Remote from a Mac

When you have a mixed network of machines running Windows, Macintosh, Linux and occasionally other operating systems, interoperability can become a cause for concern. That’s one of the prime reasons why most people stick to a single platform, but obviously there are times when you have to be able to link up systems that might not otherwise want to talk to each other. Fortunately, both Apple and Microsoft – despite their inability to interact with one another in musical file-format support – do enable the occasional bit of collaboration to take place between systems running Windows XP and systems running Mac OS X.

Remote from a Mac

One of my favourite solutions when I need a quick and simple way to connect to a PC from my Mac (say, I’m wandering with my Mac laptop) is the facility to create a remote connection client. Called the Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) client for the Mac, this is a small download (1.4MB or 1.8MB, depending on whether you use the newer BIN format or the older HQX) you can find at www.microsoft.com. Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, simply navigate to the Remote Desktop Connection folder on your Mac and run the executable (it’s also supplied as part of Microsoft Office for Mac).

The RDC client opens up in simple format, which is fine if you’ve used it before, but if this is your first time you’ll need to click on the arrow next to Options at the bottom of the dialog. Once the RDC dialog is expanded, there are a number of categories that you’ll want to look at before going ahead and making your connection. Start off by entering the name or IP address of the system to which you’re trying to connect. You’ll then need to fill in your standard login details (username, password, domain). Once you’ve done that, hit the Display button and choose the screen resolution for the RDC window, where you want it to be displayed if you have more than one display option (say, multiple monitors) and how many colours you’d like. The default is 800 x 600 in 256 colours, so you’ll probably want to raise the game a bit if you have a decent connection.

You can set connection speed via the Performance tab, which you get to see by choosing different types of connections: for example, the lowest connection offered is for a 28.8K modem, and the only checkbox enabled for that is bitmap caching. If you’re on a LAN, on the other hand, all the checkboxes will be lit up and you’ll get the Desktop background, the ability to show the contents of windows while dragging, menu and window animations, themes and the aforementioned bitmap caching. A Programs tab lets you set up a program to be run when you achieve a connection, and a Local Resources tab lets you choose whether to play sound on the local or remote systems (or not at all) – you also get the ability to connect to disk drives and printers whenever you make the connection.

The only other thing you have to do is make sure your Windows system is set up to accept remote connections. To do that, head to Start, select Control Panel, double-click on System, click on the Remote tab and select the option to allow remote users to connect to this machine. This action will automatically make an Exception entry in the Windows Firewall for you, so you don’t have to go there and do it yourself.

Once connected, you’re free to work on whatever you like on the Windows system. I’m typing these words at the moment on the keyboard of my Mac laptop while looking at the Windows PC running in the RDC window. If you disconnect your session on the Mac, any programs that were running on the Windows PC while you were connected will continue to run. I’ve found only one downside: click on the RDC application and it launches, then double-click on the icon again and it takes you to the current running instance rather than creating a second instance for you. To get around this, just make a few copies of the RDC application file and run a different one if you need multiple RDC sessions at the same time.

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