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What is a Remote Desktop Connection?

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  • Written By: Mike Howells
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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Remote computer access is a method by which a user at one computer can access the networked desktop of another computer as if the workstation were being used in person. One popular tool that allows this is the client application for the Remote Desktop Services suite of Windows® administrative tools, Remote Desktop Connection. It allows a user to log in from a host computer, running Windows XP Professional® or higher, to any networked computer that supports terminal services. Through Remote Desktop Connection, a user may run almost any of the programs or features accessible locally, including in newer iterations, plug and play devices such as printers and scanners.

Remote Desktop Connection provides for a number of benefits in a networked environment. With the appropriate permission levels, for instance, Remote Desktop Connection can allow an administrator to install or update programs for one or multiple users without having to visit the workstations in person. It can allow an administrator to access and manipulate a remote PC's file system, ports, printers, and audio, as well as restart the system.

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As well as allowing an administrator to access a workstation, Remote Desktop Connection can be leveraged by an administrator to access and work on a Windows® server remotely. In much the same way as a workstation can be manipulated, an administrator may use this application to access mail, antivirus, filesharing, or any other server or enterprise level features a server may have. This can be extremely useful in situations where a server is housed off-site or in a specialized server room. By utilizing Remote Desktop Connection, it is possible to almost totally manage a Windows®-based email or filesharing server without having to physically interact with the machine itself.

In addition to working on computers connected via a local network, Remote Desktop Connection can operate through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). In such cases, the host must connect to the client computer using its IP address and not the name of the computer, as would be done in a local network setting. Depending on the computing resources available, Remote Desktop Connection can be run full-screen in high color, or windowed with lesser options to improve performance.

Although Remote Desktop Connection allows for a great deal of flexibility in remote system management, it is not limitless. At present, a host cannot stream media via a client and network lag can inhibit the usability of some instances. Further, in mixed XP®/Vista® settings, there are certain scenarios, mainly involved when connecting an XP® host to a Vista® client, where interoperability can be troublesome. Online resources, both from Microsoft® and third parties, outline solutions and workarounds to these situations.

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