Archive for May, 2010

The best free tools combine firewall friendliness with easy remote access and an amazing array of handy features

For anyone whose work follows them wherever they go (and whose doesn’t?), a remote access solution is an easy sell. With a remote access tool, your office computer can be reached from home, your home computer can be reached from the office, and both can be reached from your hotel in Omaha or Maui or wherever you happen to be. Remote access means nothing ever gets left behind — except maybe your laptop.

Best of all, a good remote access tool doesn’t have to cost you a dime. There are plenty of good free tools available, and some of them are downright excellent. In this review, I examine seven of the most popular free remote access tools available for Windows and, in four cases, Mac users. Many of the free tools listed here also have paid versions that offer additional features (such as support for remote printing) or licensing (extra host computers or clients). For some users, the paid version will be the only true option.

As you read about each tool, you’ll notice that I put a lot of emphasis on remote printing. I rely on remote access tools on a daily basis, and in most cases I need to be able to print to my remote PC. For someone that just wants to check their home/office email account or view documents from outside the office, all of the utilities here will work fine. But for those trying to get some serious work done, remote printing may be the deal breaker.

Check out these free remote access tools for Windows and Mac.

Free remote access tools at a glance
Host & client support Firewall friendly Remote printing File transfers Noteworthy features Overall score
DESKTRA Freedom Desktop 1.1 32-bit Windows No No No No-install client can run from a thumb drive; multi-session support Fair
Gbridge 2.0 Windows Yes Yes Yes Many-to-many connectivity; file sharing; folder synchronization; automatic backups; shared clipboard Excellent
LogMeIn Free Edition Windows and Mac Yes No No Browser-based access; no remote audio Good
Remote Desktop Connection Windows and Mac No Yes Yes USB/serial port redirection; host-client drive mapping; shared clipboard Very Good
TeamViewer 5 Windows, Mac, Linux Yes Yes, via VPN Yes Supports voice, video, and conference calls; displays multiple host monitors; remote rebooting; no-install portable client Very Good
VNC Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix No No Yes, in TightVNC and UltraVNC Browser-based access via Java client Good
WinRemotePC 2009 Lite Windows No No Yes Plug-ins for file transfer, console, shared clipboard, process explorer; SDK Good

UnknownDevices Recognizes Your Hardware When  Device Manager Can'tWindows: When Windows’ Device Manager just can’t seem to give you information about a piece of hardware, free, open-source utility UnknownDevices will point you in the right direction, allowing you to find the necessary drivers to get it up and running.

Screenshot from AddictiveTips.

Generally, when you install a new device, you know what it is and where to find drivers, but if you’ve just done a clean install of Windows, for example, it can be difficult or time-consuming to determine what your many “unknown” devices in Device Manager actually are. Luckily, UnknownDevices is a portable app that can quickly give you more information about the manufacturer and model of those unknown devices to help you on your hunt for the necessary drivers.

Unfortunately, all my devices are communicating just fine with my computer (even the weird ones I dug out of the closet)—so I couldn’t test this one out myself. Software blog AddictiveTips says it worked great for them, though, so if you try it out, let us know how it worked for you in the comments!

UnknownDevices is a free download, Windows only.

Foreign Service Institute's Extensive  Language Courses Are Available Free OnlineThe U.S. Foreign Service Institute teaches foreign languages to government diplomats and personnel for duties abroad—and its courses are available online, for free. Which means you can access audio, texts, and tests in 41 different languages.

The FSI Language Courses web site isn’t actually maintained by the U.S. government itself, but the materials developed before 1989 are within the public domain (whether all of these materials came before then is not clear). Some languages contain more materials—for instance, the three texts on Sinhala isn’t going to beat the giant course on French anytime soon. For the most part, most major languages have student texts in PDF format, and audio in MP3 format which you can later put onto your music player. The courses also feature tests to see how well you’ve covered the material. In some cases, “headstart” courses for certain regions in the world are also available.

The only major language not covered is English, which makes sense. The site is a little reminiscent of old-school language learning, but the resources are ridiculously extensive. As a native Vietnamese speaker, I didn’t find the section archaic at all. Adios, Rosetta Stone.