If you have never used Remote Desktop, it is a really great way to connect to another PC (office, home, etc) remotely and get work done that you otherwise could not get done unless you were physically at the machine. I routinely use remote desktop to connect to servers at our office, connect to user’s computers to provide tech support and to connect to my personal computer at home to access files.

In order to use Remote Desktop, there are a couple of things you need to understand. First off, remote desktop only works with Windows XP and Windows 2003. What I mean by this is that you can only connect INTO a Window XP or 2003 machine. You can use a Windows 98, ME, or 2000 to connect INTO a Windows XP or 2003 machine, but you cannot connect INTO a 98, ME or 2000 machine remotely. If you want to be able to connect to a Windows 2000 or earlier machine, you’ll have to buy commercial software.

Secondly, you need to make sure that you are logged in as a computer administrator on the machine in order to set it up for remote access. If you brought a computer from a store or got it straight from the manufacturer, the first user name you create is always an Administrator account.

An easy way to check whether or not you are an Administrator is to go to Start, Control Panel and then click on User Accounts. You’ll see your user name and it should have “Administrators” or “Computer Administrator” written next to it.

user accounts xp

Thirdly, the administrator account on your machine must have a password. If you do not have to type in a password in order to access Windows when you start up your computer, then you do not have a password set up and Remote Desktop will not work. Remote desktop does not allow you to connect to a computer with a user account that does not have a password.

When you go to User Accounts and click on the Administrator account, you will see an option to create a password for the account. Go ahead and do that before moving on.

create password user

Next, if the computer you are connecting to is running Windows XP SP3, then you need to open the firewall to allow remote desktop connections. To do this, go to Start, Control Panel, Windows Firewall and click on the Exceptions tab.

firewall exception

Make sure that the Remote Desktop check box is checked. The last thing that needs to be done in order for Remote Desktop to work correctly is to tell Windows that we want to allow users to connect remotely. So far we’ve just fulfilled the requirements, but now we have to actually allow remote desktop connections to this computer.

Go to Start, Control Panel, and click on System. Click on the Remote tab and make sure that the “Allows users to connect remotely to this computer” box is checked. Don’t worry about clicking the Select Remote Users button because Administrators have access by default. If you want to give an non-administrator account remote desktop access, then click that button and add the user.

allow remote connections xp

And that’s it! Your computer is now setup for remote desktop! First try connecting to the XP machine from another computer on your home network. In order to connect, go to the other computer and click on Start, All programs, Accessories, Communications, and Remote Desktop Connection. If you want to connect to the XP machine from Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, just click on Start and perform a search for remote desktop connection. On Windows 8, go to the Start Screen and start typing to perform a search.

remote desktop connection

In the dialog box, you can type in the IP address or the name of the computer. The best way to connect is to type in the IP address of the computer. In order to get the IP address of the computer you want to connect to, go to the computer and click on Start, Run and type in CMD.

run cmd

In the black command window, type in the word “ipconfig” without the quotes as shown below and press Enter.

ipconfig address

You’ll see your IP address listed along with some other info, but you don’t need to worry about that. Write down that IP address (192.x.x.x or something similar) and type that number exactly into the remote desktop text box on the other computer (the computer you are connecting from).

win7 remote desktop

Click Connect and you should get a login screen pop up, which means you have successfully connected to the other computer. You can now enter the Computer Administrator user name and password.

If you get an error saying that computer cannot accept new connections, etc. that means something was not configured correctly. Remember you need to give the administrator account a password, open the port in the firewall, and check the allow remote connections check box in the System properties. All  three items need to be performed on computer you want to connect TO.

Once you are able to connect from within the same network, now you can try to connect from outside. So if you want to connect to your home computer from the office, you can do that, but you’ll have to do a few extra things.

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