Hands-On: 4 Remote-Desktop Services

Windows Live Mesh

As part of the Windows Live Essentials 2011 suite of home productivity applications, Mesh provides basic remote-desktop control for Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers.

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How It Works

Whether the Windows computer you are using is to be the host or the client, you run the Windows Live Essentials 2011 installation program and specify that Mesh be downloaded and installed.

Mesh appears as a double-arrow icon set in the Windows notification tray. On your host computer, click this icon to open the program. From there, you can add the computer to a list that permits other Windows computers to access it over the Internet. (You need to have a Windows Live ID or a Hotmail account to do this.)

On the client computer, you click the same Mesh notification tray icon, log on with your Windows Live ID/Hotmail account, and your aforementioned host computer will appear on a list. When you click its icon, a connection between your client and host is made, and a separate window pops open showing your host computer's screen.

Mesh also lets you connect to your host through the Web, but only using Internet Explorer.

There is no way to hear audio from your host computer, whether you connect to your host through the Mesh program or IE.

Settings and Extra Tools

The program that's used to connect to your Windows host computer is bare-bones. The only noteworthy setting it has lets you adjust the viewing size of the host's desktop. (It also lets you send a Ctrl-Alt-Del command to the host). It doesn't even have an option for scaling back the color level of the host's screen output in order to help reduce lag -- Mesh always displays your host computer's native color range. These settings (and lack thereof) are the same when you use Mesh through Internet Explorer.

Unlike the three other services in this roundup, there is no file-transfer tool or chat function.

Performance

Clicking through my host computer's desktop was surprisingly speedy when I accessed it with the Mesh client program, despite the fact that Mesh doesn't have the option to reduce the color range of your host computer's graphics.

Using Mesh through Internet Explorer 9, performance was, as you'd expect, slower, with some more noticeable lag, but things were still fast and workable enough for me to click items and drag open windows around my host's desktop -- much more responsive and less laggy than the Web interfaces available with GoToMyPC or LogMeIn.

Bottom Line

Mesh does the job well, especially in a pinch if you already have a Windows Live ID or Hotmail account and don't need to hear audio from your host computer or transfer files. Of course, this Windows service isn't an option if you need to remotely access a Mac, Linux or even Windows XP computer.

Conclusions

If you need to provide simple technical support or help someone out, and you're both using computers running either Windows 7 or Vista, then Windows Live Mesh is capable enough to do this job. However, it offers only the most basic functionality.

GoToMyPC has a variety of features and offers good performance. However, it provides access to your host computer through a Java-based client, which may not work for some users. (LogMeIn's Web-based service requires both Java and Flash, but at least you don't have to pay for the privilege.) The requirement that you enter a credit card number in order to try it out for free for 30 days is bothersome (and you need to cancel your account once the trial expires, or you'll automatically be charged).

TeamViewer's All-In-One client is free, and using it to transfer files between your computers also costs nothing. It also supports more OS platforms than the other remote-desktop services in this roundup. The trade-off is that you don't get audio -- but if you don't need sound and are satisfied with Web-based performance, then TeamViewer is a good deal.

While LogMeIn offers basic features for free, you have to pay extra for LogMeIn's Pro2 plan for audio and file transfer. If you want the better performance provided by LogMeIn's client, Ignition, that's another fee. However, with those features added, it is an excellent remote application and may well be worth the cost.

Howard Wen reports frequently as a contributor to Computerworld andNetwork World.

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