Remote desktop software allows you to control a connected computer as though it’s physically in front of you.
Remote desktop tools are useful for technical support, accessing a corporate network when working remotely and collaborating with colleagues.
The remote desktop market is crowded with 100+ options but this guide will help you identify which one is right for you.
Our recommendations are either 100% free or have a free trial available.
Here is our list of the best free remote desktop software:
- SolarWinds Dameware Remote Everywhere EDITOR’S CHOICE A Cloud-based remote access tool that would be a useful support tool for MSPs or in-house IT service departments. This system is also available as on-premises software for installation on Windows and Windows Server. Two options for business with a 14-day free trial.
- ISL Online (FREE TRIAL) A secure cloud-based remote access and remote desktop service that is also available as on-premises software.
- ManageEngine Remote Access Plus (FREE TRIAL) A choice of cloud-based service or on-premises software for Windows. This remote access utility can interact with clients running Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.
- Zoho Assist (FREE TRIAL) Cloud-based support package that includes remote access and remote desktop utilities.
- N-able Take Control (FREE TRIAL) A compact remote control system that includes chat, VoIP, and queuing to serve multiple connections and users.
- TeamViewer A widely-used paid remote desktop system that is free to use for private individuals.
- Atera A remote monitoring and management suite for MSPs that includes Splashtop.
- Chrome Remote Desktop A straightforward, easy-to-access remote desktop system that runs through a Google Chrome browser.
- Microsoft Remote Desktop Free utility provided by Microsoft that enables remote desktop access to devices running Windows.
- Remmina Completely free for individuals and businesses – this is an open-source project and Linux users’ favorite.
How does a remote desktop work?
Remote desktop software has two components. The console and the agent.
The console is software that displays a window on a device that you control that gives you a view onto the remote computer.
The other component is the agent program, which has to be installed on the remote computer.
Ordinarily, the agent is a background process that isn’t noticed by the user of the remote machine. The requirement to install a program on the remote computer means that the owner of that device has to give permission to get the remote desktop agent installed and to run it.
Some remote desktop access systems operate from the Cloud. In these configurations, the console program is accessed online. However, an agent program still needs to be installed on the remote computer that is being accessed or controlled.
Once the console and agents are in place, the user simply logs into the remote machine using their credentials, and their desktop is cast to a window on the device they are using to access the remote computer. At this point, full access is obtained and the user can go about their work tasks from wherever in the world there is a reliable internet connection.
Remote desktop software isn’t new but with organizations becoming increasingly international and teams becoming more mobile it’s fast becoming essential.
Whether you are a remote worker, occasional telecommuter or a network administrator, there is a remote desktop tool on this list that will cover your needs.
The best free remote desktop software
This list of remote desktop software is a mixture of utilities for business and personal use.
What should you look for in free remote desktop software?
We reviewed the market for remote desktop software and analyzed the options based on the following criteria:
- The option to upgrade from a limited free version to a higher paid edition
- A tool that offers direct access to the remote operating system as well as the desktop
- The ability to manage connections to multiple devices simultaneously
- Options for sessions to be attended by the user or unattended
- A system that includes live channels to communicate with the user
- A system that offers team operations for use by support departments
- An easy to use technician console
Dameware Remote Everywhere is a professional support system, so it probably wouldn’t interest home users. However, it is undoubtedly the most competent business remote desktop system for support teams on the market, which is why it gets the number one slot in this review.
- Designed for IT support technicians.
- Cloud-based service or on-premises
- Remote access to devices running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
- Wake-on-LAN, remote desktop, and a technical support ticketing system
- 14-day free trial
Dameware is a remote support software platform that is charged by subscription. However, SolarWinds does offer a 14-day free trial of each of its Dameware products, so you can use this service for free, if only for two weeks.
You can access Dameware as an online service, which is charged by subscription or as on-premises software, which you buy with a one-time payment. The online version is called Dameware Remote Everywhere and the on-premises system is called Dameware Remote Support.
Dameware Remote Support software installs on Windows and Windows Server; Dameware Remote Everywhere isn’t operating system dependent because the console is accessed through a browser.
Both systems can remote access devices running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, and both are made available through mobile apps. With Dameware Remote Everywhere, you pay a subscription per technician, but the service allows each operative to access up to 500 remote devices. The on-premises software of the Dameware Remote Support solution doesn’t have any remote device limitations. However, the licensing of this software is similar to the online version because it is priced per technician.
- Available either on-premise or as a subscription SaaS, giving it more flexibility than competing products
- Accessible via browser, allowing for easy access to the dashboard
- Can support Windows, Mac, and Linux, making it a solid option for networks with diverse operating systems
- No limit on the number of devices, allowing businesses to scale as they hire more technicians
- Can sort, filter, and group remote devices easily
- Would like to see a longer trial period
This software is specifically aimed at IT support departments and managed services providers. Try out a 14-day free trial of Dameware Remote Everywhere.
Dameware Remote Everywhere is our top choice on this list because it gives you the choice of whether to source a remote access system as a cloud-based subscription service or run the software on your own servers. This remote access system features remote control capabilities, Wake-on-LAN, system information scans, and session logging. The system also includes an in-built ticketing system.
The remote agent can install on any desktop or mobile operating system and the technician station can be running Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux.
Start 14 Day Free Trial: dameware.com/dameware-remote-everywhere
OS: Windows, Windows Server, or in the Cloud
ISL Online is a cloud-based remote access system that is also available for on-premises installation. The on-premises version is charged for with a one-time invoice and the online service is billed by subscription.
- Cloud-based or on-premises
- Remote access to devices running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
- 15-day free trial
The software drivers for the system are divided into two groups: services for technicians and remote access agents. The operator module installs on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. This gives the technician access to a hosted control panel that enables sessions to start and run. The remote agent is also available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Both sides of the connection can also be supported by mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile.
As well as giving technical remote access to client computers, ISL Online includes a remote desktop feature that enables Help Desk operators to provide live support to users. The screens for the service can be customized and it is also possible to white-label them, enabling you to put your branding on the dashboard. You not only get a live chat feature within the remote desktop program, live chat software is also included in the ISL Online license at no extra cost.
All connections between the dashboard, the ISL Online system, and the user device are protected by best practice security settings, 256-bit AES encryption, and support for two-factor authentication. The software will also integrate with your existing access rights managers to create a single sign-on environment.
- Available for on-premise or in the cloud
- Agent can be installed on Windows, Linux, or Mac, support a wide range of operating systems
- Intuitive mobile app for both Android and iOS
- Can use a simple integration to enable SSO
- Would like to see a longer 30 day trial period
ISL Online is available for a 15-day free trial which offers unlimited use during the trial period and includes all features of the paid system.
Remote Access Plus is a suite of tools that facilitate remote access of client computers and includes a remote desktop module. The utility is available as a cloud-based service, hosted on the ManageEngine servers, or it can be installed on Windows and Windows Server on-premises.
- Cloud-based or on-premises
- Can access Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
- 30-day free trial
The tool facilitates remote access to client computers that have the corresponding agent software installed on them. This agent can be installed on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. The requirement for an agent requires a level of permission to be given by the owner of the remote computer.
Once the agent is active, the technician using the controller console is able to perform a range of maintenance tasks on the remote computer both manually and through script-driven automation.
The remote desktop facility is augmented by a chat facility that offers text, voice, and video chat between the technician and the user of the remote device. As well as accessing computers for exploration, technicians can turn the computer on or off remotely.
- Offers a suite of tools designed for support technicians alongside the remote access features
- Offers both on-premise and cloud-based deployments
- Uses an easy to navigate interface to browse devices by client, network, or custom grouping
- Offers an ample trial period for testing
- Supports features such as Wake On Lan, live chat, and Take Control options
- While most features are easy to use, some of the more advanced features can take time to fully explore and learn
Remote Access Plus is available in three editions and one of these is free. The Free version is limited to the control of ten client computers. The remote shutdown and Wake-on-LAN features are only available with the higher of the two paid plans, called Standard and Professional. You can get ManageEngine Remote Access Plus on a 30-day free trial.
Zoho produces a wide range of business software and the company also owns ManageEngine, which is a leading supplier of IT infrastructure management software. Zoho Assist is a cloud-based package of remote access services that is ideal for help desk and MSP technicians. The remote desktop in the utility is brandable, so you can put your company’s logo on all of the screens.
- Suitable for MSPs
- White-labeling possible.
- 15-day free trial
The remote connection can only be made with the customer’s consent. All communications are protected by 256-bit AES encryption.
The Zoho Assist package includes a live chat system and an integrated file transfer utility. The technician can open up multiple sessions on the same remote machine, enabling user-visible actions in one window and operating system actions in another. It is also possible for the technician to show the customer his own screen in the interests of giving a system tour or usage instructions without having to grant that prospective buyer an account.
- Cloud-based installation makes deployment simple with no need for on-premise onboarding
- Is a white-labeled product, ideal for MSPs
- Features automation tools that empower technicians to script solutions
- Can execute commands prior to remotely connecting
- Offers mobile report support for both iOS and Android
- More suited for MSPs, and not smaller LAN networks
- Would like to see a longer trial period
Apart from the remote desktop utility, Zoho Assist includes full remote access features that include automation for bulk research and updates across endpoints. Zoho offers a 15-day free trial of the Assist package.
N-able Take Control is suitable for use by support technicians working for an MSP, or for a company’s IT department. This is a particularly interesting service for independent, freelance support technicians because it includes all of the tools needed to communicate with a user that needs help.
- Charged per technician per month
- Cloud-based service
- Client management functions
- For MSPs and outsourced technicians
- 14-day free trial
It even includes a service queueing system.
The service is delivered from the cloud and is charged for by subscription with a rate per technician per month. That means that the entire system is available to independent technicians as well as teams working for MSPs and large organizations.
The remote control access software optionally shows the technician’s actions on the user’s remote screen. It is also possible to access the operating system without going through the desktop of the remote device.
The Take Control system is available at two levels, with the higher level being called Take Control Plus. The higher level is particularly useful for supervised technicians because it includes session monitoring and technician performance reporting functions. Take Control Plus also includes a user survey to evaluate the competence of each technician.
- Built with MSPs in mind, the product can be white-labeled and is designed for multi-tenant use
- Offers a built-in service queuing and ticketing system, making this a good option for newer helps desks looking for those features
- Pricing based per technician, not device
- Supports user surveys to help measure customer satisfaction
- Good fit for both small and large help desk teams
- Would benefit from a longer trial period
The service can be paid for by the month or by the year. The annual payment plan works out cheaper. However, be aware that you have to pay for the service period in advance. SolarWinds offers it on a 14-day free trial.
TeamViewer is an industry leader. This remote desktop system has been installed more than two billion times, which shows its popularity. We put this remote desktop system near the top of our list because it is a very comprehensive commercial product that allows free use by private individuals. However, if you need a remote desktop program for business use, you will have to pay.
- Remote desktop tool
- Can remote access Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, and Android.
- Free for individuals to use
As the name suggests, TeamViewer is aimed at team collaboration and has a number of group communication features that make this more than just a remote desktop sharing tool. These include video conferencing utilities and demonstration broadcasting.
The remote connection tool relies on two-factor authentication to enhance security and all transmissions are protected by 256-bit AES encryption.
- Incredibly easy to use
- Uses 2FA to initiate sessions
- Works well over limited bandwidth connections
- Its popularity makes it a popular target for attackers
- Free version often terminates early and falsely detects commercial use
- Both versions of Teamviewer must be on the same version in order to start a connection
The controller software can be accessed from Android mobile devices. You will be able to access remote devices running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, and iOS. The system also includes a secure file transfer facility and script execution capabilities in the console.
Atera is a support package for managed service providers (MSPs). The service includes all of the utilities that an MSP’s technicians need to manage a remote network and also has a module that assists the managers of the MSP to run the business.
- Suitable for MSPs
- Priced per technician
- Free trial for 30 days
The technician support section of Atera is called a “remote monitoring and management” (RMM) system. It includes remote access software and also automated remote administration scripts for maintaining the client’s system. Another utility in the package is a Help Desk system, which includes a portal for access by the user community and a dashboard for use by technicians when they are working on a ticket.
The Help Desk dashboard gives access to a remote desktop system, which is actually Splashtop, which you read about above. The interface includes a chat system so that the technician can guide and advise the user as he explores the remote endpoint and produces a solution for the problem raised on the support ticket.
- Built for MSPs and larger helpdesk teams
- Works to be an all-in-one solution for remote management
- Available as a lightweight cloud service, lowering startup costs for MSPs
- Could use better automated remediation features
- Moving files over remote connections is clunky at times
- Agents don’t always reflect computer name changes in a timely manner
Atera is a cloud-based service and is accessed through any standard web browser. The service can also be accessed through a special app that is available for free for mobile devices. The platform is charged for on a monthly or yearly subscription per technician. You can get a 30-day free trial and test the Atera system before you sign up for a subscription.
You can use a Google Chrome browser as a remote desktop viewer. A remote support version can be used by businesses and it’s absolutely free to use.
- Part of Google Chrome
- Operates through a standard Google account
- Free to use
You need a Google account in order to use the system, but if you have a Gmail address, then that’s already taken care of. The device that is being accessed needs a program installed on it. This is the agent program. Once that is running you can allow access to anyone by giving them a PIN. The viewer is browser-based and accesses any device over the internet.
The system will work on any operating system that can open Google Chrome and there are also apps for Android and iOS devices. Communications over the internet are protected by HTTPS, which is the same security system that protects credit card information when you buy things on the web.
- Completely free to use
- Easy to install and operate
- Protects communications via HTTPS
- Good for home users and infrequent use
- Must have a Google account to use the product
- Can only be used in Google Chrome
- Not ideal for business use
Microsoft produces a remote desktop connection system that is free to use and grants access to computers running the Windows Professional, Windows Enterprise, or Windows Server operating systems. You can access a remote machine from a mobile device as long as it runs Windows Mobile. It is also possible to use an Xbox One as either the remote device or the accessor.
- Can access Windows Server, Windows Professional, or Windows Enterprise
- Remote desktop utility
- Free to use to access up to ten devices
You can access up to ten devices with one Microsoft account through this program. It doesn’t matter where in the world those devices are because the remote desktop system communicates over the internet. A big advantage of this system is its easy integration into the operating system of your computer. There is no user profile restriction on the use of this software, so businesses can use it for free.
- Completely free to use
- Built right into Windows operating system
- Manageable via Active Directory and Group Policy
- Popular vector of attack for hackers
- Misconfiguration could lead to compromised accounts
- Lacks basic support features like chat
- Only one session can be initiated at once, starting a remote session will kick out the other user
Remmina is an open-source project. Individuals and businesses are allowed to use this remote desktop system for free. There are services on this list that are only available for Windows. Remmina evens the score a little because it is only available for Unix, Linux, Raspberry Pi, and Mac OS. Although you can’t run the console on Windows, the service can contact and control computers with any operating system, including Windows.
- Can access devices with any operating system
- Console software installs on Linux, Mac OS, Unix, and Raspberry Pi.
- Free of charge
The communications options of Remmina deploy a range of protocols, so you can choose between VNC, RDP, XDMCP, or the secure SSH system to reach the remote computer. The console has a tabbed interface, so you can open connections to many remote computers at once. As it is an open-source system, you can also download the code and adapt it to your own requirements.
- Completely free and open-source project
- Lightweight, uses very few resources
- Flexible deployment supports Windows, Linux, and Mac
- Offers multiple remote protocols such as VNC and RDP
- Interface is outdated and can slow down busier helpdesk teams
- No paid support option, reliant on the open-source community
- Not a great fit for businesses looking for all-in-one helpdesk solutions
Choosing remote desktop and remote access software
If you don’t need as much granularity and control over your network and simply need to get some remote tasks done while away from the desk, then you could try some free software like Chrome Remote Desktop, Microsoft Remote Desktop, and Remmina that work well across a wide range of devices and operating systems.
Remote Desktop Software FAQs
What is the fastest remote desktop software?
The fastest remote desktop software can be hampered by poor connections or overloaded CPUs on the host or the agent device. Be careful when reading the sales copy on websites selling remote desktop software because nearly all of them claim to be the fastest in the industry. In practice, sufficient speeds to provide almost instant response times can be achieved with any commercial remote desktop software. A tool that is measurably a millisecond faster than all the others given perfect connection conditions can still be unbearably slow when it’s run over problematic links.
What is the best VNC remote desktop software for remote assistance?
Our research reveals that the top five remote desktop tools for remote assistance are:
- Take Control
- ISL Online
- Zoho Assist
- ManageEngine Remote Access Plus
Is Windows Remote Desktop safer than TeamViewer?
Any internet-connected application can create security weaknesses if it's not properly configured or kept up to date. In this respect, the security risks posed by Windows Remote Desktop and TeamViewer are the same. Apply all available protection measures, such as 2FA, and update the software whenever a patch becomes available to keep TeamViewer secure.
How does remote desktop software differ from terminal emulation software?
A terminal emulator opens up a session on a remote server. This usually involves giving access to an authorized user on that remote server through an account that has already been allocated to that person. A terminal emulator also usually just gives access to the command prompt on the remote device. A remote desktop system serves the desktop environment to the user. This diverts the image usually sent to a screen attached to the computer to the computer that runs the remote desktop controlling software.
What is the best remote desktop software for Mac?
Microsoft Remote Desktop gives access to PCs and laptops running Windows. However, it is also available for Macs. So, you can install this service on your Mac and remotely access a Windows computer.
What is the best remote desktop software for Windows?
There are many remote desktop packages that run on Windows. Microsoft Remote Desktop is the obvious choice because it is already available within the operating system. However, probably the best system that you could opt for would be Dameware Remote Everywhere.