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

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DESKTRA Freedom Desktop 1.1

InfoWorld's Free RAS score: Fair

DESKTRA Freedom Desktop is a Windows-only utility that provides good remote access but is limited in functionality. Only available for 32-bit versions of Windows, DESKTRA's host component installs as a service and allows two users to access the same Windows PC at the same time without interrupting each other. While it does pass audio to the remote client, it does not provide remote printing capabilities or file transfers.

DESKTRA consumes minimal system resources on the host PC, even with a remote user connected. The three DESKTRA processes took only 14MB of RAM and almost no CPU time, even while actively browsing the host and playing back audio prompts. Remote resource usage was a bit heavier: about 20MB of RAM when connected but still almost no CPU usage. There was only a hint of latency when accessing my host, and screen refreshes were responsive over my remote link.

The host component requires a quick install, but the client application is light and portable. During the host installation, the client is simply dropped to the desktop. All that is necessary is to copy this executable to the remote client and launch it. The client .EXE file is less than 2MB and can even run from a USB thumb drive.

One interesting aspect of DESKTRA: Unlike other remote access utilities, DESKTRA doesn't give the remote user exclusive control over the host, but allows two users (or more) to work independently -- in their own unique and isolated environment -- on the same PC. When I connected to my remote PC, DESKTRA's host engine simply created a new session for me, so both a local user and a remote user had simultaneous access to the host. In this case, I was logged on locally to my Windows XP Pro host as administrator and connected remotely using my local user account.

The bad part is there is no remote printing or file transfer support in DESKTRA. Unless you connect to the host over a VPN (virtual private network) of some sort, where you can map drives and printers back to your remote PC, you will not be able to do anything more than work on the remote PC. Also, DESKTRA is not what I call firewall friendly -- it requires a couple of ports to be opened in order to pass traffic.

DESKTRA is unique in providing simultaneous access to the same PC to multiple users, so it could come in handy in certain scenarios. But it doesn't provide enough other features to warrant serious consideration as a personal remote access solution. There are too many other tools available that are both firewall friendly and richer in features.

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