Thursday, April 16, 2009

Windows Remote Desktop from any system

Microsoft Windows is far from a perfect operating system, in my opinion, but there are some things about it that are really good. One of the features of Windows that Microsoft truly did a fantastic job on is Remote Desktop. The server is built into XP Professional and Vista Business, Corporate, and Ultimate. There is a client built into all versions of XP and Vista, one is also available for OS X and there are several for Linux.

This feature uses a protocol called rdp and is the best way I have found to remote manage Windows machines. Remote Desktop provided full access to the desktop on remote machine. It will log the user in if he is not already logged in on that machine, meaning that the server is active even when no one is logged in on the computer. This I like much more than other remote access tools like VNC, because if the user is not logged in you are out of luck.

Using Remote Desktop you log into the remote machine using the credentials of an existing user on that computer. All connections between the client and server are encrypted. Newer versions use 128-bit RC4 encryption while older versions will use weaker encryption.

Windows XP and Vista each support only a single user at the computer at a time, so Remote Desktop will kick off any other users currently at that computer. This includes anyone physically sitting at the computer. Windows Server versions can allow for more users but that gets into a mess of licensing issues. Whenever connect Windows locks the session locally so no one can see what you are doing unless they are looking over your shoulder. When you terminate your connection the server remains locked until someone with appropriate credentials comes along and unlocks it.

In Windows XP Pro, you can enable Remote Desktop access by right clicking on My Computer and going to Properties. Click the Remote tab and check the box that says "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer."

In Windows Vista Business, Corporate, or Ultimate, you can enable Remote Desktop access by right clicking on Computer and going to Properties. Click on the Remote tab and click one of the radio buttons that starts with "Allow connections." If you will only be accessing the computer from Windows clients running the latest version of Remote Desktop Client, you can click the bottom one. If you intend to access the computer from a Linux computer, you should probably click the middle one.

On Windows, the Remote Desktop Client is located at Start>All Programs>Accessories>Communications>Remote Desktop Client.

On Macs, there is a Remote Desktop client available from Microsoft here. I have been using it for a while and its pretty good. No real complaints about it here.

For Linux, there are a number of client available. Ubuntu comes with one preinstalled called Terminal Server Client. You can find it at Applications>Internet>Terminal Server Client.

Curiously, Linux Mint does not come with this program preinstalled. To install it, type this at the Terminal:
sudo aptitude install tsclient
Now it will appear at the same location as in Ubuntu.

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