When you need to solve a problem or troubleshoot issues in your business network, the last thing you want is to disrupt the work of your users or employees. For IT staff, using a remote desktop tool allows access to devices without affecting the end-user.
There are several options available, including free, commercial, and freemium software, to help you focus on troubleshooting problems in the background while end-users continue to be productive. In addition, these kinds of tools can help you to remotely manage storage, network devices, and overall network resources, as well as display devices in stores or devices in remote offices in other cities or countries.
There are many great premium options available, my favorite being SolarWinds® Dameware® Remote Support. SolarWinds is a proven remote support leader in this market, and this is a comprehensive and cost-effective on-premises remote desktop solution useful for smaller businesses as well as large enterprises. SolarWinds also offers a new, cloud-based solution called Dameware Remote Everywhere, for when you want to access remote software from the cloud as a service.
If you don’t need a premium solution, there are also free and freemium choices available, which I’ll go into detail about below. Using these solutions can speed up the process of troubleshooting and significantly reduce mean time to resolution, without needing to interrupt user priorities or productivity.
What Is Remote Desktop Software Used For?
No matter what industry your business is operating in, if you have staff using computers and devices on a network, as well as an IT team or help desk, resolving problems tends to create more problems. In other words, the more there is to do, the more likely this is to interrupt the productivity of your staff.
Incidents taking a long time to resolve can cost companies a lot of money and lost productivity, as well as potential losses in reputation. Research indicates as many as 54% of companies have experienced a problem in the last five years that caused downtime for an entire workday or more. This can cause major issues down the line and can even cause downtime to extend even longer.
When IT staff go to help an end user, they may need to look at the device, connection, or application to determine what’s going wrong. If you need to physically go to each device, you quickly come up against two problems. First, you may be interrupting an end user’s work, as in some cases users could switch to other work unaffected by the error or outage. Second, if your IT staff are walking from desk to desk or traveling from office to office, the amount of overhead time very quickly adds up, and they may miss or neglect other important issues. It might even be impossible for a technician to quickly get to a branch office to fix an issue.
Herein lies the dilemma: issues need to be fixed as quickly as possible before they affect service levels and create losses for the company, but also in an efficient and unobtrusive way. Remote desktop software is the solution, as it can allow you to remotely take over a computer, gaining access to the mouse, keyboard, and programs.
Best Remote Desktop Software
If you’re in the market for free remote access software, I recommend you check out a few different solutions to find the one best suited to your company. Even if you won’t be making a financial investment, it’s still important to take your time and consider several options carefully before you roll out a solution through your entire organization. Among other considerations, you might want a tool with the ability to upgrade to a paid version if desired.
There’s a range of remote connection software on the market, and each one has its pros and cons. To help you make an informed decision, I’ve put together a list of my top picks for the best free remote access software.
Chrome Remote Desktop, developed by Google, can be used over a network to control a user’s computer, including their keyboard and mouse. It was originally developed as a Chrome extension and is now used in conjunction with Chrome but as a separate web portal and server package. Chrome Remote Desktop can be used on Windows, Linux, Mac, and Chrome computers, and cross-platform functionality is available.
Desktop sharing through Chrome Remote Desktop is fully secure, and access is only granted to a specific, identified person (in a business context, this would be the IT staff). Each access is only granted on a one-time basis for extra security. The downside is it can increase time overheads slightly.
Chrome Remote Desktop software is completely free and can be easily downloaded from the Chrome website.
RemotePC offers paid plans, but also includes a high-quality free remote access software and free trials for its paid products. The free version of RemotePC allows you to have one user license and to access one computer. This means it’s not viable for enterprise use, but it will allow you to, for example, access your business computer from home.
The free version allows unlimited remote access to a single machine. It works with “always-on” remote access, meaning you can take complete control of the device at any time, even if it’s switched off. The free version is also platform-independent and includes AR-powered live video sharing, so you can see the screen of the end-user for faster troubleshooting.
Paid versions of RemotePC offer additional features such as file transfer, remote printing, whiteboards, group organization and planning, the ability to create unlimited users, and 24/7 email and chat support. The enterprise version includes a few additional features, such as computer grouping and deployment, remote reboot, and the ability to set roles and permissions for users.
The free version of RemotePC is a great option to check out when you’re trialing software, as it’s reliable and well known in this market.
Remote Utilities can be used either with Windows or on mobile devices with iOS or Android. To use it, you need to install a viewer on the computer you’ll use for the troubleshooting or control—e.g., the IT support person’s computer. You also need to have a host program on each of the computers. You can use the Remote Utility Server to route remote connections, but if both computers are on the same LAN, you can connect between them without a web server.
Remote Utilities allows you to access up to 10 computers for free, and you can access unattended computers if necessary. It integrates with Active Directory, so you can see your AD tree on the control computer. In addition, it allows you to authorize and add permissions on a remote host if the host computer has Windows security authorization enabled.
Remote Utilities also includes tools to set up multiple users and groups if necessary. It keeps connections secure and includes two-factor authentication as an extra security option.
UltraVNC is another easy-to-use free tool for remote desktop access. It can show you the screen of another computer on your screen and allows you to use your keyboard and mouse to control the other computer.
To use UltraVNC remote control software, you need to run a VNC server on the host computer, as well as a VNC client on the computer accessing the host computer for troubleshooting. UltraVNC can be used with various versions of Windows, including XP, 2003, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Windows Server 2003 and 2003 R2, Server 2008 and 2008 R2, and Server 2012 and 2012 R2. Some older versions of Windows will also work with specific versions of UltraVNC. In addition, you can use it with any computer browser that can use Java Viewer.
UltraVNC is completely free, even for commercial use.
Another useful remote control software is Microsoft Remote Desktop. This can only be used on Windows operating systems, including Windows 10 version 10586.0 or higher, Xbox One, Windows 8 Mobile, and Windows 8.1. It can also access PCs running Windows Professional or Enterprise and Windows Server. It’s able to access resources remotely or resources stored or published remotely by IT admins, and it connects through a remote desktop gateway to deal with end-user devices.
All connections through Microsoft Remote Desktop are secure. It also offers simple management tools, accessible in the connection center, to handle all your different remote connections. Its useful tools for remote desktop management include video and audio streaming, so you can get a clear picture of what your user is experiencing.
Finally, it allows you to connect to a device through your phone, so you can perform remote support on the move.
If a Free Remote Desktop Tool Isn’t Enough
Most free tools offer the basic and primary functionality you need for providing high-quality remote desktop support. In addition to allowing you to take over another computer, many include remote chat and messaging platforms and offer portability.
After trying out a few free or freemium tools, you may find you need something with a greater toolset, more features, or a higher level of functionality or service. You may want access to more computers than allowed by your free tool, for example. In this case, you’ll benefit from the free trials offered for premium software.
I find SolarWinds makes the best remote access software on the market. SolarWinds Dameware Remote Support and Dameware Remote Everywhere, discussed at the beginning of this article, are both available as 14-day free trials, during which they are fully functional. This is a great way to determine whether a premium tool is worth investing in.