Remote desktop tools aren’t new but with organizations becoming increasingly international and teams becoming more mobile they’re fast becoming essential.
A search for remote desktop software reveals a myriad of options. It can be overwhelming navigating past rogue tools, confusing interfaces, and buggy services.
We’ve trawled the market to bring you the best remote desktop tools currently out there – even better our recommendations are either 100% free or have a free trial available.
Here is our list of the best free remote desktop tools:
- SolarWinds Dameware EDITOR’S CHOICE A Cloud-based remote access tool that would be a good 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.
- Atera (FREE TRIAL) A remote monitoring and management suite for MSPs that includes Splashtop.
- SolarWinds Take Control (FREE TRIAL) A compact remote control system that includes chat, VoIP, and queuing to serve multiple users.
- Zoho Assist (FREE TRIAL) Cloud-based support package that includes remote access and remote desktop utilities.
- 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.
- TeamViewer A widely-used paid remote desktop system that is free to use for private individuals.
- 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 from for individuals and businesses – this is an open-source project.
How does a typical remote desktop setup work?
A remote desktop tool 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 and isn’t noticeable by the user of the remote computer. 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 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 computer 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 where ever in the world there is a reliable internet connection.
The best free remote desktop tools & software
This list of remote desktop software is a mixture of utilities for business and personal use.
Dameware 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.
Dameware is a remote support 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 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 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 Dameware Remote Support 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.
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 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. Start 14 Day Free Trial: dameware.com/dameware-remote-everywhere OS: Windows, Windows Server, or in the Cloud
The remote agent can install on any desktop or mobile operating system and the technician station can be running Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux.
Dameware 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.
Start 14 Day Free Trial: dameware.com/dameware-remote-everywhere
OS: Windows, Windows Server, or in the Cloud
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.
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.
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.
SolarWinds MSP 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. 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 access software optionally shows the technician’s actions on the user’s 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.
The service can be paid for by month or by 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 for a 14-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.
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 computer, 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.
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 free trial of the Assist package.
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.
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 dashboard 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 whitelabel 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 procedures, 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.
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.
The tool facilitates 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 remoter 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.
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.
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.
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 tool. These include video conferencing utilities and demonstration broadcasting.
The connection system relies on two-factor authentication to enhance security and all transmissions are protected by 256-bit AES encryption.
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.
You can use a Google Chrome browser as a remote desktop viewer. A remote support version can be used by businesses and it absolutely 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.
Microsoft produces a remote desktop 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 computer from a mobile device as long as that device is running Windows Mobile. It is also possible to use an Xbox One as either the remote device or the accessor.
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.
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.
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.
Choosing remote desktop software
Whether you are a remote worker, occasional telecommuter or a network administrator, there is a tool on this list that will cover your needs.
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.