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Remote Desktop: At Your Desk While on the Road

May 6, 2002 12:00 PM, Christa Anderson

Access your XP Pro PC from anywhere

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You've finally arrived at your hotel room, and you're ready to relax before giving your important presentation tomorrow. But when you open your laptop, you realize that you forgot to transfer the current version of your presentation from your Windows XP Professional Edition home or office computer to your mobile machine. No one's at home to email you the file. Unless you can find some way to access the file, you've got a long night ahead of you.

But if you've installed the Remote Desktop Connection client software on your laptop and enabled XP Pro's Remote Desktop feature on your home or office system, you're in luck. You can use this single-user version of Windows Terminal Services to log on remotely to your home computer—access it as if you were sitting at your desk—and copy the presentation to your laptop's local hard disk. Remote Desktop can give you remote access—complete with full color and sound—to local disk drives on an XP Pro workstation. You can copy files between computers that aren't on the same network, or you can access a powerful but inconveniently located system from a less powerful but mobile machine.

Windows Terminal Services 101

During the past few years, Microsoft has begun to embrace the benefits of multiuser computing. Terminal Services is a core service in all Windows 2000 Server products. Until XP, Terminal Services worked in this way: Users at desktop client machines ran applications that resided on the server (called the terminal server) and displayed the output on the client. Win2K and later server products support Terminal Services in one of two modes: Remote Administration mode, which gives administrators remote control of a server, or Application Server mode, which lets users run applications from the server. Remote Administration mode permits as many as two remote administrative connections in addition to the server's console connection; Application Server mode permits as many simultaneous connections as the server license specifies.

In a Terminal Services environment, client computers connect to a terminal server through a display protocol that sends graphical output to the client's monitor and accepts keystrokes and mouse clicks from the client. The native Windows protocol is RDP; RDP 5.0, which Terminal Services uses, supports automatic client-printer mapping and a shared clipboard that lets users copy text between sessions or between local and remote applications. However, RDP 5.0 has a 256-color display limit, doesn't provide sound support, and doesn't map client-side drives to the terminal session.

All earlier versions of Terminal Services were limited in that you could use them only when you bought a server OS—you had no way to get Terminal Services functionality on a personal OS. With the release of XP Pro, Terminal Services functionality has finally reached the desktop. Through its Remote Desktop feature, XP Pro uses Terminal Services to provide remote access to a PC.

Ready for Remote Desktop

Remote Desktop provides single-connection remote access to the computer. This setup is similar to Terminal Services in Remote Administration mode in that you don't need to purchase extra licenses to use it. However, Remote Desktop permits only one remote connection and either shuts down the host system's local console when someone launches a remote session or shuts down the remote session when someone logs on to the console. (If, for example, you use an account name to log on at the console, then later use the same account name to connect remotely, Remote Desktop automatically shuts down the console session. If you use a different account name to connect remotely, Remote Desktop warns you that continuing will lock out another session and asks whether you want to continue.)

XP Pro doesn't permit incoming Remote Desktop connections by default. To configure a host system to accept incoming connections, open the Control Panel System applet and go to the Remote tab, which Figure 1 shows. Select the Allow users to connect remotely to this computer check box, then click OK. Enabling remote connections doesn't give all users automatic access to the host computer: The setting simply lets members of the local and Domain Administrators groups initiate an RDP session and provide their logon credentials.

You can permit accounts outside of these groups to use Remote Desktop. On the Remote tab, click Select Remote Users to see a list of permitted Remote Desktop users. To add users to this list (which will be empty at first), click Add to open the Select Users dialog box. Choose the source of the accounts you want to add (you can choose from computer-based accounts or from domain accounts if the XP system is part of a domain). If you know the exact name and spelling of the account you want to add, enter the name as ComputerName\UserName or DomainName\UserName (click the Examples link to see examples of the correct formats). If you don't know the exact name, click Advanced, then click Locations. Choose the computer or domain that you want to browse, then choose the type of object you want to browse for (Users only for computer-based accounts or Users and/or Groups for domain accounts). Click Find Now. The area at the bottom of the dialog box will populate with the applicable account objects from the chosen location. Select the account or accounts that you want to add (you can use the Ctrl key to select multiple accounts), then click OK. Click OK again to close the Select Users dialog box. The chosen accounts now appear in the permitted users list.

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