Your PC isn't really stuck at home. You can access the desktop, your files, and even gaming horsepower on the go. You can turn on your PC from halfway around the world!
How, you ask? Let's start with catch-all remote desktop solutions before following up with more specific remote control and access tools for gaming, productivity, and more.
Remote desktop software lets you access your computer and all its applications over the Internet using another device, essentially by streaming a feed of your desktop. This works from a tablet or phone, even over a cellular data network.
To do this, you'll need to set up a remote desktop server on the PC you want to connect to. We recommend TeamViewer for this: It's easy to use, completely free for non-commercial use, runs on almost everything, and doesn't require any port-forwarding or complex setup. (Be sure to set up TeamViewer for unattended access!)
Parallels Access is another good, polished alternative. It really shines when accessing your desktop from a smartphone or tablet, providing a more touch-optimized interface. Unlike TeamViewer, however, Parallels Access requires a $20 yearly fee even for personal use.
You could also skip the polished, all-in-one solutions entirely. For example, you could enable the Remote Desktop feature in professional editions of Windows and use any RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) client to connect to your PC remotely. Microsoft even offers Remote Desktop apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad. You could set up a VNC (Virtual Network Computing) server on your PC to access it in a similar way, even if you aren't using a professional edition of Windows.
These DIY services aren't as easy to use, however. You'll have to set up port-forwarding and dynamic DNS on your own to access them remotely. They'll also be harder to secure, as any bot scanning your IP address from the Internet will see the services running on those ports and can attempt to break into them and compromise your PC. This isn't a risk with services like TeamViewer or Parallels Access, which handle the authentication bits on their own central servers.
Remote file access
You can access your PC's files on the go, too. To avoid mucking through a remote desktop session, your best bet is an easy-to-use remote control solution with an integrated file-transfer option.
In TeamViewer, just select "file transfer" while connecting to a remote computer with TeamViewer, and you'll be able to access all the files on your PC's hard drive or upload files to your remote PC from your current device. The Android, iPad, and iPhone apps also have file-transfer support, so you can download files from your PC to your smartphone or tablet. (Parallels Access doesn't support direct file transfers.)
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.