A Remote Desktop client allows a user to access a computer’s graphical user interface (GUI) from afar. When using a remote desktop client there is no need to travel to the physical location of the computer to operate it. Once a successful connection is made a user’s common desktop environment is displayed and the computer’s functionality is made available just as if the user were sitting in front of the computer, monitor, and keyboard. The only requirements for establishing a Remote Desktop connection are network connectivity between the client and remote computer (host), properly configured remote access settings on the host to allow the connection, and valid credentials to log on to the system.
Another benefit of a remote desktop session is the ability to maintain a work environment where the end user experience is identical locally or remotely. For example, a user multi-tasking between 6 different applications, and email client, and 10 browser tabs on a home PC can leave everything running and later access the same session remotely through a remote desktop client and immediately resume working within those same 6 applications, email client, and 10 browser tabs. There is no need to close down or re-launch and desktop applications which leads to increased productivity.
Microsoft’s Windows operating systems have a market share of around 90% throughout the world. It should come as no surprise the majority of remote desktop clients are therefore used to connect to Windows based computers. Although Windows remote desktop clients have been around for well over a decade it wasn’t until fairly recently that they have made the user experience between a local and remote session truly seamless. Gone are the days when remote desktop users had to struggle with jerky animation, high latency, and 8 bit color displays. Windows 7 now features a built in remote desktop client with many nice features. It relies on Microsoft’s remote desktop protocol (RDP) and users to map resources such as hard drives, USB drives, smart cards, audio, and printers between local and remote computers. Apple Remote Desktop provides similar functionality for users of the Mac OS X.
There are several services that individuals can subscribe to that provide remote desktop functionality. These are popular especially among those who prefer to stay away from the nitty gritty technical details. LogMeIn.com, GoToMyPC.com, and WebEx are currently among the market leaders in the remote desktop space.
Connectivity remains the biggest hurdle in establishing a remote session. RDP sessions and those used by the remote desktop service providers mentioned above are often blocked on the client side because they use non-standard network ports such as 3389. A personal VPN service such as SlickyProxy.com which allows you to tunnel all traffic over the more common port of 443 often make sense to ensure you can establish a remote connection regardless of your location. After all, a remote desktop client is useless if it cannot connect to its destination.