How to Access a Computer Remotely

What is “accessing a computer remotely”?

According to some estimates, there will be an average of 6.6 network-connected devices per person in 2020. Right now, at this very moment, most of us have at least two – a computer and a smartphone from which we do our work.

This means that there is always the chance that the data on one of our devices won’t be on the other one, and the only way we can access such data is by remotely connecting to the device it is stored on. Of course, we are assuming that the device is physically unreachable, in a remote location but also connected to the Internet.

Thus, the only way to access that device is by using a remote connection tool.

Although we get into a lot of detail below, here are the three best remote connection tools:

  1. SolarWinds Dameware Remote Everywhere (FREE TRIAL) the complete tool for professionals looking to connect to numerous computers on larger networks.
  2. TeamViewer the world’s most popular tool that allows users to connect with more hosts because there is a good chance they are already using it.
  3. RemotePC the remote access tool of choice for companies with a variety of operating systems on their network; this is a great cross-platform remote access tool.

So, going back to the definition, we have:

A remote connection tool is an application that allows you to access a computer, its data, and the command of any peripheral devices that are connected to it. The tool is enabled on the host (the remote target computer) and guest or client devices (the one currently accessible to you) and creates a secure tunnel that can then be used to access the host device.

Reasons to access a computer remotely

There are many reasons why someone would want to remote access a computer; among them we have:

  • Access data in whatever format and no matter what operating system seamlessly using remote connections.
  • The need to use applications that are only found on the host device.
  • You want to connect to, and use, hardware that is connected to the remote computer – like a printer, for example.
  • Administrators might need to monitor jobs, services, and devices remotely.
  • Maybe you are a network or systems administrator, and perhaps the best way of troubleshooting issues on your clients’ computers would be to remotely connect and see the issues firsthand – you don’t even need to communicate with the users.
  • You can run any number of jobs simultaneously; sitting at one console, you can run numerous jobs – on as many operating systems – by simply starting up a remote session.
  • Teams that need to collaborate on a project using data, applications or resources located on a remote computer or network can use remote connection tools.
  • Do you need to access a device after the office has shut down, or is in another time zone? You can simply remote into it.
  • Perhaps, you would prefer to work from home today – well, remote access is the way to work like you were in the office.
  • You want to cut costs by having more than one person work on a single machine; shared data or applications can be stored on one remote device for everyone to share.
  • You can also cut costs by sharing applications and software – why pay for numerous licenses when you can simply let everyone share one of each?
  • Apart from cutting costs, you can also reduce your carbon footprint by sharing devices.

Is it legal?

Ok, let’s just put it this way: it is legal for you to remotely access devices that you have specifically been granted access to. This usually means you have a username and password assigned to you by administrators. And, as long as you use the remote host just as you’re supposed to, you’re good to go.

But then, if you misuse the remote resources, overstep your granted privileges, and disregard existing IT policies you can be sure it is illegal.

In other words: all the rules that apply on the host computer’s network apply to you too – no matter where you may be accessing it from.

Remote access methods

There are four main ways of remotely accessing a computer. They are:

  • Using the computer’s own operating system
  • Using built-in tools
  • Using a browser
  • Using third-party tools

Using the computer’s own operating system

Computer operating systems come with programs, commands, and settings that you can manually run or configure so you can access shared resources remotely.

For example, Microsoft Windows (all versions) offers the NET SHARE command which is used to create shared folders (with read or write privileges), that can then be accessed remotely, mapped to, and used as an external (remote) storage device.

net share

In the image above, a folder (“TestFolder”) has been shared as “MySharedFolder” for public access. Anyone who would want to make use of it can do so using the NET USE command.

net useconsole showing mapping

Finally, to make use of the folder, all a user would need to do is map it as Drive “Y:” like in the following example:

mapped drive example

You can learn more about connecting using your DOS command line (as well as how to do it using the Windows GUI itself) by going here.

Using built-in tools

Microsoft has had Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), a proprietary protocol, and its accompanying interface available to the public since the days of Windows NT 4.0. Today, any machine that can run the tool can connect client computers that have been configured to accept connections.

Remote Desktop Connection

With Microsoft Remote Desktop, you can remotely connect from almost any Windows machine or smart device on the planet to another one.

Using a browser

Another great way to connect to a remote computer is with the help of a browser. Yes, believe it or not, there is one browser that allows you to connect to your computer remotely: Google Chrome.

Chrome Remote Desktop is a Chrome extension that is installed on the browsers on both ends of the connection. Once set up, a secure connection is made between the two devices which then allows remote access.

Now, Google offers remote access via a browser. All you need is to:

  • Go to its dedicated Remote Desktop website.
  • Download Chrome Remote Desktop Extensions – remember, you will need to use Chrome or Torch browsers.
  • Open the extension.
  • Configure both devices’ names, passwords, and if it is to serve as either a host or a client.

Once done, you’re all set. If you have problems setting up your connection, here’s a guide you can follow.

Using third-party tools

Finally, we have third-party tools you can use to connect remotely to a computer. Some of the best remote connection tools out there include:

SolarWinds Dameware Remote Everywhere (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWindws remote control secrets-vault

SolarWinds Dameware Remote Everywhere comes by way of one of the leading companies in the network technology market. With SolarWinds, every product’s quality is guaranteed, but let’s look at a few features:

  • This is a remote access tool that is ideal for larger companies with IT departments controlling a large number of computers.
  • It can run on operating systems including Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android – pretty much anything a business may have running.
  • Dameware makes sure your data is safe at all times due to its end-to-end encryption of general data, images. It has Simple File Transfers as well as strong encryption for authentication and session negotiation using multiple encryption algorithms.
  • Apart from individual computers, this remote tool can be used to administer Active Directory (AD) controls and even allows management of user accounts.

SolarWinds Dameware is a heavy-duty tool that has no drawbacks whatsoever; any administrator would be able to do a professional job using it. The only hindrance would be the rather hefty price tag as only a large-ish company would be able to afford it. SolarWinds offer a 14-day free trial.

SolarWinds Dameware Remote Everywhere Download 14-day FREE Trial

TeamViewer

Team Viewer

Needless to say, TeamViewer is one of the biggest players in the remote access tool markets. TeamViewer is a tool that is designed for the corporate environment and it comes armed with a lot of extra features like:

  • Recording of audio and video streams.
  • The ability to run scripts remotely.
  • VPN capabilities for an even more secure connection, on top of the end-to-end encryption.
  • Multi-monitor support is so fast and smooth that the sessions are seamless.
  • TeamViewer easily integrates with other productivity suites to create presentations, or make calls, for example.
  • Collaboration is made easy by working or presenting on a virtual machine so anyone anywhere can see the same screen on a desktop as well as mobile devices (iOS as well as Android).
  • Easy file-sharing options including cloud storage.
  • Remote use of printers that are connected to the host device.

As we have seen, TeamViewer is indeed a remote connection tool that would allow professionals to perform advanced tasks. But, here too, the only hindrance is probably the price tag – TeamViewer is rather on the pricey side when compared to other similar business products.

For those who want to experience TeamViewer on a non-commercial or personal basis though, their free version will deliver all the features present in the premium one.

RemotePC

With RemotePC we have a remote connection tool that works on almost any platform: Windows, macOS, iPads, iPhones, and Android on tablets or phones.

RemotePC Control Dashboard

More amazing features from this remote access tool include:

  • All it takes to transfer files from the remote computer to yours is a drag-and-drop action.
  • View as many screens of the remote computer as you may need on one machine or share a single screen on as many monitors as you wish.
  • Teams can collaborate on a single machine which is made effective with the help of a whiteboard they can draw on during sessions; that is in addition to the chat capabilities of the tool.
  • Administrators can send invites to bring more people on board for a group session or give them one-time access that expires once they log out.
  • You can listen to audio files on the remote machine.
  • Keep track of changes made on the host machine using logs and reports about your remote connection.
  • While an application can be downloaded for connections, RemotePC also allows sessions over the Internet; that is, you can use your browser for remote access.

Again, the price is the only thing we can complain about here too. Apart from that, this is also another excellent remote access tool.

Pros and cons of each method

Now that we have had a look at the methods, and some of the more popular tools that can be used, let us go through some pros and cons of opting for each one:

Pros

  • Using the computer’s own OS – users who can navigate this method of connecting to and sharing, devices can rest assured that the commands will work as expected, won’t require extra software requirements, and will also be found on all machines that have complete operating systems running on them.
  • Built-in tools – this method is best because the tools are provided by the operating system and hardware makers themselves, which means they are optimal and safe remote access tools.
  • Browser – this is arguably the best option because we all use browsers and it is a handy and familiar affair; browsers are also light and don’t leave a large digital footprint.
  • Third-party tools – this is a reliable remote connection option because the tools are usually created with the intent of being commercially competitive and generating sales; to make money, they must be secure and reliable.

Cons

  • Using the computer’s own OS – issuing commands and tweaking configurations using command-line interfaces can be a challenge, even to an IT expert. Commands will require perfect syntax and although relatively advanced tasks (like printing a document) can be performed remotely, there will still be some limitations.
  • Built-in tools – if you take a look at most of these tools you will notice that they don’t come with extra features; in most cases, they offer just the bare necessities.
  • Browser – this option will limit your connectivity because not all browsers have remote connection features and even when it does, your browser (at either end) might be configured wrong because it needs certain settings to be used in its particular network environment. For example, it might be behind a proxy or firewall that doesn’t allow remote access, the settings may be controlled by an administrator who has disabled required services, revoked your configuration or modification privileges or you might simply not be a fan of Chrome.
  • Third-party tools – as we have seen, the best of them will always come at a hefty price. But, then again, just because they are expensive doesn’t mean they will deliver on their promises or be entrusted with access to your computers and data. Also, if you try to connect to a corporate computer, the administrators might not allow remote tools to be used on their networks.

What to look for in a remote tool

Finally, let us list some of the features you should look into before you choose your remote access tool. These include:

  • Security: password verification on both sides and encryption of data in transit should always be at the forefront of your mind.
  • Trustworthiness: make sure your tool isn’t a Trojan horse or any sort of malware that can harm your computer or compromise any device that it connects to.
  • Flexible connectivity: in an age when people can go online and work using almost any number of devices, it would make sense for your remote connection tool to be able to run from just as many devices and operating systems.
  • Audio and video-enabled: for real-life experience, it would be best if the remote tool had audio support so you can interact with others, listen to the remote devices’ sounds, and even stream videos remotely.
  • File transfers: there is almost always a need for transferring files (including to and from the cloud) from one device to another when it comes to remote access.
  • Remote printing: in case there is a need to get hard copies, it would make sense that the tool allows for remote printing.
  • Collaboration: there might come a time when more than one person, from different locations, will need to access or conference on one machine; a good remote tool will help with this.
  • The price: free is good, but sometimes you may have to pay for quality.

We hope we have been able to guide you on how to remote into a computer. If you have a preferred way of remote access, we would love to hear about it. Share it with us in the comments section below.