How To Access Your PC Remotely

It’s the nature of small businesses that owners often need to work while they are not in the office. For some, it’s a matter of needing files and programs at home. For others, it’s important to have access to office documents while on the road. Millions of office workers and business owners find a solution in remote desktop tools, which provide access to the resources of one (host) PC from another (client) PC, generally using the Internet as the conduit for connection. One of these, Microsoft’s RDC (Remote Desktop Connection), became more powerful and easier to use with the release of Windows 7. In this article, we’ll detail what RDC can do for you and show you how to use it. We’ll also help you determine if shortcomings with your current environment might not make it a practical solution. If this is the case, we’ll point you to a best-ofbreed, third-party remote tool, Go-ToMyPC (see the “Go To It” sidebar).

The Road Rules

RDC works with a number of Windows versions, and it also works with newer Macs. However, it works most elegantly with specific configurations and not at all within certain parameters. As you’ll see, it’s more about your setup-rather than the tool itself-that might make RDC a bad candidate for your needs. To act as a host computer for RDC, a PC must be running a business edition of Windows XP/Vista/7. These are Windows XP Professional; Windows Vista Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise; and Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise. (Server versions of Windows can also act as hosts, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.) Home versions of WinXP/Vista/7 and any earlier versions of Windows can act only as clients (the PC accessing the data remotely) for RDC. We use Win7 in our examples here. Setting up RDC for truly remote (over-the-Internet rather than inside your network) access requires special router configuration. It’s not rocket science, but it does require some technical aptitude. It also leaves your PC more open to penetration, so if you are not running stringent security software, consider another option. However, if your primary need for RDC is in-network convenience-for example, to control your home office PC on a laptop from the comfort of your couch or patio, or to remotely control another PC on your office network, the process is a breeze and works beautifully. (We’ll tell you which steps you can skip below.)

RDC Benefits & Compromises

Remote Desktop Connection Icon

Image via Wikipedia

With RDC running, the remote interface literally replicates that of your host PC (at least initially), even down to the Start button and System Tray. You can then use it exactly as if you were on the host itself, running installed programs, opening and editing files, accessing USB drives and printers, and more. You can also copy or cut files from a host drive, minimize Remote Desktop (at which time your client interface reappears, and the host interface becomes an icon at the bottom of your screen), and paste the files to your client drives. On the downside, when you are running the host PC remotely, no one can access that PC. This is true even if someone is using a different user profile.

Getting Access

In order to use RDC, the host must have an always-on (not dial-up or other on-demand) Internet connection, and it must be left up and running with Hibernation/Sleep disabled (to check this in Win7, click Start, click Control Panel, click Hardware And Sound, and select Power Options). You must also have administrative access to the host computer. To set up RDC, follow these steps. The process takes less than an hour. If you will be traveling, complete a connection from a nearby location, such as your home or a local coffee shop, before you depart. This will let you troubleshoot any problems that arise or opt for a different solution. Enable RDC on the host. On the host PC, click the Start button, right- lick Computer, and select Properties. In the left pane, click Remote Settings. If prompted, provide an administrator password to proceed. When the System Properties display opens, under the Remote tab, select one of two options: Select Allow Connections From Computers Running Any Version Of Remote Desktop if you will connect via newer Macs or older versions of Windows. Or, choose Allow Connections Only From Computers Running Remote Desktop With Network Level Authentication if you will only connect from other Windows Vista or Win7 PCs. This option is much more secure (for both machines) and requires fewer remote PC resources. Enable access by the client PC. From within the System Properties window, click Select Users. In the Remote Desktop Users window, click Add and then click Advanced in the Select Users window. On the right side of the Select Users window, click Find Now. Scroll down and click the name of the host PC profile you want to access. To access all profiles, click Everyone. Click OK at each display to accept the change. (If you are using Remote Desktop within your own network, skip to the “Get Connected” section of this article.) Edit firewall settings. If you’re using Windows Firewall, click Start, type Windows Firewall in the Search box, and click Windows Firewall in the results. On the left side, click Allow A Program Or Feature Through Windows Firewall. Remote Desktop should already be selected for the Home/Work (Private) option. Selecting Public lets you connect through networks marked as Public (open Wi-Fi), but it is far less secure. If you are using a different firewall, check the users guide about allowing firewall exceptions. Some firewalls will negotiate Remote Desktop settings automatically. Set your router to allow incoming connections. From Control Panel, click Network And Internet and Network And Sharing Center. Under Connections, click either Wireless Network Connection or Local Area Connection (you will only see one option). Click Details and write down the string of numbers (the IP [Internet Protocol] address) next to IPv4 Address. Open your Web browser and type the internal IP address of your router into the Address Bar. (It should be 192.168.0.1, 192.169.1.1, or 192.168.2.1.) Press ENTER. If none of these addresses works, check the underside of your router or refer to your users guide. When your router’s configuration display opens, provide the administrator name and password. (You may not need one. If you have one but forgot it, refer to your router’s users guide for help resetting it.) Look for an option to turn on port forwarding or port mapping (this may be under an Advanced tab or other nested option). Enter port number 3389 (the default port of Remote Desktop), the IP address (the number you wrote down earlier in this step), and, if required, the PC name of the host and the application name (Remote Desktop). If prompted, reboot your router. Computer repair Las Vegas done right!

Get Connected

Windows Firewall

Image via Wikipedia

If you are connecting over the Internet, visit www.find-ip-address.org (or other IP lookup site; you can search for others) to search for your router’s public IP address. Write it down. From the client PC, click Start and type Remote in the Search box. Click Remote Desktop Connection. In the Computer field, provide the IP address of your host PC. If you are connecting inside your network, provide the Workgroup name of your host PC instead. (Open Network And Sharing Center on the host to see the name.) If asked, provide the name of the profile you are accessing. (If you do not see this option, click Options to expand the display.) If you have not already done so, click Options to expand the display. Use the various tabs to tweak your settings, such as display colors, local resources, and other options. Click Connect. You’ll be prompted to enter credentials (these match those used to log in at your host PC). Provide them, click OK, and wait for your host PC to appear on your screen.

Up & Running . . . Or Not

If the connection succeeds, the interface of your remote PC will literally duplicate that of the host, excluding adjustments for differences such as monitor size and resolution. If Remote Desktop fails to load, your Internet service provider may be using dynamic IP addresses, which means they can change each time your host PC connects to the Internet. Contact your ISP. A second problem is that some point along the path to your host PC, incoming connections to port 3389 (a frequent target of hackers) are being blocked. You can change your router’s listening port as described earlier (not a bad idea for security), but you must also change the default listening port in Windows. For assistance, search support .microsoft.com for article ID 306759.

 

Smart Computing | July 2011 p.32

 

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