It used to be a bit of chore trying to set up your computer so you could remotely access it. However, as the world hurtles towards mobile computing the task has become much easier. For instance, at the centre of Microsoft’s new operating system Windows 10 are easy-to-use tools designed to enable you to remotely hook up your smartphone whether it’s a Windows phone, Android or iOS phone to a desktop PC. Traditional methods, such as third-party software, also are still extremely useful while if you’re running a small business and want absolutely watertight connections to several computers virtual private networks are still the way to go.

Windows 10

The new Windows 10 operating system from Microsoft is in many senses similar to its predecessors with one notable exception; it has been designed for a multiple device world.

This means you can move between a phone and tablet and access your desktop PC from these devices.

  • Windows 10 has a ‘Phone Companion’ app built-into it which helps you connect your Windows PC to whatever phone you own– whether it’s a Windows phone, Android phone, or iPhone.
  • When you launch the Phone Companion app on your PC, you pick which type of phone you use –Windows phone, Android phone, or iPhone. With a Windows phone, there’s nothing extra needed.
  • For an Android phone or iPhone you need to follow a few steps to get the right apps on your phone to make it work in conjunction with your Windows 10 PC.
  • All your files and content will be available on your PC and your phone.

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OneDrive

OneDrive has become an important part of Microsoft’s platform, and in Windows 10 it’s central to the operating system.

OneDrive is a file hosting service that allows users to sync files and later access them from a web browser or mobile device. Users can share files publicly or with their contacts.

  • With the OneDrive app setup on your phone, every photo you take on your phone will show up automatically in the Photos app on your Windows 10 PC.
  • With the Music app, you can store and access your music from OneDrive not only on your PC but also play it anywhere on your iOS or Android phone (it already works on Windows phones).
  • This means the music playlists you have on your Windows 10 PC will now show up and be automatically playable on your phone.
  • Notes you write on your PC in OneNote will show up on your phone. And any note you tweak on your phone will get synced to your PC.
  • You can also work on your Office documents from any of your devices, without worrying about moving files around.

Virtual private networks

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a secure method of connecting a remote computer or other devices to a server.

Using a VPN allows two computers to make a secure connection to each other. The connection uses special protocols to establish a temporary bridge between the two machines.

VPNs all operate in the same basic way: a secure bridge is created between a tablet or smartphone, for instance, and a server you want to connect to.

The level of sophistication you will need in terms of choosing the right VPN will depend on how many remote devices you want to connect.

However not all VPNs are the same. Before setting up a VPN, the type of network protocol has to be chosen. There are four options:

  • SSL (Secure Socket Layer) - this protocol will be familiar if you shop online or do online banking. SSL is the encryption that these services use. For very small businesses, SSL is ideal as the VPN is set up via an internet browser.
  • Open VPN - if cost is an issue, this VPN is based on open source SSL code but as its name suggests, the code can be seen – and potentially hacked – by anyone.
  • PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol) – this is supported by Windows, Apple operating systems and mobile operating systems, which makes it ideal in the world of mobile computing
  • IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) and L2TP (Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol) - these VPNs are more secure than PPTP but are more complex to set up

There are quite a few VPN services to choose from. Many of these are for basic features but you need to pay close attention to the service level agreement that comes with these services. Often you will be giving your agreement to be plagued by adverts and irritating content.

Remote desktop access

Remote desktop refers to software or an operating system feature that allows a personal computer's desktop environment to be run remotely on one computer while being displayed on a separate computer.

Remote desktop applications are widely available and tend to have many different features. Some allow a user to access another user’s computer when they are using it and ‘remote controlling’ the system.

It’s for this reason that remote desktop software tends to be associated with remote administration by IT staff who don’t have to physically travel to the location where the computer is.

That said, today remote desktop access also allows users to connect their device to any PC connected to the internet and recreate their desktop via a connection to the cloud.

There are a lot of software and Web service options available that let you connect remotely to a PC. Some of the most well-known and hugely popular are:

  • TeamViewer
  • LogMeIn
  • GoToMyPC

Some of these offer accessories like file transfer, video chat, and mobile apps that offer remote connection. They can be extremely useful if you need to access your desktop a lot while on the move.

Windows remote access

Windows also offers remote desktop connection from a computer running Windows to another computer running Windows as long as it is connected to the internet.

This means you can use all of your work computer's programs, files, and network resources from a remote computer, and it's like you're sitting in front of your computer at home or work.

That said enabling Windows Remote Desktop can be a little tricky if you’re not specifically tech literate as it requires knowledge of port forwarding, firewalls, and router settings.