One of the coolest features of networking is the ability to log in to a computer which may be hundreds of miles away and control it as if you were sitting at the console. The even cooler thing is that setting this up is actually quite easy to do, but you don’t need to be a dumbass when you do it.
In a home environment, remote access is not always practical to pull off, but can readily be done, if you’ve got the right equipment. Remote access with Windows is accomplished by using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP); RDP uses port 3389 to get the job done. BTW, if you don’t know what ports are, wait for a future post. Suffice to say, port 3389 is what we need to work with.
Your operating system also matters; you can only remotely connect to a computer running Windows Server or Windows XP Professional (Home won’t cut it). I’m not a Vista user because, well, it sucks shit, but I believe that the Home editions of Vista also have this limitation. You can use a Windows Home computer to connect to another computer, but you cannot connect to the machine running Home edition. Make sense? Ok, let’s move on then.
You must enable the ability to connect remotely to the computer. To do this, simply right click the “My Computer” icon, go to the “Remote” tab, then check the box that says “Allow users to connect remotely to this desktop”.
But wait! We’re not done yet. Just because the computer allows remote connections doesn’t mean that YOU can connect to it. See that box that says “Select Remote Users”? Yeah, you can use that to select who can connect to the computer; by default, the local administrator can connect.
Now this part may be a bit confusing, but in a nutshell, any user account which is a member of the “Remote Desktop Users” group. In Windows, a group is simply a collection of users; when permissions are given to a group, all members of that group automatically have those permissions. It is much easier to assign permissions to a group than to individual user accounts. But I digress.
Clicking the “Select Remote Users” button will bring up a new window which shows who already has access to the computer remotely; initially, as I said, this is only the local administrator. If you want more, click the “Add” button.
The window that comes up next allows you to search the local security database; this is the database containing all of the local users and groups. The easiest thing to do here is to type in the username of the person you want to give remote access to, then click the “Check Names” button (separate mutiple usernames with a semicolon). Once the names come back as okay, click the “Ok” button. Oh, and the user accounts MUST have a password set. You cannot give remote access to a user unless their account has a password.
So now I’ve given you a crash course on enabling remote access and giving remote access permissions to users, but how do we actually connect to this computer? Well, quite easy actually; use the Remote Desktop application, which you’ll find under Start->Program Files->Accessories; sometimes you’ll need to go one level further, under “Communications”. Type in the IP address of the computer to which you’re going to connect (the one that you enabled remote access on), plus your username and password (of the user account on the computer to which you’re connecting). So if we have two computers, A and B, and B is the computer we are connecting to, we will use the remote desktop application on computer A and specify computer B’s IP address, as well as the username/password of an account on computer B which has been added to the remote desktop users group.
Sound easy? Well, it actually is. You can simply remote around from one computer to another inside of your own LAN. Oh, and make sure that when you’re done using the remote computer that you log off of the remote computer. You can only have two connections to any given computer, so if you don’t log off you can quickly exceed this limit.
This is a great technology, but the real power comes from when you are away from your home and need to remote into your computer from, say, a hotel by way of the Internet. Now we get fun! And I’ll tell you how to do it in my next posting.