You might be asking why you would want to use a third-party remote desktop application seeing as Windows comes with Remote Desktop as standard. Many of the reasons do not become apparent until you actually use another application for remote desktop and realise what else is possible…
With TeamViewer, the way you connect to your computer is different (in a good way), but leaving that aside for the moment, the real strength of TeamViewer is its multi-platform nature. The supported platform list includes; Windows (including Windows 8), OS X, Linux, the TeamViewer web app, Android devices and iOS devices. As you can see the list of supported platforms is pretty exhaustive! This article reviews the Windows application, and gives a brief rundown of a couple of the other platforms.
It’s really easy to get started with TeamViewer. Generally you can just download the all in one application and install it on the host and target computers. If you have a specific use in mind for the target computer then you can use a different version of TeamViewer that is more suited to that use.
The only other one that is likely to be of interest to personal users is the Quick Support application, which does not require installation or admin rights. This is often the best link to send to third parties to allow a remote connection simply and quickly.
When you have followed the install procedure and opened the app you will be greeted with a screen showing the computer ID and a password. You can use these to connect to this computer. You can easily change the generated password by hitting the refresh button next to the password box if you want to deny access to someone who has the password. Alternatively, in the options menu, you can set a password to whatever you like for that computer and it is then perpetual.
The settings menu is as comprehensive as the list of supported platforms! You can change nearly everything about the way the application works, from starting with Windows to the default screen that the new connection opens on if you run multiple monitors, with many other options in between.
So What Can it Do?
This app is aimed at business users, so some of the features will be less useful to a casual user than others. I, for example, never use the meetings functionality, but get an awful lot of mileage out of the file transfer and mobile remote desktop ability, be that through the web interface or my Android device.
Regardless of your use of this application for business or pleasure, the ability to save all of your remote connections is a useful one. The Computers and Contacts interface is the place to find these. When you sign in you are presented with a list of saved devices showing which ones are online. Each computer that you connect to can be given an alias such as “Server in the basement” or whatever you want to call it. Alternatively you can connect to another device on an ad hoc basis using the auto generated id and password and leave it at that.
In version 7 the meetings tool has been updated and has superseded the screen sharing option from older versions. It comes with a raft of welcome changes: The ability to name a meeting however you choose is much better than having to quote the TeamViewer ID to people who need to join. Outlook integration allows you to schedule a meeting for a certain time, set a reminder and send an invite to participants. When the time of the meeting approaches a reminder pops up containing the link to join the meeting. This makes it super easy to set up a screen sharing or VOIP meeting.
So going back to the way in which you connect using TeamViewer compared to a remote desktop session, the difference is that this is a screen sharing application, not a full remote session that cuts off the user’s control. Due to this the target computer remains fully responsive while connected, so the user at the other end can not only see what is happening, but can also use the computer as per normal. I have found this a boon when helping people with their computer problems. It is often the case that if they watch while you fix an issue they will know how to fix it in the future without your involvement. I suppose the downside of this is fewer favours in return for fixing their problems!
Not only can you look at the screen of your other computer as if it was next to you, you can interact with it as if it was too. Previously you could transfer files between computers with the file transfer interface, you still can, but now you can also drag and drop your files from one computer to the other, cross platform. The file transfer has also just been implemented for the mobile platform, so this is a great way to get that presentation you left at home onto your tablet.
By mobile use I refer to mobile devices as opposed to the web application. The majority of my experience with the mobile interface is with Android. It goes without saying that the larger your screen, the better your experience is likely to be with this app: The experience is much better on a 10.1” Galaxy Tab screen than a 4.3” Galaxy S2 for example.
Remarkably the speed of the connection over a 3G network is actually very fast and much more usable than you would think. Impressive when you consider the data that is sent between the devices.
The gestures for controlling the target PC are very easily picked up, if a little alien at first. Dragging with one finger moves the screen while the cursor remains in the centre of the screen, however when the visible area reaches the edge of the screen as you drag the cursor continues right to the edge of the screen. It’s an ingenious solution to viewing a large screen resolution on a smaller screen. Other ubiquitous gestures are supported such as pinch to zoom and two finger scrolling.
Input aids such as the keyboard can be shown and hidden at will. This is supplemented with the addition of a top bar that holds toggle keys such as CTRL, ALT and SHIFT. As with the desktop version you can connect using an id and password, or log in to the shrunken connection manager to connect to saved computers.
If you have a Samsung device powered Android by then there is an app on the Android market called TeamViewer Quick Support that allows you to remote into your device from your PC. A Window appears on your desktop just as if you were connected to another PC, and you can use the phone as normal when connected, with everything being mirrored on the PC display. The ability to connect to your mobile device is manufacturer dependent, other manufacturers are being encouraged to provide this functionality.
Connecting From the Web
Many remote desktop applications do remote desktop very well, but very few do remote desktop over the web at all, let alone well. This is the standout feature for TeamViewer: It allows a full screen connection to another computer from any modern browser. The best feature is that it does this using Flash and HTML only, no need for Active X or Java plugins which are often restricted.
So using this interface you can access your own computer without the need for admin rights to install or even download anything on the originating computer. Suddenly hot-desking, or using public computers becomes a much more viable proposition, you can easily access your files, administer your server or connect to another computer form anywhere.
The web app can be accessed from the TeamViewer website, the link for the web login is rather small and is towards the top left of the website. Once you have signed in the web app has an interface that is not too dissimilar to that of the desktop application.
As I have mentioned above this app is actually free for personal use, be that at home or for clients. For business or commercial use there are a few different ways to purchase TeamViewer. Whichever you choose the payment is a one off as opposed to being part of a subscription. The different levels afford you a different level of support and the top package allows you to have three simultaneous connections to other computers vs one for the other packages. You can see the details in the screenshot above.
I have yet to come across a remote desktop app that is as well featured as this, especially within the mobile or web arenas. All of the functions that I have used and those I tested for this article are very well implemented. I have no problem in recommending this for anyone who needs a reliable, fast cross platform remote desktop solution. You won’t regret adding this to your collection of tools.