Windows Remote Desktop Connection lets you connect via a dial-up connection, a local area network (LAN) or even across the internet and take control of somebody’s computer (or your own).

It’s great for catching up with the office when you’re at home, or for checking the emails on your home computer when you are in the office.

Remote Desktop Connection Terminology and Basics

– The local computer: We’ll call the computer on which you’re working the local computer. The local computer needs to have Remote Desktop Connection installed (it’s installed by default in Windows XP and Windows Vista)

– The remote computer: That’s the computer that you are accessing from a distance, from the local computer. The remote computer needs to have Remote Desktop installed. Remote Desktop is included in Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Business edition, Windows Vista Ultimate edition and Windows 2003 Server. It’s not included in Windows XP Home edition or Windows Vista Home edition.

Connecting to the remote computer

In order for you to connect to the remote computer via Remote Desktop Connection, any active session (whether local or also connected via Remote Desktop Connection) on that remote computer needs to be disconnected. You get a warning about this, but the user in the other session doesn’t. If you choose to proceed, the remote computer displays the Welcome Screen while your remote desktop session is going on. There’s no easy way for anyone looking at the computer to tell that you’re remotely connected to it.

If a user comes back to the remote computer and starts using it while your session is going on, your session will be terminated (with a warning on their side, this time, but not on yours).

What happens during a remote desktop session is this:

  • Keystrokes and mouse clicks are transmitted from the local computer to the remote computer via the display protocol. The remote computer registers the keystrokes and mouse clicks as if they came from the keyboard and mouse attached to it.
  • Programs run on the remote computer as usual (they don’t run across the wire)
  • Screen display information is passed to the local computer, again via the display protocol. This protocol is optimized for performance ( only the necessary information travels over the wire)

Accepting incoming connections

You need to set the remote computer so that it accepts incoming connections:

  • Click on the Start button
  • Right-click the “My Computer” icon and select “Properties”
  • In the system properties window, click on the “remote” tab
  • check the box next to “Allow users to connect remotely to this computer”
    Remote Desktop Connection
  • to specify which users can connect to the remote computer, click the “Select Remote Users” button

Connecting to the remote computer

Now that the remote computer is set to accept incoming connections, let’s see how you can connect from your local computer to the remote computer:

  • Click the start button
  • select “All Programs”
  • select “Accessories”
  • select “Communications”
  • select “Remote Desktop Connection”

The Remote Desktop Connection window will appear:

Remote Desktop Connection

Enter the computer name or the ip address of the remote computer to which you want to connect and hit the “Connect” button.

A Windows logon screen will appear …

Remote Desktop Connection

Enter the credentials of an existing, authorized user on the remote computer and click ok. The RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) session will start and you will be able to control the remote computer in this session. The session appears in a window on your local machine. When maximized, this window has a typical indicator (the connection bar) at the top of the screen:

Remote Desktop Connection

If you don’t see this connection bar, try hovering with your mouse at the top of the remote desktop session window to make the connection bar appear. If you have the “Auto-Hide” property activated, it will vanish from your screen when your mouse pointer leaves the top screen area. You can click the pin button at the left end of the connection bar to pin the bar in position.

Problem Solving

In addition to accepting incoming connections, your remote computer’s firewall must also allow the incoming connections, or your remote session will not work and you will get on of these:

Remote Desktop Connection

Check your firewall settings on the remote computer if you experience problems when trying to initiate a remote session. If you are working with the Windows XP built-in firewall, click the Start button, select Control Panel, make sure you are in “Category View” and select “Security Center”. Then click Windows Firewall and click the exceptions tab. Make sure the Remote Desktop checkbox is checked and confirm the firewall settings.

You can find out more details on how to configure the Windows firewall in this separate article.

To the top of this Remote Desktop Connection article.