The systems I tested for this review work well but have one problem in common—they cost money. So why not try a free native remote-access program like Microsoft Remote Desktop?

If your computer runs Windows XP Professional or Windows 2000, you have a free and easy way to connect to your system remotely. Setup is taken care of during the OS installation. If you want a simple solution that offers basic functionality, Remote Desktop might suit your needs. However, if you need scalability or options such as file transfer or client/host communication, you'll be happier with another product.

Remote Desktop's graphic interface is workable, but if you swap files between the host and client machines you can encounter problems. In particular, migrating files from the host to the client can be cumbersome and frustrating. You'll likely need to negotiate the operation through manual cut-and-paste. To heighten security, if you have a firewall, you can determine what traffic goes into and out of the host machine by configuring port filters.

I use Remote Desktop a lot, and I know many people who use it to work on their office systems from home. Remote Desktop isn't meant to manage multiple connections. The program is a great option for one user who wants to connect to a single remote machine. Among its advantages is the fact that Remote Desktop is included in the newer Windows OSs, which means you don't need to download the program or carry installation disks with you. Of course, neither can you connect to any other OSs, but to be fair, Remote Desktop is a simple tool for Windows that isn't intended to offer the broad functionality of a third-party program.