Monday, May 01, 2006

Remote Desktop to your Windows XP PC

What you'll need:
A PC (or Intel Mac) running Windows XP Professional
Office 2004 (OS X) with the Remote Desktop Connection Application Installed
And a Mac running OS X (PPC or Intel)

1. Configure your PC

Before setting up the Remote Desktop connection on your PC, you must ensure that you have at least one account configured with a password. You will be able to use any account on your machine, provided it's password protected, with Remote Desktop.

Now, we can go ahead and enable Remote Desktop in Windows. Right-click My Computer and select Properties. Click on the Remote tab, and check the box labeled "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer." Click OK, and you're done!

I would recommend locking your PC (Windows Key + L) after this step. Although it is not required, it will make connecting to your PC from your Mac a lot faster.

2. Configure the Remote Desktop Connection Application in OS X

As long as you have a version of Office 2004 (this includes the student version), the Remote Desktop Connection application should be installed on your machine. If not, navigate the intallation disc and find the Remote Desktop Connection installation package.

Launch the Remote Desktop Application. Click on the Options button to reveal the advanced configuration settings. Enter the User name and Password for the account you would like to use from your PC. (This must be an existing password-enabled account). Check the Add to Keychain box if you'd like to store the User name/password in your OS X keychain.

The display resolution can be configured from the Display tab. The Remote Desktop session can be run windowed or in Full screen mode. (I recommend the Full screen mode as it gives you the feel of actually working from your PC). Local Resources and Performance settings can also be configured from their respective tabs. I won't go into detail on these unless requested.

Finally, enter the IP address of your machine (or Machine Name if you're on the same local network) and click Connect. And you're done! You should now be working within windows from your Mac.

3. Making sure RDC will always work correctly

This section is for people who want to use RDC from home as well as any location with an internet connection. If you have one machine and no router, there is no need to continue reading this section. However, if you have a router and multiple machines, this section is for you.

When working within a local network (in this case, the same network as the PC you'll be loggin onto via RDC), the local IP address (usually in the format or the Machine Name can be used. Although this does save you some time by not having to walk over to your PC, RDC is much sweeter when used from a remote (no pun intended) location with a high-speed internet connection. There are several ways to ensure this will work for users with routers, but I will only go over the method that I have found to be the simplest. However, feel free to post alternative methods.

One problem for many people using routers is that their PC has a local IP address and, as a result, is not exposed to external users not on the same local network. To expose your machine you must enable DMZ in your router. Log into your router by opening any browser and typing for Linksys routers or for d-link routers. (These may be inaccurate, so please see your manual or do a google search for the correct IP address and user/name password for your router). Within the router configuration menu, select DMZ (again, see your manual for its location if you don't already know where it is). Enable DMZ and enter your machine's local IP address (the machine which you'll be logging onto via RDC).

Now, instead of typing the local IP address into the RDC application under OS X, you can type the router's IP address. This allows you to access your machine via RDC from any network with an internet connection as your router's IP address is already exposed to the internet.

This works flawlessly assuming you don't have DHCP enabled! And such is the NOT the case for nearly all users with a router. So why is DHCP so bad? In DCHP-enabled environments, machines on the network will be assigned IP addresses automatically, which have expiration dates. Thus, your computer's local IP address may be today and tomorrow. Here's a quick aside about DHCP. DHCP saves the average user from having to configure their PC's network settings in order to get online via a router. This is a great feature for EVERY user! That is, unless you're trying to connect to your machine via RDC from a remote location. Of course, you can check your machine's IP address on a daily basis and adjust the DMZ IP address accordingly, but who really has time to do such a thing?

To correct this issues, our goal is to predefine a static (non-changing) IP address for the PC. To do this, you will have to write down a couple of numbers, so get a pen and some paper ready, or open up Notepad.

In Windows XP, click Start, Run, type CMD, and hit OK. This will open a command prompt window. Type the follwing: ipconfig /all . This will give you detailed information about your network adapters. We will only concern ourselves with the network adapter being utilized to access the internet. You will need to write down the following numbers, make sure you label them for reference: Subnet Mask, Default Gateway, and DNS Servers (both sets). You can close the command prompt now. Open Network Connections by clicking Start, right-click My Network Places, and select Properties. Locate the network device you're using to connect to the internet. Right-click it and select Properties. Under the General tab, scroll down in the "This connection uses the following items" box to the very bottom. There you will see an item labeled "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)." Select it and then click on the Properties button.

In the new window, select the "Use the following IP address:" radio button. Remember all those values you wrote down a while ago, well fill them in this window. The only value that you did not write down is the IP address. Here, we will specify our own IP address. I would recommend using a pretty high value that is not within the range of commonly assigned IP addresses. Something like would work very well. Of course any number you choose (that is within your allowed range of IP addresses) will work. Remember to keep it in the format of, where xxx is the number you will fill in.

Finally, go back to your router configuration page and set the DMZ IP to this newly assigned IP for your PC. Now your RDC connection will always work from any remote location as your PC's IP is now static.

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