Like many other tech nerds, I am often called upon to seize control of some system remotely and rescue its user from some evil manifestation of technology. This isn’t my job (I don’t do this “commercially”), so my free tool of choice is TeamViewer. It’s free for non-commercial use, fast, and very easy to use even for people who don’t know very much about computers. But when I heard Google released something called Chrome Remote Desktop, my curiosity was piqued, so I decided to give it a try. This add-on is interesting because you set it up within Chrome, but you can use it to control the entire computer remotely, not just the Chrome session.
For a Chrome add-on, Remote Desktop is positively huge – it’s a 20MB download, so if you don’t have a fast connection, it might take a minute or two. Just for comparison, the latest version of TeamViewer weighs in at 4MB, so Chrome Remote Desktop is five times as big. Once you’re done downloading it, the add-on appears as a new button on your New Tab page. Clicking this button shows a somewhat-scary “extra permission” authorization page. Not a big deal for users who know what they’re doing, but if you’re guiding someone through the setup process over the phone, this might be a little stressful. You basically need to hit the Continue button:
… and then the allow access button:
And that’s it. Now you’re set up to remote control the computer, or use it to control other computers. When I guided a user through this setup process remotely, the trickiest part was actually getting them to see the Chrome Remote Desktop button on the New Tab page:
The user was looking for a button for an add-on (by the address bar), so I had to guide them to the New Tab page. Other than that, it was a fairly smooth setup process.
You can now either Share This Computer or access another computer:
When you click Share This Computer, you will get a single 12-digit PIN code, which you can copy and paste into a chat session or even dictate over the phone:
This is a nice simplification over TeamViewer, which uses a system of two codes (a user ID and a session password). With Chrome Remote Desktop, you have just a single number. To gain control over the computer, the other party needs to click the “access a shared computer” link on their Chrome Remote Desktop, and enter the PIN code:
Once you click Connect, the remote desktop instantly materializes, and if the connection is fast enough, it even keeps Windows’ Aero interface on, with drop shadows and transparency:
There’s a positively huge “Close Remote Desktop BETA” window that is always set on top, so that both you and the user sitting in front of the remote computer can terminate the session at any time. In fact, the window is so very large, that it sometimes gets in the way and needs to be moved around.
Is It Better Than TeamViewer?
In a word – no. Chrome Remote Desktop is a larger download, and provides less options than TeamViewer (for example, it doesn’t support file transfer). But it does have two very important advantages that might make you use it instead of TeamViewer. The first is that it is entirely free, not just for non-commercial use, but for all use. The second key advantage is that it is fully cross-platform – it works on Windows, Linux, Mac, and even Chromebooks. In fact, I believe it is currently one of the only ways to remotely control a Chromebook computer.
As a beta and a tech experiment, it is certainly impressive. I usually tend to see the browser as a sandbox of sorts – i.e, what happens in the browser stays in the browser. Chrome Remote Desktop definitely breaks that perception, and shows that Chrome can reach deep into your system if you only let it.