Using Chrome Remote Desktop to Replace LogMeIn Free
Although our congregation is not a large one, we have had as many as eleven computers at a time involved in doing the work of the church. Some are located in the church building; others are laptops we provide our volunteer workers to allow them to perform their tasks at home without having to come to the church. All are connected through a virtual cloud network using Dropbox (see How To Use Dropbox as a Free Cloud Network for a Small Church)
Functions such as installing, configuring, troubleshooting, and maintaining software, and even remotely printing documents on church printers are regular activities for these computers. But with them being physically scattered around the city, we needed a centralized way to manage them all.
Starting in 2010 we used LogMeIn Free as our remote support software to provide that centralized management. LogMeIn allowed me as the System Administrator to actually control each of those computers from my home or office, almost as if I was sitting at that machine’s keyboard. LogMeIn not only provided us with tremendous benefits for minimizing the headaches of managing our computers, it did so at a price (free) that couldn’t be beat.
LogMeIn Shuts Me Out!
But then, in January of 2014, disaster struck! LogMeIn emailed users of its free version saying that as of the date of the email, free would be free no more. From now on, only LogMeIn Pro, their paid product, would be available. (They did provide a grace period of one week before your free LogMeIn ceased to work).
Purchasing the licenses needed to manage all our computers just wasn’t in the budget. So, we needed an alternative. Some research revealed that Google had a free service that would provide us with everything we had with LogMeIn, and more. That service is Chrome Remote Desktop.
What is Chrome Remote Desktop?
Chrome Remote Desktop is an extension to Google’s Chrome browser that allows full control of a remote computer. The remote session takes place in a browser window, and you see the remote computer’s desktop just as you would if you were sitting in front of it. Almost anything you could do on that machine if you were controlling it using its own keyboard and mouse, you can do remotely through the browser.
Chrome Remote Desktop has turned out to meet our needs even better than LogMeIn did. Here are some of the features I particularly like:
- Chrome Remote Desktop is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. However, at this point a Linux computer can only be the controller, and cannot be controlled itself.
- Once Chrome Remote Desktop is installed on a computer, that PC can be remotely controlled even if the Chrome browser is not running. Nor does the remote computer have to be logged in to your Google account. Of course, Chrome must be running on the controlling computer since the remote session takes place in a browser window.
- Unlike LogMeIn Free, you can control multiple computers at one time simply by conducting each remote session in a separate browser window.
- There’s no timeout on your remote session. As long as your remote desktop browser tab remains open, the connection to the remote computer is maintained.
- Response to mouse movements and keyboard clicks seems quicker and more seamless than with LogMeIn. Usually there is only a very minimal and hardly noticeable lag between me initiating some action, and seeing it take effect on the remote computer.
- You can copy and paste between computers just as you would on a single computer.
- Although each computer in your remote desktop network must have its own unique PIN in order to access it remotely, you can choose to eliminate the requirement for typing in the PIN. This is a great advantage. Otherwise, when you have several computers you are controlling, you would have to look up the individual PIN for each one.
- The remote computer’s screen appears with greater crispness, clarity, and color fidelity than I remember with LogMeIn Free.
Can you tell which of the above images came from the remote computer?
Installing Chrome Remote Desktop
The first thing you’ll need to use Chrome Remote Desktop is a Google account. If you don’t have one, you can sign up for a Google account here.
NOTE: Chrome Remote Desktop must be set up on the same Google account for all the computers you want to remotely control. If you have several accounts, be sure you are logged in on the account you will use for remote operations.
Installing and Using Chrome Remote Desktop
Here’s a step-by-step process for installing Chrome Remote Desktop on each of the computers in your network.
(Note: all screenshots are my own)
1. Get Chrome Remote Desktop from the Google App Store
- Go to the Chrome Web Store. In the Search box, type in “Chrome Remote Desktop,” then hit Enter.
- Click on the +Free button for Chrome Remote Desktop.
- In the “Confirm New App” window that appears, click Add. Expect the install app to spend some time “Checking” before opening your Apps tab.
- When the Apps tab appears, you should see that Chrome Remote Desktop has been added to your list of apps. Click on it.
2. Authorize Chrome Remote Desktop to run
- When the Authorize box appears, click on Continue.
- You’ll now see a “This app would like to:” page. Click Accept.
3. Now, Let's Get Started!
- On the “Get Started” page, click the “Get Started” button in the “My Computers” block.
- The “My Computers” block now requires you to “Enable remote connections.” Click that button.
- You should now see that remote connections have been enabled. Click OK.
4. Assign a PIN to Your Computer
- Assign a PIN of six or more digits to your computer. Here’s a tip. It took me a couple of tries before I realized that a PIN is entirely numeric! So, enter only numbers.
- Next, you’ll be asked to confirm your PIN. Type it in again, and click Confirm.
That's it! You should now see "Remote connections for this computer have been enabled." Just click OK, and you are set up for remote sessions.
Now, just follow the same procedure for each of the computers that will be part of your network.
What a Remote Session Looks Like
With Chrome Remote Desktop installed on both your computer and the one you want to control, you start a remote session by opening a new Chrome browser window.
Now, click on the Apps icon at the far left of the page.
When the list of your installed apps appears, click on Chrome Remote Desktop. Now the “My Computers” block shows a list of the computers you can control. Note that any lines that are greyed out represent computers that are not online, and which, of course, you cannot remotely control until they are.
Initiate a Remote Session
Click on one of your remote computers. Then enter the PIN of the computer you want to control.
Note that you have the option to specify that you won't have to enter a PIN for this computer when you access it from the computer you are using now.
After entering the PIN of the remote computer, click Connect.
You should now be looking at the screen of your remote computer.
Note that the "Stop Sharing" button at the bottom of the remote computer's screen allows you to break the connection and end the remote session.
Controlling Your Remote Computer
As long as you stay in this browser window, you can control the remote computer just as if you were sitting in front of it.
At the top of the browser window is a dropdown bar that offers some additional useful features:
If you pressed the the Ctrl-Alt-Del key combination, or the PrtScn key during a remote session, those keys would actually be applied on your local computer rather than the remote. if you want them to take effect on the remote machine, you can send them using these menu options.
Also, you can control screen options on the remote computer:
What About Privacy and Security?
In their statement about the safety and security of Chrome Remote Desktop, Google states that “all remote desktop sessions are fully encrypted,” and that “no one can see your data, not even Google.”
In doing an internet search about the security of Chrome Remote Desktop, I’ve seen little questioning of the technical safeguards Google provides. The only real hesitation has come from people who simply don’t trust that Google, despite their statement that they can’t see our data, might be able to snoop on users.
It really comes down to whether you trust Google’s integrity or not.
Do you trust Google not to secretly access your data if you use their service?
Given the tremendously negative consequences to Google if they were ever found to have breached their promise not to access users' data, I trust them on this.
If you have a need to control a number of computers, give Chrome Remote Desktop a try. For our church, it’s working well and definitely makes managing our widely dispersed computers much easier than it would otherwise be.
* Which photo is from the remote computer? The one on the right.
© 2014 Ronald E Franklin