In this digital age, many of us have become inextricably dependent on our computers, needing them to perform an awful lot of tasks. Some of us have made so many customizations on our personal computers to help us work faster, and we’ve stored a lot of files on them too.
But sometimes, we need to travel without our personal computer, or for some other reason, have to be without it. True, with cloud storage and file sync apps like Google One and Dropbox, you can get access to your files from anywhere. However, nothing beats the convenience of working directly on your most beloved computer.
This article identifies two major options you have to remotely control your computer from anywhere in the world.
Option #1: TeamViewer
Unsurprisingly, TeamViewer tops the list, and the reasons are obvious:
- It requires minimal set-up effort and you can be up and running in a short time with little or no tech skills.
- It works across multiple operating systems.
Here’s how to setup TeamViewer…
Step 1: Download and install the latest version of TeamViewer on both your local computer and your remote computer.
To make things easier for you, go ahead and click Grant easy access. Clicking this opens a smaller window that prompts you to login or signup for a TeamViewer account. By signing up for an account and granting easy access, you can connect between your computers anytime with ease – using just your username and password combination.
“Granting easy access” serves as a one-time authentication for all your future connections (as long as you remain signed in on the TeamViewer application in each computer).
When you first sign up for a TeamViewer account, you will need to click the account confirmation link sent to you via email.
If you plan to remotely connect to your home computer from work, don’t forget to leave your home computer running when you leave the house. The TeamViewer application should be running on it too.
Step 2: To login to your TeamViewer account, you can head over to login.teamviewer.com or better, do so on the TeamViewer app directly. If you go through the web, you’ll see a list of machines you’ve added for easy access. Selecting the machine brings you back to the desktop TeamViewer app and starts a session with the remote computer. If you go directly via the desktop app, you get pretty much the same result, except that everything happens right in the app.
What Can You Do With TeamViewer?
It’s already clear that it’s primary function is remote connection. With TeamViewer, you can also view multiple monitors and share files. With a good number of options available in the app, you can tweak the settings to optimize the remote control experience.
Another really cool feature of TeamViewer is its support for Wake-on LAN. With this feature, you can boot up a remote computer without even needing to be in front of it. So if you need access to your home computer while at work, but forgot to leave your home computer running, Wake-on LAN lets you send a special packet to your home computer remotely and magically boot it up! Cool eh?
TeamViewer’s Wake-on LAN feature is a paid feature though. So I won’t be discussing the setup here. Everything else we covered on TeamViewer above is available in the free “Personal/Non-Commercial” version.
Option #2: Remote Desktop Connection Or RDP (Windows Only)
Even without third-party software, Windows users can connect to their machines remotely. The out-of-the-box solution for Windows is the Remote Desktop Connection app. But there’s a small catch: the Remote Desktop Connection app is only available on Windows Professional or higher. If you only have the home edition of Windows, you don’t get this feature.
Besides the pro version limitation, Windows RDP has some interesting perks: it’s deeply integrated with the operating system, doesn’t require any extra software, and offers you lots of options, putting a lot of power in your hands.
Connecting From Within Your Local Network
If both the remote and local machines are in the same building, say, the same house or office, they’re probably on the same network. In that case, you have three simple steps to follow:
Step 1: First, you have to prepare the local computer (the one you plan to access remotely) to accept remote connections.
So, from the start menu, search for “remote settings”. You should quickly find the Control Panel settings screen to allow remote settings to your computer.
Check the second radio button close to the bottom of the screen to Allow remote connections to this computer.
I like to leave my settings as shown above. But if your local and remote computers are on different versions of Windows, you may want to uncheck the box labelled “Allow connections only from computers running Remote Desktop with Network Level Authentication (recommended)”.
Click Apply, then OK.
Use this opportunity to note down the computer name of this machine that you plan to access remotely. We will use this computer name in the next step.
If you’re not sure what the computer name is, right-click on My Computer (in older Windows versions), or right-click on any blank space within the This PC explorer in more recent versions. Select Properties.
In the Window that opens, the item labelled Computer Name is the name of your computer. Just take note of it.
Step 2: On the remote computer (the one from which you are going to be starting and running the RDP session), search for “remote desktop” from the Start menu. Select the Remote Desktop Connection application. Type in the name of the computer you want to access (the computer referred to in the above step).
The computer name you provide here is the one you noted in the above step.
Step 3: Click Connect, then login with the username and password you use on the machine to which you are trying to connect.
Pretty straightforward eh? You can now use the remote computer as though it were right in front of you.
Connecting From A Remote Network
To connect from another network, you cannot just use the computer name as done above. You’ll need to go an extra mile and do a little bit of more tech stuff. Assuming you want to be able to connect to your home computer or server while at work, follow these steps.
Step 1: Complete everything in Step 1 of the above section (“Connecting From Within Your Local Network”). With one exception though… this time, you really don’t need the computer name. We will be working with the an IP address instead.
Step 2: Forward TCP port 3389 (the port used for Windows Remote Desktop Connection protocol) on your home network to the computer you want to be able to access remotely. You will need to do this on your router’s administration page.
Since port forwarding is actually a whole topic of it’s own, I have explained what you need to know about it in a separate article. That article includes everything you need to know about how to perform the forwarding of port 3389.
When you have properly setup port forwarding, your home computer is ready to receive incoming RDP connections. Now, complete the rest of the steps below.
Step 3: Using a service like What Is My IP Address get the IP address of your home computer. Write down this IP address. You will need it when connecting remotely.
Since the above IP address is very likely a residential IP address assigned by your ISP, the IP address is not static and will change from time to time. How frequently this happens depends on your ISP. In my experience, this could take months or even up to a year.
If you want to be sure your remote computer’s endpoint remains the same no matter any changes your ISP might make, my port forwarding article recommends using services like DynDNS or No IP to assign a user-friendly and permanent domain name to your home router.
Step 4: Once you have all of the above steps completed, you’re ready to connect to your home computer from your work computer. On the work computer, search for “remote desktop” from the Start menu. Select Remote Desktop Connection. If you’re using your computer’s IP address, type it in the field provided. Else, type the domain name you created on the DNS service of your choice.
Click Connect and login with the credentials you use on your home machine.
TeamViewer Versus Windows RDP: Pros And Cons
When connecting from outside your network, it can be argued that TeamViewer is easier than Windows RDP. Especially since you don’t need to do any very techie stuff like port forwarding when using TeamViewer. But read further as I compare both options in more depth.
TeamViewer lacks the deep Windows integration that Remote Desktop Connection offers. The RDP experience looks very native and let’s you preserve your remote machine’s resolution. You’d actually feel as if you’re sitting in front of your home computer.
With RDP, you can share a printer, select which drives to share, choose the quality of graphics to display, and decide on how much of your display you want to show (just to mention a few). User interface, crispiness, and easy copy and paste features (among others) are also obviously better with RDP. And once RDP is setup, you usually don’t need to completely redo the configuration again.
One of the greatest selling features of TeamViewer is the fact that it supports cross platform remote connections which regular Windows RDP does not. With TeamViewer, you can connect from Windows to Windows, Windows to Mac, Linux to Windows, Mac to Linux, and so on.
Since the TeamViewer app is available on both Google Play and Apple App Store, you can download the app and use it to control your machine from your iPhone or Android device. This extra layer of flexibility certainly gives Teamviewer an edge.
Unlike TeamViewer, however, RDP will never bug you to pay (or even outrightly disable your ability to initiate connections) if they suspect you may be using it for business (whether or not you really are).
TeamViewer disabling my ability to initiate connections (because they suspect I might be conducting business with their free “personal/non-commercial” version) is one of my major gripes with the otherwise great piece of software.
RDP remains my personal favorite method of accessing my own machines remotely. But I keep TeamViewer handy as a backup – more on this below.
Using TeamViewer As A Backup For Windows RDP
One of the reasons I keep TeamViewer as a backup is because I use my home network’s public IP directly (as opposed to using a domain name service).
When using my public, non-static IP address for connections, my ISP may sometimes change my IP address without my knowledge. If this has happened and I subsequently have a critical need to connect to my home computer from outside, regular RDP cannot help me.
In such cases, TeamViewer comes to the rescue. I just make the connection to my home computer via TeamViewer, locate the new public IP address of my home network, disconnect TeamViewer, and then reconnect RDP using the new IP address of my home network. Easy.
TightVNC is a pretty good tool too. The same goes for UltraVNC, though it seems to have some more features. They both let you access your computer from any modern browser, but they’re more complicated that the first two options we considered and may not be favorites for non-techies.
Like TeamViewer, these other options usually also have cross-platform support.
Do you depend on remote machine access for your day-to-day? Share your favorite options or thoughts in the comments section below.