Technology Trends: Remote Desktop Services

Now, not only can you take your work home with you, but you can also work on your office computer without taking it, or anything else, with you when you leave the office.

Remote desktop services will seem like a mixed blessing to those who already find it hard to get away from work, but they offer the convenience of accessing one’s computer hard drive from any other online computer without carrying a laptop. For programs in which budgets are so tight that no portable computers are available, remote desktop makes it possible to work on the office computer using one’s own computer at home.

Using this software, you can access files, e-mails, programs, and in some cases, even stream audio to the client (home) computer. Other than increasing the amount of work one could do from home, it has a couple of applications. IT staff have been using a similar function (remote access) for years, and sellers of software can use it to fix problems on your computer without traveling to your office.

To take advantage of this feature requires some preparation, but chances are good that your computer already has this capability. Both PCs and Macs come loaded with a program called Remote Desktop intended for just this purpose.

There are other remote desktop programs available with additional features, some for free and some for sale. The best known of these are Logmein, which comes as a free download or as a paid upgrade called Logmein Pro. Symantec, maker of Norton Antivirus, has its PC Anywhere. GoToMyPC is another. If your computer is in a university or other firewalled environment, check with your IT support staff on which features are already available to you and which might not work at all in your environment. The features of these beefed-up programs vary but can include running Java, transferring files from remote to client, and running multiple remote sessions at once, a sort of conference call of computers. This is more than most non-IT people need, but who knows? You may find it to be something you never knew you needed until you had it.

What to do

To use any of these, you will need to activate the remote desktop function on the computer you will be accessing remotely. For example, if you want to be able to access office files from home, activate the function on the computer at the office. This must be done while you are at the office. For the vast majority of these programs and in most computing environments, when you leave the office, your computer must be left switched on.

Whether using Remote Desktop or another program, you will then create a username and password. Then, while working at your home computer, access your office computer through your web browser. The remote computer appears as another icon on the desktop of your home computer, which in this case is called the “client.” By clicking through to the remote computer, you will be directly accessing the files found on that hard drive not transferring them to the computer at which you are sitting. That is a different function called file transfer. Some of the remote desktop software vendors offer this function as part of the package.

When accessed, remote desktop services in effect create a secure pipeline into the remote computer. Those concerned about security should know that this is relatively secure—the screen of the remote computer will be blank while you are working remotely, so passersby will not see what you are doing. Although hacking is possible, remote desktop is not a particularly risky activity since it is password protected, and access can be specifically authorized for one other computer’s IP if desired.

Although remote computer desktop software is used by IT professionals for troubleshooting problems remotely, unfortunately, it cannot be used to access a computer that has died. For that, more invasive procedures must be performed on the hard drive itself with no guarantee of success.

This function may also be used to share a work in progress with a colleague in situations where e-mailing the file is not practical, such as when the file is too large to send. For this, however, there are other options, such as cloud computing, which is the subject of next month’s Technology Trend.

Author(s), Presenter(s): 
CYFERNet Technology Team
Year published or updated: 
2008