Windows 7 offers a variety of remote access tools, many of which are designed around the notion of remote assistance, where one user can remotely connect to a second user's PC across a home network or the Internet in order to troubleshoot and fix problems. Remote Assistance is available in all Windows 7 versions and, like other remote access technologies, it works within the client/host model. Here, the host is the PC being accessed and the client is the PC from which you are initiating the remote access. But there are many other instances in which remote access to a PC is desirable. For example, you may want to simply grab a file from your home PC while on the road. Or, as my Windows 7 Secrets co-author Rafael Rivera often does, you can virtually use your home PC, full-screen or in a window, from work, accessing all of your applications and data just as if you were sitting in front of the physical PC.
While all versions of Windows 7 support the client end of this technology, called Remote Desktop Connection, only Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise/Ultimate support the host part. This, of course, is called Remote Desktop Host. So if you're running Windows 7 Home Premium--as most of you are--then you're going to need another solution.
Incidentally, I don't actually use the software I've selected below with the help of SuperSite readers and Windows Weekly listeners. But there's a reason I'm not recommending my own choice here: It's not free. I use, and pay an annual fee for, something called LogMeIn Pro. This software solution provides a variety of services in addition to simple remote PC access, and it works with Windows Server. But there is also a free version of this service, and I list that below too.
It's also worth noting that Live Mesh, discussed in Part 2 of this series, has basic remote access capabilities too. It isn't as full-featured as dedicated remote access products--it doesn't offer the kind of display fidelity you'd want for regular use--but it's nice to have in a pinch.
OK, let's dive right in.
Remote Desktop replacement:
Description: UltraVNC is powerful, easy to use and free software that can display the screen of another computer (via internet or network) on your own screen. The program allows you to use your mouse and keyboard to control the other PC remotely. It means that you can work on a remote computer, as if you were sitting in front of it, right from your current location. If you provide computer support, you can quickly access your customer's computers from anywhere in the world and resolve helpdesk issues remotely! With addons like SingleClick your customers don't even have to pre-install software or execute complex procedures to get remote helpdesk support.
Notes: UltraVNC uses slightly different terminology than Remote Desktop, so the host is considered the server and the client is considered a "viewer." Also, be sure to install all of the Vista-based add-ons, since these apply equally to Windows 7. By default, UltraVNC works like an interesting combination of Microsoft's Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop tools, in that a connected client actually accesses the live screen, even if a user is interacting with it. (With Remote Desktop, the current user is logged out.)
Also, UltraVNC is just one of many VNC-based remote access tools. If you have more advanced needs, you may want to check out this Wikipedia chart listing different remote desktop solutions and their capabilties.
Using UltraVNC to access my desktop PC from my laptop.
Other alternatives to Remote Desktop Host
Here are some other reader recommendations for Remote Desktop Host replacements that you may want to check out.
Description: Gbridge is free software that lets you remotely control PCs, sync folders, share files, and chat securely and easily. An extention of Google's gtalk service, Gbridge automatically forms a collaborative, encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network) that connects your computers and your friends' computers directly and securely. Gbridge has many unique features, including VNC-based desktop sharing, SecureShare, AutoSync, and EasyBackup.
Description: LogMeIn Free gives you remote control of your PC or Mac from any other computer with an Internet connection. Simply install LogMeIn on the computer you want to access (it takes about 2 minutes), log into your account from another computer and click the computer you want to control. You'll see its desktop and be able to use all the applications on your remote computer as if you were sitting in front of it - even if you're across town, across the country, or across the world. LogMeIn Free works with PCs and Macs.