Use Your Computer From Anywhere: A Guide to Remote Controlling Your PC
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Use Your Computer From Anywhere: A Guide to Remote Controlling Your PC

your home computer is the perfect machine. it’s customized to your exact needs, runs all your must-have applications, and contains all the important files you’d ever need to access. The catch: It’s not exactly practical to carry a computer with you wherever you go. that’s where remote access comes into play. Here are three easy ways to control your home computer from anywhere—your laptop, your phone, or even a friend’s computer—as if you were sitting right in front of it.

blast from the past is a new weekly feature on lifehacker, where we revive old but still relevant posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. this week, since logmein shut down its free service, we are reviving this post on how to remotely access your computer for free. Be sure to also check out our hive five on remote desktop apps, as the ones discussed in this post are just a few of the many available.

Reading: How to connect to home computer

We’ve talked about remote access countless times, but if you’re just starting out, it can be pretty overwhelming. you have a ton of different programs to choose from, some of which only work on certain platforms, and each of which has its own strengths depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. here, we’ll share our favorite remote access methods for different situations, as well as alternatives you can try if our favorite doesn’t work for you.

We’ve listed cross-platform options below for everyone, but there are also windows-only and mac-only programs for people who use the same operating system on all their machines. click your preference below to add your instructions to the guide.

the easiest option: use teamviewer

By far the easiest way to access another computer is to use the awesome cross-platform teamviewer. You’ll need to install some additional software and create an account, but overall it’s pretty simple to set up and has some great features. this is how it works.

  1. download and install teamviewer on both your home and remote computers. launch it and create an account by going to connection > configure unattended access. this will make all of your computers accessible over the internet with just a quick username and password combination.
  2. log in to your account on your home computer. you should see that it has already been added to the teamviewer machine list. leave teamviewer running in the background when you leave home.
  3. run teamviewer on your remote machine and log in to your account. you should immediately see your home computer listed. double click it to start a remote session with that machine.

It really is that simple. Sure, it requires creating an account and downloading additional software, but it’s worth it. you can share files between machines (though not as easily as with windows remote desktop), you can view multiple monitors, and configure advanced view settings to make it work as well as possible. even if you’re trying to connect two windows or two mac computers, you’d still see teamviewer in addition to our platform-specific options below – it’s very good and might give you some advantages over the other options. Note that TeamViewer also has an iOS and Android app, if you want to connect from your phone, as well as a web client, if you’re on a friend’s computer and don’t want to install any additional software on their machine. Plus, it has support for wake-on-lan, which means you can put your home computer to sleep and wake it whenever you want to use it, all without being in front of it. that’s great.

other cross-platform programs

teamviewer isn’t the only cross-platform option, but it’s our favorite for its simplicity. logmein is popular, but it is no longer free. still, with features like drag-and-drop file transfer, file sync, and others, it’s pretty solid. it can only be accessed from a web browser and has a bit more confusing setup, which is why we gave teamviewer the upper hand.

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if you’re connecting from a windows computer to a mac, you can use a screen sharing client like tightvnc or ultravnc to connect to your mac running built-in screen sharing.

windows to windows: use the built-in remote desktop connection

windows users have a lot of options, but we really like the built-in windows remote desktop connection for its integration with windows, the high level of control, and the fact that it doesn’t require any additional software to set it up. Please note that you will need Windows Professional or higher for this feature to be available; Windows Home and Home Premium users should try one of the alternatives listed below, but it’s usually pretty easy to get for a low price. Here’s how to use it to access your windows computer from another windows machine.

if connecting from within your network

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If you’re on the same network as the computer you want to connect to, using remote desktop is pretty simple. just follow these steps:

  1. on the computer you want to access remotely, click the start menu and search for “allow remote access”. choose the “allow remote access to this computer” option. you will get something like the window on the right. you’ll want to check one of the bottom two radio buttons, depending on how you’ll be accessing the computer. if you’re accessing from another windows 7 machine, you can use the more secure “allow connections only from remote desktop with network level authentication”. if you are accessing from other programs or versions of windows, choose the “allow connections from any version of remote desktop” option. click ok when done.
  2. on your remote computer, go to the start button and search for “remote desktop”. choose “remote desktop connection” and type the name of the computer you want to access (such as stevescomputer or livingroom, the name you gave it when you installed windows). (If you’re not sure what your computer is called, go to the start menu, right-click on the computer and scroll down to “computer name”.
  3. click “connect” log in with the username and password you use on your home computer to gain access.

that’s it! this is definitely one of the best ways to connect if you’re just sitting in another room, although it does get a bit trickier if you’re not home.

if connecting from outside your network

If you’re connecting from afar, you’ll need to take a few extra steps: in particular, you’ll need to forward ports on your router. requires a little more initial setup, but you don’t need to install any additional software.

  1. From your home computer, log in to your router’s admin page and forward tcp port 3389 to the computer you want to access, as described in this procedure.
  2. find your home computer public access ip by going to http://whatismyip.org and write down this ip address. Unfortunately, this public IP address could change at any time, leaving you without access. so we recommend that you also use a service like dyndns to create a very simple domain name that you can use to connect your computer and use that instead.
  3. on the computer you want to access remotely, click the start menu and search for “allow remote access”. choose the “allow remote access to this computer” option. you will get something like the window on the right. you’ll want to check one of the bottom two radio buttons, depending on how you’ll be accessing the computer. if you’re accessing from another windows 7 machine, you can use the more secure “allow connections only from remote desktop with network level authentication”. if you are accessing from other programs or versions of windows, choose the “allow connections from any version of remote desktop” option. click ok when you’re done.
  4. once you’ve left the house, go to the start button on your remote computer and search for “remote desktop”. choose “remote desktop connection” and type in the ip address you found earlier (or the name of your dyndns you set up).
  5. click “connect”. log in with the username and password you use on your home computer to gain access.
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From now on, you can connect to your home computer simply by repeating steps 4 and 5.

As you can see, remote desktop requires a bit more initial setup than something like teamviewer, but it can be worth it for the speed and excellent windows integration it gives you. not only does it match the resolution of your remote computer, so it really feels like you’re using that machine, but you can copy and paste text or files by simply pressing ctrl+c as usual in the remote access window, then pressing ctrl +v to paste them to your current computer. I also recommend that you check out the options available in the remote desktop connection program: you can choose which part of your screen to display, whether to display high-quality graphics, which hard drives to share, to share your printer, and much more.

its main drawbacks are that it’s not exactly the prettiest option and that it doesn’t support multiple monitors at all. The resolution thing could also be a drawback for some. I like it because it makes me feel more like I have the computer in front of me, but it will resize all the windows to fit the new resolution and you’ll have to fix them once you get home. I recommend you try both remote desktop and teamviewer, because they are almost equally good in my opinion (although each has its own strengths and weaknesses).

other programs from windows to windows

As I said above, you should definitely try teamviewer as described in the cross-platform section above – it’s just as good as remote desktop, and if you have multiple monitors, it’s probably even better. It will require additional software and creating an account, but it’s worth it. remote desktop seems to be a bit more responsive when typing and clicking, although teamviewer seems much more fluid when it comes to moving around windows. try them both and see which one you like better.

Other popular options for windows include screen sharing clients like ultravnc. tightvnc is also popular (and available on linux), although ultravnc has a bit more features. Both clients also let you access your computer from any web browser, which is nice, but they’re also a bit more complicated than remote desktop or teamviewer.

mac to mac: use built-in screen sharing

os x has a pretty cool screen sharing feature built into the operating system, and you can use it to access any mac from another mac in no time. this is how it is used.

if connecting from within your network

See also: How to Connect Alexa to Lights | Digital Trends

See also: How to Set Up an External Microphone on Your Mac

If you’re on the same network as the computer you want to connect to, using remote desktop is pretty simple. just follow these steps:

  1. on the computer you want to access remotely, go to system preferences and click on the sharing panel. check the box that says “share screen”. then exit system preferences.
  2. on your remote computer, open finder and scroll down to “shared”. find the name of the computer you want to connect to in the “everyone” option, double-click it, then click the share screen button in the upper right corner. Sign in with the username and password you use on your home computer and you should be connected immediately.
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that’s it! From now on, you should be able to connect to your home computer at any time by repeating step 2. However, things get a bit more complicated if you’re away from home.

if connecting from outside your network

If you’re connecting from afar, you’ll need to port forward your router to connect directly to your home computer from the internet. requires a little more initial setup, but you don’t need to install any additional software.

  1. From your home computer, log in to your router’s admin page and forward tcp and udp ports 5900 to the computer you want to access, as described in this procedure.
  2. find your home computer public ip by going to http://whatismyip.org and write down this ip address. Unfortunately, this public IP address could change at any time, leaving you without access. so we recommend that you also use a service like dyndns to create a very simple domain name that you can use to connect your computer and use that instead.
  3. on the computer you want to access remotely, go to system preferences and click on the sharing panel. check the box that says “share screen”. then exit system preferences.
  4. Once you have left the house, open the browser and go to > connect to server. type vnc://12.345.678.90, using the ip address or dyndns address from step two. click connect, log in with the username and password you use on your home computer and you should see the screen sharing client pop up.

From now on, you can connect to your home computer by simply repeating step 4.

screen sharing is very, very easy to set up, but it does have some drawbacks. that is, you cannot share files directly between your remote computer and the one you are currently using. Of course you could use something like dropbox to fix this, but it’s a bit annoying. however, you can copy text on one machine and paste it on the other, so that’s nice at least. And if you use screen sharing frequently, be sure to check out the screen sharing menu mentioned above to get instant access to your machine from the menu bar.

other mac to mac programs

apple has some other remote access options for you in os x. icloud back to my mac is quite similar to screen sharing and is very easy to set up via icloud, although we found it to be slightly less reliable than the built-in method of screen sharing. You can also check out Apple Remote Desktop, which lets you share files, run automation scripts, and do a lot more advanced things, but for the hefty price of $79.

Finally, it also has the cross-platform team viewer, described in the first section. It requires additional software and the creation of an account with the teamviewer service, but you will get better file sharing features and some control over your remote machine. If screen sharing isn’t enough, teamviewer is definitely worth a try.

That sounds like a lot of information, but all of the above options are pretty easy to set up – you just have a lot of options as to how you want to do it. what is your favorite way to connect to your computer remotely? let us know which you prefer and why in the comments below.

thrashem, eddtoro and glo’s photo (shutterstock).

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