Often I need to work from my kitchen table because I have to keep an eye on my young son or new Labrador puppy from wrecking the house. As such, I use my trusty Dell Latitude D610 laptop to remotely connect to my office desktop PC (located upstairs in my home). What that means, is that I’m controlling my desktop PC from my laptop running applications, etc. just as if I was sitting in front of my PC.
How I do this, is by using an application called Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) which is provided by Microsoft with their Windows XP Professional and Vista Professional OS. A small server is running on my desktop PC, and I can make a connection to it from any PC or laptop on my home network using RDC. Since my home network connection is pretty fast, I see very little response delay using this setup.
Unfortunately, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows 7 Home Premium both don’t have the Remote Desktop Server software to use the RDC feature. You will need to get the Professional version of either OS package to have the Remote Desktop Server software. As such, I decided to look into other similar alternatives, as I use the RDC feature quite heavily for my own personal use.
A very well know alternative is one called logmein which allows you to remotely connect to a PC which has its server software installed. What’s nice about this feature, is that you can use any modern web browser as the remote login interface. Logmein uses a java plugin in conjunction with your web browser to connect to their servers which in turn connects to your home PC that is on the Internet. As such, you can use any web browser on any PC to securely connect to your home PC.
I often use this feature when I’m on business travel and I want to run an application on my home PC or check my email. The bad thing, is that the response time is noticeably slow, so you really can’t use this option for heavy production use. The nice thing, is that logmein is a free service, where the only limitation is that you can’t transfer files between the server and remote computers.
Another alternative that I tested is called uVNC, which operates on the same principal as the Microsoft RDC application. You basically have a small server running on your desktop PC “listening” for a connection message from an outside machine on the network. You can make your remote connection either by using a “viewer” application provided by the makers of uVNC or using a web browser and java plugin (much like logmein). I tested this setup using my home PC and laptop on my high-speed home network, and the viewer application seemed to work fairly well (very similar to Microsoft’s RDC method). There was some delay in reponse time, but certainly less than what you would see with logmein. Of course, I was expecting much better performance since both machines were connected to my fast wireless router, so I was surprised to find there was some noticable response delay. Using the web browser approach showed even more of a response time delay, so that method wasn’t very usable.
The nice thing about uVNC, is that a person sitting at your home PC can see everything you are doing from the remotely connected machine. Why is this nice? Well, you can use this application to help someone remotely fix a problem with their PC, or teach them how to run an application remotely, or show them a PowerPoint presentation.
So from my informal testing, I still think Microsoft’s implementation of the Remote Desktop Connection is the best. You don’t need to do any setup (as it is automatically installed and running on your system) and connecting remotely is painless. The response time is wonderful on my home network, with virtually no delay from a user-interface standpoint. I also like the fact that the viewer application on the remote machine will effectively adjust the displayed elements so they fit very nicely on the remote screen. The only downside, is that you need to pay more money for the Vista Professional or Windows 7 Professional OS to have access to this wonderful feature.
uVNC isn’t the easiest to install and use, but can be used in place of Microsoft’s RDC. You will see some response delay, but that maybe tolerable if you have no other choices. Besides, uVNC is free so you really can’t complain too much.
Also, all three methods can be used for an internal home network (which is what do from my kitchen table) or from outside your home network on the Internet. Logmein is already setup for outside Internet access, but for Microsoft RDC and uVNC you’ll need to do some special configuring with the software and your home router to open up some access ports. I’ve tried this in the past, but decided to not use this option for security reasons.
Finally, I still use the logmein option when I’m on business travel and need to connect to my home PC. It’s very convenient and easy to use, as you make your connection using any available web browser. Like uVNC, there is a noticeable response delay but for the convenience and being a free service it works fine.
So from my testing, I’ve decided to buy the Windows 7 Professional version for my home desktop PC, since I use the RDC feature on a routine basis. Now, I only need to buy the Win7 Pro version for my desktop PC since it will be acting as the server, and I can continue to use Windows XP Home (or Vista Home) on my Dell laptop to make the remote connection.