There was a time, not terribly long ago, when gaining remote access to a computer was a complicated task that involved pricey software that took time to install on both machines and would frequently fail for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it was not viable for a remote work arrangement. Today, however, there are plenty of options, and one of the most convenient is Chrome Remote Desktop.
Whether you want to offer remote IT support to your team – especially due to the mass work-from-home exodus caused by the coronavirus pandemic – or connect your home PC and work PC, Google's tool is worth a look. It's free and available on all major platforms, including Windows, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, iOS, and Linux.
Here's a rundown of Chrome Remote Desktop and how to install it. [Interested in remote PC access software? Check out our best picks for small businesses.]
What does Chrome Remote Desktop do?
Chrome Remote Desktop, as the name implies, is remote desktop software that allows you to remotely control another computer from an iOS, OS X, Chrome OS, Android, Windows or Linux operating system. Alternatively, you grant remote support to your computer using Chrome Remote Desktop.
Is Chrome Remote Desktop secure?
While there is always some inherent risk involved with remote desktop software, Chrome Remote Desktop is secure and safe. All remote sessions are AES encrypted over a secure SSL connection, which means your data is protected while you remotely access your computer.
Additionally, when granting access to Chrome Remote Desktop, you must generate an expiring access code and provide that to the other user.
While Chrome Remote Desktop is secure, the privacy of your data is only as strong as the security practices you use and your computer. Weak passwords, reused PINs, lax security practices and already-vulnerable machines may compromise the privacy and security of your data.
How to set up Chrome Remote Desktop
One of Remote Desktop's best features is its ease of installation. Simply go to the Chrome Web Store in the Chrome browser. Click the Add to Chrome button in the upper-right corner. Next, click Add App in the following popup, which gives the app the proper permissions.
You're almost done. The app will launch and present you with two options: Remote Assistance and My Computers.
The first option allows you to share the device you are currently on with another user, or to connect to another user that is sharing their device with you.
The second option is for the computers that you regularly access remotely, which allows you to establish a permanent PIN to access that computer.
The device that is to be shared requires one additional install. When you click Enable Remote Connections, the Chrome Remote Desktop Host software will automatically download, and you follow the instructions to finalize the installation.
Remote assistance with Chrome Remote Desktop
When you are helping another user, this is the option you want to use. Remote Assistance gives you two further options: The first is to share the device that you are on (the host computer) with another user. The second option allows you to view and control a shared computer.
When you click Share, a temporary, 12-digit access code is generated. This code then needs to be shared with the individual controlling the computer. They will then click Access and enter that code.
The user of the host computer is prompted with a message asking whether they would like to allow the remote user to see and control their computer. This is the final safety check involved. Once they click Share, the remote computer can then "see" the host computer's screen, and the remote user can control it exactly as they would as if it were their own computer.
Throughout a screen-sharing session, there is a popup displayed at the bottom of the host computer's screen that says, "Your desktop is currently shared with [name of Google account]" with a button to stop sharing.
To end the session, the user clicks the Stop Sharing button in the Chrome Remote Desktop app window or the popup window at the bottom of the screen, and the remote user is disconnected.
Devices that you register in this section always remain accessible by you as long as they are powered on and the Chrome Remote Desktop Host app is running. When you first set up a device in My Computers, you will create a PIN (which must be at least six digits long), and this is the permanent PIN, unless you change it.
To access your device, simply click on its name and enter the PIN. As this is intended for devices that you own and wish to access when you are away, it doesn't provide any additional prompts on the host computer (other than the popup that allows the host computer to stop sharing).
Once your PIN is confirmed, you have complete access to the software and files of the host computer until you end the session.
Mobile access with Chrome Remote Desktop
Finally, the Chrome Remote Desktop app allows you to access your desktop from your iOS or Android phone when you are on the go. This is limited to the devices that you have registered in My Computers. Keep in mind that this function is intended to help you access your own software and files rather than providing remote troubleshooting and assistance.
When you open the app, you'll see your devices listed, and like the desktop app, you tap on the device you want to access and then enter the PIN. The app defaults to a touch interface with pinch to zoom and tapping in place of the cursor, but you can enable cursor mode at the top of the screen for finer control as well as the keyboard for text entry.
With a modern, high-resolution smartphone or tablet, it is surprisingly easy to navigate, and while you won't want to work this way for long, it's adequate for quickly accomplishing a task or accessing a file you forgot.
Sean Riley contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.