The best free tools combine firewall friendliness with easy remote access and an amazing array of handy features
InfoWorld's Free RAS score: Excellent
One of the most versatile tools I came across is Gbridge 2.0. This free utility allows users not only to remotely control a Windows host, but also transfer files, share folders, and automatically synchronize files between PCs. Gbridge is firewall friendly and does not require any modifications to the network firewall. It does require a Gmail account (also free), but that shouldn't stop anyone from deploying it.
Gbridge is available for all versions of Windows from Windows 2000 to Windows 7, and it installs relatively simply on both host and client. The software creates a soft VPN between host and remote PCs using the gbridge.com Website and a Gmail account as the login authority. This VPN is fully meshed so that multiple clients can see one another and participate in file transfers, remote control, and shared file locations. Thus, Gbridge provides many-to-many connectivity instead of a one-to-one link as with most remote control utilities.
One of the most interesting things about Gbridge is its ability to create SecureShares that are accessible to all users. This is nothing more than a folder on one of the client PCs, but Gbridge extends it to all other participants. Gbridge will also allow you to create an automatic backup between folders on Gbridge clients. For example, I can have the My Documents folder on my office PC automatically back up to a folder on my home PC each night.
Remote desktop access is also done a little differently. You can use the built-in VNC client to take over the host PC or use Windows' own Remote Desktop Connection. Remote Desktop is off by default, but with just a simple click on the host side, I was able to take over my host without having to open any ports on my firewall.
Remote control performance when using VNC was a little sluggish compared to native VNC installations, and unlike with native VNC, I was not able to change color depth or screen resolution. Performance while using Remote Desktop was better, but still a little slower than a native connection, most likely due to the VPN overhead.
On the plus side, I had all the features of Remote Desktop, including remote drives, printer support, remote sound, and a shared clipboard. The best part was I didn't have to open up my firewall, and I could click and choose among potential hosts. Unless your network has Windows Small Business Server, this flexibility is not available to you.
Gbridge is one of the best free remote access tools available. Remote access to Windows hosts is easy and flexible, and the SecureShares and automatic backup features are unique. The use of Gmail for authentication and the soft VPN allow for easy access to your host without having to mess with the firewall, and they still retain remote printing capabilities.
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