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Remote Desktop Guide: Introduction to Remote Desktop < [1/4] >


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Remote Desktop is a server and client that allows a user to remotely control a Windows based computer. It is similar to other programs such as VNC ([RealVNC], [TightVNC], [TridiaVNC]), [PCAnywhere], [Timbuktu], [Remote Administrator], or various other applications. But, the difference is that it is built into several Windows operating systems and beyond being free it also is robust, secure and fast. In fact, it is my favorite remote control program and I've used a lot of them including many of the costly alternatives.

Remote Desktop is divided into two components, the server and the client. It should be noted that the server component has no special name (although you could refer to it as the Microsoft Terminal Server), but the client is called the Microsoft Terminal Services Client (MSTSC) or often it is called the Remote Desktop Connection client. The server is the component that hosts a Remote Desktop connection and the client is the program used to remote control the hosting computer. In other words, the client controls the server, so the computer you want to control must have the server configured. Got it?

Before I go on I want to make it clear that only some versions of Windows contain the Remote Desktop server component. It is considered a business feature so it is not included with Windows XP Home, which I feel was a mistake of Microsoft since I know many people that would want this feature. The server is included with Windows XP Professional and all versions of Windows Server 2003. I would imagine that Windows Vista (Longhorn) will also include it in the business versions, but it may be left out of the normal consumer versions like it was with XP. You can check your Windows version by clicking on the Start Menu and selecting the option for "Run" and typing in winver and pressing the okay button.

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Remote Desktop is an expansion to the vision of a previous Microsoft product. That is, there is a remote control technology called Terminal Services that Microsoft uses for its server operating systems, and has been using for a long time. Terminal Services is useful because it allows multiple users to connect and use a single Microsoft server like their own desktop. This was useful for business users that needed to use work resources at home, or if there are expensive programs that the company can only afford to run on a single computer, etc. It could also be used for Mac users that needed to run Windows programs, and so they could log into a Terminal Server and run those applications, while still at the comfort of their Apple desktop.

In Windows XP Microsoft expanded the role of the Terminal Services. They included these features into their non-server operating system to make it more dynamic. They added the ability for a single user to use Remote Desktop to control a desktop PC, as well as using Terminal Services to handle Quick User Switching and for Remote Assistance.

With Windows Server 2003 they included Remote Desktop as a way for system administrators to manage their servers remotely. Terminal Services was aimed at users and the paradigm didn't fit for an administrator. So, in Windows Server 2003 there are three (3) simultaneous user connections that are allow to connect through Remote Desktop to manage the server. One of these connections is called the console connection (mstsc.exe /console) and the other two are free floating connections.

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