Access your XP Pro PC from anywhere

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.

XP's RDP protocol is the Remote Desktop Connection client. XP Pro and XP Home Edition automatically install the client on a system during OS installation. To use Remote Desktop Connection on earlier Windows systems, you can install the Remote Desktop Connection client from the XP CD-ROM, or you can download that client (for free) from Microsoft at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/downloads/rdclientdl.asp. The 3.4MB download file is called msrdpcli.exe file. Run this file and follow the installation wizard to accept the license agreement, choose whether Remote Desktop Connection should be available for all people using the computer or just for the person installing the client, and install the support files. Installing Remote Desktop Connection on a Win2K or Windows 9x computer permits you to connect to another computer; the client doesn't permit other computers to connect to your system.

After you install Remote Desktop Connection, connecting to the remote XP computer is easy. Select Programs, Accessories, Communications, Remote Desktop Connection to open the Remote Desktop Connection dialog box. Type the name of the host system in the Computer text box, then click Connect. The connection automatically opens in full-screen mode, and the host computer's desktop completely replaces the local desktop at the local resolution. To see your local desktop, move the mouse to the upper center of the screen. A tab with the name of the host computer appears alongside the typical window-manipulation buttons (i.e., Minimize, Resize, Maximize, and Close). You can use these buttons to minimize the remote session to a Taskbar button, resize the remote session to display in a window, or close the session window. Closing the window disconnects but doesn't terminate the remote session. You can use the same procedure you used to create the session to reconnect to the session and continue where you left off. (For instructions about shutting down a session, see the sidebar "Remote Desktop Troubleshooting Tips.")

Configuring Remote Desktop Connection


You can also configure expanded Remote Desktop Connection settings. To do so, open Remote Desktop Connection and click Options to expand the Remote Desktop Connection dialog box.

Remote Desktop Connection uses your logon credentials to connect to the remote computer. If those credentials don't work (perhaps because you don't have a user account on both computers), you can add the proper credentials on the General tab, which Figure 2 shows. From this tab, you can click Save As to save connection settings and copy them to another computer on which Remote Desktop Connection is installed. (To use saved settings, click Open.)

The Display tab contains—you guessed it—display settings. When you want to view the remote session in a smaller window rather than in the default full-screen mode, or if your session is slow over a dial-up connection when using 24-bit color, you can edit those settings on the Display tab to put less stress on the connection.

The Local Resources tab controls communication between the local computer and the remote system. If you want to automatically map the local computer's drives to the remote system or use the local computer's COM port with the remote session, you can enable those capabilities on this tab. (You can also disable these features from the Local Resources tab.) You can configure sound and keyboard shortcut settings on this tab.

If you plan to use Remote Desktop Connection to run only one application on the remote computer, you can enter the application's path on the Programs tab. (You must know the path. The tab doesn't offer a Browse option because you aren't yet connected to the remote computer.) When you enter the path, the remote application is started and maximized automatically when you log on to the remote session. Closing the remote application disconnects you from the remote computer.

The Experience tab lets you specify your connection's speed and thus selectively enable or disable features such as menu and window animation. You can enable or disable these settings individually, but at first you might want to stick with the client's suggested settings to get the best performance from each network speed. Enabling too many options over slow connections can make your remote session sluggish.

Don't Leave Home Without It


Setting up XP's Remote Desktop and using the feature to connect to an XP Pro system truly is as easy as it sounds. (See the sidebar "Remote Desktop Troubleshooting Tips" for the answers to potential questions and snags.) Of course, Remote Desktop doesn't provide the Terminal Services support of a Windows terminal server, but the feature still provides a handy and easy way to access your host computer. You'll feel as if you never left home.