Feeling remote

My partner in marital crime recently decamped for several weeks to the US to gather stock footage for a documentary film. After a few days of single parenthood, I decided to regroup with our two miniature troops to my parents' home and enjoy a weekend of prepared meals and baby wrangling.

However, I forgot to e-mail my article notes to their home computer, as well as a digital photo that I had promised them ages ago. At one time, I would have had no choice but to turn around and drive 100km back home if I really needed the files. Instead, my short-term memory loss simply gave me a great opportunity to test out this month's subject: RDC (Remote Desktop Connection).

RDC is a very handy piece of Windows XP software that allows you to access one PC from another, via the Web. It lets you view work files from home, for instance.

The only hitch is that the computer you want to access must have XP Professional installed on it, not XP Home. This is not usually a problem if it's your work PC that you want to access. If you're not sure whether you have Professional installed, choose Start-All Programs-Accessories-Windows Explorer. Then choose Help-About Windows, and the logo at the top will tell you what version you're using.

Accepting connections

Assuming your PC is running Windows XP Professional, you can then set up the remote PC to accept incoming connections. Choose Start, then right-click My Computer and choose Properties. Click on the Remote tab and check the "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer" box. If you click on Select Remote Users, you'll see that your user account already has access to this PC (obviously). You can also add other user accounts (to create them, choose User Accounts in Control Panel) or groups here.

Next, set up the local PC. Choose Start-All Programs-Accessories-Communications-Remote Desktop Connection. Click the Options button. The first tab, General, lets you put in the name or IP address of the remote PC, as well as username, password and domain. You can set up different connection profiles with Save as. The next tab, Display, lets you change the size of your RDC window. You can adjust the colours for the remote desktop. If you use a dialup connection, try 256 colours for a faster setup.

The Local Resources tab lets you choose whether you want to hear the sounds being played on the remote PC or have them echo through an empty office (which begs the question "Does a PC really go 'ding!' in an office if there's no-one around to hear it?"). If you want to do more than just view the files on your remote system, you'll also want to connect your local devices to it - see Figure 1.

Check the disk drives, printers and serial ports boxes so that you can copy files to the local PC, print them off on your local printer, or copy them to serial-port devices such as PDAs.

If you always use the same program on your remote PC, use the Programs tab to start it up automatically when you log on. Finally, the Experience tab lets you choose your connection and selects a level of graphical sophistication based on the speed.

You can override these recommended settings, but the results will be very poor over a slow connection.

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