Desktop computers aren't just antiquated behemoths quietly gathering dust in your parent's house. They also offer an often overlooked processing resource for mobile users and a viable alternative to cloud-based storage. All you need is a means of accessing it remotely.
For three of the most common consumer operating systems—Windows, Mac, and Chrome—the initial setup process is essentially the same: setup the admin program on the "local" computer (the one you'll be using), setup a client program on the "remote" computer (the one you'll be accessing), then create a network connection (likely over the Internet) between the two. However each OS has its own install wrinkles, so let's go over the process in order.
Run a Remote Windows Rig
Windows uses a baked-in remote access program known as Remote Desktop Connection and, so long as you have two computers with Windows (or at least a Mac running the WinRDC client) and an Internet connection, you'll be able to access the programs, files, and network resources from one on the other.
Before you get started, however, make sure you have login access to both systems (and if your user account doesn't have a password, you'll need to add one before the system will allow a remote connection). Also, if you're trying to access a remote PC with a local Mac, first download and install WinRDC from the Mac App Store.
Please also note that RDC only works on select editions of Windows. Any local system running XP or above can initiate a connection but the remote has to be using one of the following Windows editions: Win 8/8.1 Pro or Enterprise; Win 7 Pro, Enterprise, or Ultimate; Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultima; and Win XP Pro.
To Setup the Remote PC:
- Log onto the remote PC, open up the search function and type "Allow Remote" to bring up the System Properties dialog box.
- Under the Remote tab, click "Allow remote access to your computer" dialog to enable remote access. Also, click the Select Users radio button, and in the Remote Desktop Users dialog box, click Add. Then, enter the location and user name of the PC you want to be able access this remote system.
- Alternately, you can set a static IP address on the remote PC—this is accessible from Network and Sharing Center -> Change Adapter Settings. Select the adaptor you're most often using (either a wireless card or Ethernet connection), right click to select Properties. Select Internet Protocol Version 4 from the connection list, click the Properties button below and set the IP to static.
- Under the Computer Name tab, create a name for the computer if it doesn't already have one. Make a note of the name, domain and the Workgroup, you'll need them later when you access the PC from elsewhere.
- Turn off sleep and hibernation on this remote PC as well. RDC only works if both systems are powered on with Internet connectivity.
To Access the Remote PC:
- Open the Remote Desktop Connection on your local PC, enter the full computer name of the remote PC (user, domain, workgroup), and log in. Bing, bang, boom—you should now be connected with full access to your remote PC.
Run a Remote Mac
Few features exemplify the difference between Macs and Windows like remote desktop connections. While Window's RDC only works on some OS editions and requires a moderate dive into the inner workings of your rig's networking, Apple Remote Desktop "just works".
Seriously, just install the admin version of Apple Remote Desktop 3 from the Mac App Store on your local computer and wait for it to find other enabled computers on the network either via bonjour or, for more advanced users, via network address range or DNS lookup. Everything above 10.3 Panther includes an integrated ARD3 client. Once, it's installed the client devices should all appear in the admin program's main computer list, allowing for easy and secure access (ARD3 runs 128-bit AES encryption) to all of the files on them. [Apple 1, 2]
Run Anything With a Chrome OS Rig
While Apple and Microsoft make only the barest of efforts at interoperability, Google has taken a more OS agnostic approach to remote system control. In fact, since Chrome OS works through the browser, virtually any Mac, PC, or Linux rig can receive remote assistance (basically screen sharing and temporary admin control) and both Macs and PCs running 10.6 and XP respectively, can grant full file and resource control to a remote Chromebook. As long as it's running the Chrome browser, you're set.
Security's quite tight while using Google as well. As the Chrome Remote Desktop detail page explains:
While your connection setup is mediated by Google's servers, your actual remote desktop session data are sent directly from the client to the host, except in limited circumstances where they may pass through Google relays. Google can't let anyone but you access your computer though because of the PIN or Access Code you use when you share it (which client and host verify without ever disclosing it to anyone, even Google). The PIN/Access Code and SSL encryption combination also ensures that when you do connect to your host, whether peer-to-peer or relayed, no one can see your data, not even Google.
None of your session data is ever recorded, and no session data is transmitted in a way that would let Google or anyone else (besides the participants) access it.
To Access a Remote Chromebook:
- Open the Chrome Remote Desktop app page in the Chrome Web Store on both your remote and local systems. and add the app. The CRD app will now be available from the apps folder in your Chromebook.
- Open CRD on both systems, run the initial setup, and grant it access to the various permissions it asks for like the ability to see your email address, find Chrome Remote Desktop computers, and receive and send chat messages. If you want to full control of the remote system, also grant it authorization to "perform these actions while you're not using the application".
- Open a new Chrome browser tab, launch the CRD app from the apps folder, and select whether you want to provide Remote Assistance or Remote Access. Then, just click Enable remote connections.
Setting Up a Remote PC or Mac:
Got a Google account and have Chrome installed on the remote computer? Good, you're all set.
- Open a new tab in Google Chrome. If you haven't already added the CRD app to Chrome yet, do so now. Launch the app from the Chrome Web Store, set the PIN that you'll use to validate sessions between the two devices. You should only do this once during initial setup so make sure you don't forget that pin.
- Select which computer you'd like to connect to from the dropdown list, enter the PIN that you set up for the computer, and click Connect.
- That's it you're done. Just make sure that both computers are registered to the same Google account and you should be all set.
While you may run into a few hiccups during the connection process (like, say, spending 2 hours wondering why your Win 8 rig won't connect only to discover you lack the proper OS iterations) once you do have your mobile menagerie all on the same page, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.