No matter where you are, so long as you have Internet access, you can work as if you were sitting at your home PC. This isn't a new idea, but it did get a major boost with the release of XP Pro in 2001.
Earlier versions had the ability to connect remotely, but only by going through a Windows NT or Windows 2000 server running Terminal Services. However, this wasn't cheap and quickly became the exclusive preserve of corporate networks.
Windows XP upset the apple cart. Pro featured a "lite" Terminal Services client and its RDC (remote desktop connection) was capable of supporting only one remote user at a time. It used the same protocol as the full version: RDP (remote desktop protocol). RDP is a fairly efficient protocol, working well over low-bandwidth scenarios and even on Pocket PCs.
Remote Desktop shouldn't be confused with Remote Assistance. Although based on RDP, Remote Assistance is more suitable for assisting with problems and requires the direct interaction of a human on the remote PC in order to take control.
You can redirect resources from the remote PC to the local client, depending upon the capabilities of the client software used. For instance, File System Redirection allows users to see their local files on a remote desktop, while Printer Redirection allows them to use their local printer as they would with a locally- or network-shared printer.
There are a few hurdles to clear when considering using Remote Desktop, such as finding your PC when inside and outside your local area network, or getting connected to your desktop remotely through a firewall. Over the next couple of pages we'll show you how to install and configure Remote Desktop Connection on your PC.
NOTE: If you're using Windows 9x, Me, NT or 2000, download the client software from www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/tools/rdclientdl.mspx to remotely control a Windows XP system.
SET UP WINDOWS XP REMOTE ACCESS
1. In XP Pro, Remote Desktop is usually turned off by default. To turn it on, go to Control Panel-System-Remote and tick the Remote Desktop checkbox. If you want only certain users to access your PC when you're not there, you can create an access list. To do so, click on Advanced and add the users that you want to be able to access your PC.
2. Windows Firewall has to be instructed to permit Remote Desktop traffic through to your PC. To give the firewall its orders, open Control Panel-Windows Firewall. Ensure Make no Exceptions is left blank. Now select the Exceptions tab and ensure Remote Desktop is ticked. Click OK and close Windows Firewall.
3. If you use a router, you may need to set up port forwarding. This tells it which PC to send traffic to when receiving data via a certain port. Remote Desktop uses port 3389. Many routers have special port-forwarding configuration screens for standard applications. For Netgear routers, you must add a "service" to a firewall rule to permit inbound or outbound traffic.
4. To connect to your remote PC, open Remote Desktop Connection and type in either an IP address or its dynamic DNS URL. Type in the Username and Password. If it's a standalone PC ignore the Domain entry. Before connecting it's worth saving your settings, so click the Save As button and give the connection a name.
5. You can run the remote desktop full-screen or in a window. Running it full-screen can be less confusing and reduces the need to scroll. However, if your desktop has a lower resolution than the remote one, it's best to run the session in a window. Toggle between full-screen and the window mode with <Ctrl>-<Alt>-<Break>.
6. Version 6.0 of the Remote Desktop Connection client has been released in preparation for Vista. Apart from several security improvements, RDC6 supports multiple monitor spanning, 32-bit colour and font smoothing. Download it from www.microsoft.com/downloads or search for KB925876.
FREE ACCESS ONLINE LogMeIn gives you full control of your home or work computer from wherever you are. The software offers end-to-end 256-bit SSL (secure socket layer) encryption, dual-authentication and RSA SecureID. And many readers will be pleased to learn that this client works well on slow connections (www.logmein.com).
ACCESS FILES ANYWHERE Gmail Drive is a small shell extension that installs into My Computer and allows you to use your Gmail account as remote storage space - great for making files accessible from any computer. Get it from www.viksoe.dk/code/gmail.htm.
REAL-TIME REMOTE Remote Administrator 2.0 is fast and secure and enables you to work on a remote computer in real-time. The remote computer screen appears in a separate window. You can remotely access the same PC from multiple places and use advanced file transferring and remote shutdown (www.famatech.com).
SHARE AND SHARE-ALIKE BeInSync securely and seamlessly keeps your files in sync and backed up across your computers, ensuring that your data is available to you at any time and at any place. BeInSync has the added bonus of allowing you to easily share files of any size with your colleagues, partners, family and friends (www.beinsync.com).