Google has released a long-awaited Chrome extension that lets users access remote machines from the company’s web browser and its browser-based Chromebook laptops.
Known as Chrome Remote Desktop, this “beta” extension is similar to existing remote access tools such as Citrix’s GoToMyPC and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection, and it’s an important part of Google’s effort to push its Chromebooks into the enterprise.
According to Google’s release notes, the extension could be used by a remote IT helpdesk. But it’s also a means of running legacy applications that won’t ordinarily run inside a browser. “The helpdesk can use the Chrome Remote Desktop BETA to help another user, while conversely a user can receive help by setting up a sharing session without leaving their desk,” the notes say. “Additional use cases such as being able to access your own computer remotely are coming soon.”
With a Chromebook, the only local application is the browser. You don’t have the option of running traditional native software — such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop — on the machine itself. The idea to simplify the modern PC and provide better security by moving all data and applications onto the web.
The new Remote Desktop extension is a way around this limitation. Separately, Citrix and other third-parties are offering virtual desktop tools that let Chromebooks run legacy apps via a corporate server.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the release notes say that the extension can be used to connect any two computers running a Chrome browser, including Windows, Linux, and Mac machines, as well as Chromebooks.
For now, each machine must be accessed manually using authentication codes. The remote machine provides a one-time authentication code to the accessing machine, and this activates what Google calls a secured sharing session between the two systems.
Documentation is predictably sparse. In a Google Groups forum, Google engineer Sergey Ulanov says there is no spec for the protocol being used, but that the company will “probably publish something as the protocol matures.” The code, however, is open source.
The early reviews are fairly positive. After 620 ratings, the extension is pulling about 4.5 stars, and most — though not all — comments are supportive of the beta release. The code behind the extension has long been part of the Chromium OS project, an open-source version of the operating system that runs Google’s Chromebooks.
Update 1:53 PST.
A Google spokesperson responded to Wired with a canned statement: “The goal of the Chrome Remote Desktop BETA is to demonstrate the core Chrome Remoting technology and get early feedback from users. Overall, we support the development of many types of applications to address a variety of our users’ needs. Making it possible to allow users to remotely access another computer through the browser is just one example of this and applies for consumers as well as enterprises.”