Step-by-Step: Windows XP Remote Desktop Overview
December 21, 2003

Ever wish that you could access your computer remotely from over the network or Internet?  If you are using Windows XP Professional, you can easily do that.  Using Remote Desktop, you can connect to your Windows XP Professional computer over the network or Internet and you'll have full control over your computer just as if you were sitting in front of it.  Remote Desktop is based on Terminal Services which was included in Windows 2000 Advanced Server.  However, this new Remote Desktop has a few new upgrades and features.

This guide covers the fundamentals of Windows XP Remote Desktop, shows you how to setup the host computer and client computer, for both Remote Desktop Standard and Remote Desktop Web Connection.

There are a few parts to the Remote Desktop setup:

1.  Remote Desktop Host

This computer must be running Windows XP Professional.  It is the one that you'll be connecting to from a different computer.  This is called the Host computer.

2. Remote Desktop Client

This computer is the one that you are using to connect to the Remote Desktop Host.  This computer can run any operating system, it doesn't need to run Windows XP Professional.  It can be using Win 95, 98, SE, ME, 2000, etc.  This is the Client computer.
3. Network or Internet
You can use Remote Desktop on a local network or across the Internet.  The faster your network or Internet connection is, the better response you'll get and the more pleasant your experience will be.
Now, there are 2 types of Remote Desktop setups.

1. Remote Desktop Standard

In the Standard setup, the Host computer has Remote Desktop enabled and listens to port 3389 which is the Remote Desktop Host uses to communicate to the client.  In order to connect to this Remote Desktop Host, the client computer must use the Remote Desktop Client software which can be installed from either the Windows XP Professional CD-ROM or downloaded from the Microsoft website. 
2. Remote Desktop Web
In the Web setup, the Host computer has Remote Desktop enabled, but also has the Remote Desktop Web Host Connection running through Internet Information Services (IIS 5.1).  The host then runs through port 3389 and also port 80 (or whatever you specify).  The client computer can then connect to the Remote Desktop Web Host by accessing a special webpage which will download a ActiveX control that is similar to Remote Desktop (Standard) Client.  If you have Remote Desktop Web Host running, you can connect to that host from both the Remote Desktop Standard Client or through the Remote Desktop Web Client.

Here are some considerations:

Remote Desktop Standard:

  • The Remote Desktop Standard Client can be made into a shortcut on your desktop with username and password included so with a double-click, you can instantly connect to the Remote Desktop Host.
  • The Remote Desktop Standard Client has more features features than the Remote Desktop Web Client.  Such features include hard drive, printer, and sound mapping customization.  You can also customize connection speed.
  • Running Remote Desktop Standard only requires port 3389 to be open.  Running Remote Desktop Web Host requires 3389 + a web port for IIS.
  • Don't have to use IIS which isn't all that secure unless you keep it fully patched.
  • Must install Remote Desktop Standard Client software on the client computer.  May not always be possible or desirable to do so.
Remote Desktop Web:
  • Can connect to the Remote Desktop Web Host from any computer with any Windows OS that has Internet Explorer 5 or later.  This is the main draw for Remote Desktop Web.
  • Can use either Remote Desktop Web Client or Remote Desktop Standard Client.
  • Have to use IIS which may not be fully secure.
  • May be more vulnerable to attackers.
  • Remote Desktop Web Client has less features than Remote Desktop Standard Client (but you can still use the Standard Client).
Basically, Remote Desktop Standard is good if you plan on remotely connecting to the Remote Desktop Host from the same computer every time.  If you plan on accessing the Remote Desktop Host from many different computers, then the Remote Desktop Web Host is for you.  However, if you do choose this path, it is a good idea for you to change the default port number of the IIS webserver from 80 to something else so that attackers won't be attracted to your site unnecessarily.  Also, you must be vigilant about keeping your computer patched!

Remote Desktop Host Connection:
The Remote Desktop Host has to have a permanent, always-on connection to the Internet.  It doesn't really matter if it's a static or dynamic IP number.  You can connect the client to the host by either IP number or domain name.  Of course, remembering a IP number is always hard so it is a good idea to connect your IP number to a domain name.  If you have a static IP address, then connecting a domain name is easy.  If you have a dynamic IP address, then you can use one of the various dynamic domain name services out there which will associate your domain or subdomain to your dynamic IP number.  There are guides on how to do both on this website.

If you have a router, you must forward the proper ports to the Remote Desktop Host.  If you are running Remote Desktop Standard, then you need to forward only port 3389.  If you are using Remote Desktop Web, then you need to forward both port 3389 and port 80 (or whatever you choose the IIS website to run on).  There are guides on port forwarding on this website as well.  Also there is an additional guide here that may be of interested to you: Remote Desktop - Changing the Port Number (for security and multiple hosts)

Ok, now that we know what Remote Desktop is all about, let's get started.

Regardless if you choose Remote Desktop Standard or Web version, we have to start at the same place: Installing Remote Desktop (Standard) Host

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