InfoWorld review: Free remote access tools for Windows and Mac

The best free tools combine firewall friendliness with easy remote access and an amazing array of handy features

For anyone whose work follows them wherever they go (and whose doesn't?), a remote access solution is an easy sell. With a remote access tool, your office computer can be reached from home, your home computer can be reached from the office, and both can be reached from your hotel in Omaha or Maui or wherever you happen to be. Remote access means nothing ever gets left behind -- except maybe your laptop.

Best of all, a good remote access tool doesn't have to cost you a dime. There are plenty of good free tools available, and some of them are downright excellent. In this review, I examine seven of the most popular free remote access tools available for Windows and, in four cases, Mac users. Many of the free tools listed here also have paid versions that offer additional features (such as support for remote printing) or licensing (extra host computers or clients). For some users, the paid version will be the only true option.

[ Also on InfoWorld: They're great, and they're free: Top free troubleshooting tools for Windows | More great free troubleshooting tools for Windows | Top 10 Windows tools for IT pros | The best free open source software for Windows ]

As you read about each tool, you'll notice that I put a lot of emphasis on remote printing. I rely on remote access tools on a daily basis, and in most cases I need to be able to print to my remote PC. For someone that just wants to check their home/office email account or view documents from outside the office, all of the utilities here will work fine. But for those trying to get some serious work done, remote printing may be the deal breaker.

Check out these free remote access tools for Windows and Mac.

Free remote access tools at a glance

Host & client supportFirewall friendlyRemote printingFile transfers Noteworthy features Overall score
DESKTRA Freedom Desktop 1.132-bit WindowsNoNo NoNo-install client can run from a thumb drive; multi-session support Fair
Gbridge 2.0 WindowsYesYes YesMany-to-many connectivity; file sharing; folder synchronization; automatic backups; shared clipboard Excellent
LogMeIn Free EditionWindows and MacYesNo NoBrowser-based access; no remote audio Good
Remote Desktop ConnectionWindows and MacNoYes YesUSB/serial port redirection; host-client drive mapping; shared clipboard Very Good
TeamViewer 5Windows, Mac, LinuxYesYes, via VPN YesSupports voice, video, and conference calls; displays multiple host monitors; remote rebooting; no-install portable client Very Good
VNCWindows, Mac, Linux, UnixNoNo Yes, in TightVNC and UltraVNCBrowser-based access via Java client Good
WinRemotePC 2009 LiteWindowsNoNo YesPlug-ins for file transfer, console, shared clipboard, process explorer; SDK Good
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