Chrome Remote Desktop is so good you shouldn't look at anything else

Chrome Remote Desktop
Chrome Remote Desktop (Image credit: Windows Central)

It's been a while since I needed to do any real amount of remote desktop use, after all, I work from home and have an office filled with my equipment. But the current situation of also having to juggle working with entertaining and schooling children at home on a daily basis means that I've started doing it more often. It's much easier to remote into my main PC from my Surface Go than to try and treat the Surface the same as my desktop.

But it's also infuriating to me that Microsoft expects you to have Windows 10 Pro, still, in order to use the built-in remote desktop functions. That's OK, though, because Chrome Remote Desktop is a free alternative. It's also better. And it doesn't need Google Chrome anymore, the new Chromium-based Edge is all you need.

Chrome Remote Desktop is free and easy to set up

Chrome Remote Desktop

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The first best thing about Chrome Remote Desktop is that it's good. The second is that it's entirely free. And the third is that it works cross-platform. Whether you're on PC, Mac, or Linux, you can install it and remote in from many of these platforms, Chromebooks, or even Android or iOS devices.

Chrome Remote Desktop comes in two parts, and while the Linux installation process is a little more involved, on PC or Mac it's as simple as just downloading an installer and logging in with your Google account to set up the linking process.

The second piece of the jigsaw is the browser extension which is available through the Chrome Web Store, or the app for Android (opens in new tab) or iOS (opens in new tab).

That's basically all there is to it. You assign a PIN to each machine you set up to secure your access to it, but otherwise, all you need to do is open up the browser extension any time you want to remote in.

Chrome Remote Desktop is surprisingly feature-packed

Chrome Remote Desktop

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I tried Chrome Remote Desktop many years ago and forgot about it, but coming back with actual purpose I'm surprised at how feature-packed it is. Especially considering the extension, at least, hasn't been updated in quite a while. But for my needs, this covers every base I could possibly want.

To make it easy to live with on different machines, you have control over not only whether you operate full screen or not, but you're also able to adjust the remote PCs screen resolution to match what's available in the window you're working with. This is particularly useful if you have a high-resolution display attached at the other end and can make everything easier to look at on a smaller display.

Chrome Remote Desktop is ridiculously easy to use.

It's also really simple to interact with the other machine as if it were just the one in front of you. Keyboard shortcuts can work just fine, you can upload and download files with ease and performance is excellent. Scrolling is fast and smooth and there's no real sign of latency. I wouldn't fancy gaming this way, there are certainly better options for that, but I've been able to work for hours from my Surface Go 2 in the kitchen as if I were sat in front of my desktop rig in the office.

The icing on the cake is that you can access your remote machines without being on the same network, too. That's not really an early 2021 friendly feature, but when the world returns to normal and working from coffee shops again is allowed, it's a really compelling feature to have on my LTE Surface Go 2.

Built-in IT support mode

Chrome Remote Desktop

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

This isn't something I've had to use personally, but I have tried it out and it works flawlessly. As long as the Chrome Remote Desktop service is installed on a PC, you can provide remote assistance to anyone on any network. All the other party has to do is generate a 12 digit code, pass that to you and you can log in to their system.

The codes are only valid for five minutes, too, as a little added peace of mind, but obviously, you still need to be mindful of who you pass it to. But it certainly makes being the family IT support technician a little easier.

And as with your own machines, being on the same network isn't an issue. All they need is the app installed and all you need is the browser extension and the code.

Chrome Remote Desktop doesn't even need Google Chrome

Chrome Remote Desktop

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Don't like the idea of using Google Chrome? That's fine, use Microsoft Edge instead. Now that the new Edge is based on Chromium you can simply go to the Chrome Web Store and install the extension to Edge instead. Presumably the same applies to other Chromium-based browsers such as Opera and Brave, too.

For the most stream crossing I could manage in one go I tried it out in Microsoft Edge for Linux running on Chrome OS and the experience was identical to running inside Google Chrome. You get a warning the first time you set the extension up that you should really install Chrome, but you just ignore that and go about your merry way.

There really is no reason in my mind that I'd ever want to bother with Microsoft's built-in tools again, especially as long as it's behind Windows 10 Pro. Chrome Remote Desktop is a genuinely superb piece of free software that's incredibly user friendly and accessible to all without needing any amount of technical know-how. Just install the two pieces, log in, and away you go.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

  • I have been using Chrome Remote Desktop for years. While there may be paid alternatives that offer more features, Chrome Remote Desktop works amazingly well for the price of free.
  • I would have to check over the privacy user agreement; the last thing I want is Google claiming the ability to read the contents of my desktop computer the same way they read the contents of peoples' Gmail correspondence.
  • ^^ This x100! When do we actually start trusting The Google? Some do more than they should, IMO.
  • I mean you're sending a ton of telemetry to Microsoft just by using Windows? You don't think "Advertising ID" just ignores you, do you? Sessions are encrypted with SSL. You download a server application and your Google account links the two together. Your data is as secure as the data on your PC is normally.
  • There is no comparison to the amount of data collected by Google vs MS. It’s not even close. With Google you are the product with MS you are the customer. It is to the point that Google hasn’t updated any of their iOS apps since December when the privacy nutrition label went into effect.
  • Google isn't reading your desktop PC. Unless of course you're allowing such a practice. But that would be on you.
  • You can allow Google to "read" your desktop?? Why would that even be an option??
  • Nothing beats RDP. Chrome remote desktop i guess works if you have Home, but otherwise, if you have Pro, I wouldn't do anything else but RDP.
  • Well I'd argue otherwise, Microsoft's own tools have never performed as well for me. And the point is you need Pro, which unless you happen to get a PC with it out of the box, is behind a pay wall.
  • "as simple as just downloading an installer and logging in with your Google account to set up the linking process." What linking process? This is where I decline to use the service. You don't need to know who I am for me to log into resources that Google doesn't know about. No thanks.
  • I actually prefer TeamViewer. It is also free for personal use. I use it to remote into my parents' and my in-laws' computers when they need help. Now I just need a magic way for them to remember their passwords.
  • Gotta disagree. I find Microsoft RDP to be vastly better than any third party solution, Chrome or otherwise. I guess Chrome might be the next best thing if you can't spring for a Pro license.
  • It would be nice if this worked on Raspberry PI. Presently using PuTTY for remote administrative control of the PI from my Windows10 PC.... But I'd like the whole UI...
  • So I installed Chrome Remote Desktop. Thanks a lot for wasting my time Richard. Chrome Remote Desktop cannot deal with multiple local monitors properly. When you go full screen, it goes full screen on just one local monitor. Completely useless. Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection handles this. Also, it is not as fast as Microsoft's Remote Desktop. Make sure you enable local GPU rendering. See this