Tip o’ the Week 306 – Remote Desktop at home

clip_image002A computer on every desk and in every home”; sounds like a good idea, right?
It’s quite unusual to have such clarity of purpose in any corporate mission statement today, let alone in something so radical at the time it was written. 40 years ago, it must have seemed like crazy talk. Nowadays, every desk has had a computer (and use of many computers has outlived their desks), and nearly every home has one – in fact, nearly every room in some homes has at least one.

If you have a proliferation of PCs then you might have a need to make stuff that happens on one be accessible from the other(s). What if you could sit on the sofa (post turkey-fest?) and connect to the others? Use your phone or your tablet to control a corporate laptop that’s Direct Access-connected back to base, refreshing a financial report or some such?

If you’ve a Professional or Enterprise version of Windows (like a corporate Windows 10 laptop), then you’ll have the ability to connect to your machine using the built-in Remote Desktop function, a technology rooted in the Terminal Services feature that first appeared in Windows Server back in the late 1990s.

clip_image004Checking Remote Desktop is available and switched on

Firstly, have a look in the System application (press WindowsKey+X then choose System from there, or press WindowsKey+ Pause|Break if you have a full-size keyboard). clip_image006You’ll see if you’re running Pro or Enterprise version of Windows, and you’ll also have the link to Remote settings – have a look in there, and you will hopefully see the Remote Desktop section. Make sure it’s enabled and that you’ve selected the right users to be allowed to connect. Whilst you have that dialogue open, click on the Computer Name tab and make a note of what your machine is called – you’ll need that in a sec. You might even want to rename your machine to something more memorable while you’re there…

If you don’t have the Remote Desktop section available, there are other options– see later in the tip.

clip_image008Now, from another Windows machine, you should be able to connect to your PC – type Remote at the start menu to see the Remote Desktop Connection app – or just press WindowsKey+R and enter mstsc to launch the same thing (the executable is named after Microsoft Terminal Server connection, before the technology was renamed Remote Desktop Servicess).

clip_image010If you have multiple machines you might want to connect to, then mstsc /v <name> will jump straight to each one, and the Most Recently Used list for the Run command will offer you previous-used entries. This can be a handy way of remembering the names for the machines you might use regularly, so isn’t as counter-intuitive as you might think.

If you just open the mstsc app on its own and click Show Options then you’ll be able to tweak the settings such as quality of display, whether you want to run full screen or in a window, or even use multi-monitors where available. When you’re happy with the settings for each machine, you could save them out as a separate .RDP file, and you can launch the session in future by opening that file directly.

There’s a Remote Desktop Windows 10 modern app too – here – which is touch-friendly and also keeps a handy list of previously-accessed machines, though it doesn’t offer quite the same level of control of the user experience as its desktop counterpart described above. Some users of the modern app use it to run regular x86 Windows applications on their Surface RT.

Microsoft also publishes Remote Desktop client apps for Android, iOS, Mac and Windows Phone.

Firewall check

If you see Remote Desktop switched on as above, but you can’t connect to the machine from your other client, there are a number of obvious things to check (Are you connected to the same network? Have you got the name right? etc) but there are a couple of Windows clip_image012Firewall related things that might trip you up.

It’s worth checking that the PC you’re looking to connect to thinks it’s on a home network, not a public one – have a look in the Network and Sharing Center clip_image014old-fashioned Control Panel applet, and make sure your PC thinks it’s connected to a Private network. If you need to change from Public to Private, launch the HomeGroup control panel applet, and you can switch from there.

Even if you think everything should be tickety-boo but you still can’t access the remote machine, double-check clip_image016that the appropriate Firewall Rules are enabled – go into the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security control panel app, and under Inbound Rules, make sure the rules beginning Remote Desktop… are all enabled (showing a little green tick).

Remote desktop to a home PC

If your home PC isn’t running Pro or Enterprise versions of Windows then there are still options to allow you to remotely control it – a load of third party software purports to do this, though like any freeware you find on the internet, be careful… when running the setup process, make sure you’re not installing any other guff you don’t need, and maybe even think about removing the software as soon as you’ve used it, if you don’t anticipate needing it regularly.

The most recommended options include LogMeIn and TeamViewer, the latter of which is free for home use and has many client apps, including a touch-friendly modern app.

Another warning, though: the fact that TeamViewer is free means it’s also the favoured tool of the shysters calling people up and claiming to be from Microsoft, so they can access the hapless user’s computer. Make sure if you do install it, you’re getting it directly from the official source, and that you it’s as locked-down as you can make it.

Tip o’ the Week #248 – Sense the WiFi

clip_image002Sense the network: Use the Force.

One of the cool new features in Windows Phone 8.1 is “WiFi Sense” –  it’s enabled by default and, in a nutshell, is used to let other people access WiFi networks you already know about, without them having to type in the network password. It also lets you connect to known open networks or secured ones shared by your friends.

If you connect to a network and put in a password, and you’ve allowed WiFi Sense to do so, then your contacts of a given type (who also have WP8.1), will be able to connect to that same WiFi network without needing to know the password. The actual passcode itself is not shared with the contact directly, but it is sent to their phone in a hashed way that means it can be presented to the network for access, without their phone even knowing what the password is. If you’ve only just shared your home network, it could take a couple of days for it to percolate through the WiFi Sense system and show up on your friends’ phones, so take it easy and give it some time.

clip_image004In practice, this means that if you set a password on your home WiFi, your pals who have WP8.1 will be able to use your home network without clip_image006needing your password (or, in fact, your permission – they’re your friends, after all…). If you live in an apartment block in the city, you might want to be careful about this as you could well have neighbours you know leeching on your broadband, but if you live in a more rural location then perhaps you can trust that the only people within range of your network will be those that you invite onto your property.

The benefit of having WiFi Sense turned on is that your phone will automatically connect to known networks, and use them instead of racking up bandwidth charges on your phone bill (especially handy when travelleing).

The service not only lets you connect to networks enabled by your friends, but open networks are shared by everyone with WiFi Sense switched on (via a crowdsourcing arrangement), and are connected to automatically, accepting T&Cs, providing details like your name & phone number etc. As it happens, the phone comes with a usefully vague set of default information (check it out by going into WiFi settings / WiFi Sense / edit info).

WiFi Sense is available in most countries – for more details or to see more info on how it works, check out the WiFi Sense FAQ.