steps to finalize it. You may want to check the “Start TeamViewer with system” box just in case your machine reboots.

To access your remote computer, download the TeamViewer application to your personal computer, then log in. Under the “Computers and Contacts” tab, you should see a list of computers you can connect to; double-click on the one you want and wait for the connection to end.

TeamViewer will sometimes show you advertisements when you use the free version. Although many features are limited to paying customers, you can access features such as file sharing, copy and paste, and remote printing.

Some people noted that TeamViewer restricts access in case of heavy use, as the service is intended to be free for personal use only.

DWService

The DWService Remote Access menu.

DWService is a completely free open source remote access tool that allows you to access a remote computer via a web browser. The service requires that you install a small agent on the remote machine. Versions are available for most major operating systems.

After installing the agent, you can connect to the web interface and connect to this machine remotely. There is no client that you download to connect, which means there are no dedicated mobile apps either. You need to access the service through a browser, which could make it less attractive if you need to use it a lot.

DWService includes some nice extras that you couldn’t expect from an open source solution. These include a simple file transfer interface and command line access for remote machines.

While this option doesn’t have the polish and usability of Chrome or TeamViewer, it’s a solid solution for anyone not afraid of being limited to a browser.

AnyDesk

AnyDesk is a standalone remote access solution that is a great alternative to TeamViewer. It works almost the same way: you open an account, download the AnyDesk app on the machine you want to access remotely, log in, then enable unattended access in the application preferences and set a password.

You can then use the same application on another machine to access your computer remotely. The main reason for choosing AnyDesk over TeamViewer is its focus on slower connections. The application uses a proprietary codec promised by AnyDesk “guarantees a low offset, even at high screen resolutions or bandwidths of only 100 kB / s”.

The application itself is tiny (around 3MB), so it consumes very few resources. The service includes file transfer and clipboard integration, as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android.

TigerVNC

The TigerVNC Viewer menu on a Mac.

Another method you can use for virtual network computing (VNC) is to access a remote computer, but it’s certainly not the most user-friendly option. Unlike TeamViewer or Chrome, VNC requires a fair amount of configuration. You need to configure the ports, set up a Static I.P or use dynamic DNSand manage the security implications of not using encryption.

To use a VNC, you must first install a VNC server. TigerVNC includes both a server and a VNC viewer, except Macs (macOS has an integrated VNC server). Since TigerVNC is not encrypted by default, you will need to install an SSH server, such as OpenSSH, if you want to connect securely.

TigerVNC prioritizes performance over functionality. It does not offer file transfer or remote printing, but the latency is low. VNC solutions are also platform independent, which means that you can use just about any combination of VNC viewer and server, with any combination of operating systems.

If you are an experienced user and you are not afraid of getting your hands dirty, TigerVNC could reward you with a fast and efficient remote access solution. If you are looking for a configuration and forgetting solution, choose another remote access tool.

Configure remote access now

Taking the time to configure unattended remote access on your computer is a great idea. You can then access documents, solve problems when you are away from the office, and have the peace of mind that you can access everything you could need in no time.

If you find yourself unexpectedly working from home, you can also use free video conferencing apps to stay in touch with your colleagues.

RELATED: The 6 best free video conferencing apps

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