At first glance, the Remote Desktop Connection window looks exceptionally simple, only requiring you to specify a computer to connect to. In this case, the “name” that you need to provide depends upon where you’re sitting. For example, if the client and XP Professional system with Remote Desktop enabled are located on the same network, the computer name (or local IP address) of the XP system will suffice. If you’re connecting over the Internet, then you’ll need to specify your public IP address. If your XP system is directly connected to the Internet, you can find this address with the IPCONFIG command. The tough part is that depending upon your Internet connection type, your IP address may change frequently. This obviously presents an issue (not knowing the address) when you need to connect. In these situations, your best bet is to use a free dynamic DNS solution, as outlined in the boxout at the end of this article. If implemented, you’ll be able to get at your home PC using a name like myhomepc.dyndns.org rather than have to remember or deal with changing IP addresses.
To get the most out of Remote Desktop Connection, you’ll want to customize its settings according to your preferences and needs. Clicking the Options button makes a number of additional configurable settings available to you, giving you control of everything from what username and password should be used for the connection through to optimization settings for speed and display.
When the Options button is pressed you’ll be presented with 5 tabs – General, Display, Local Resources, Programs, and Experience. The General tab allows you to configure a username and password to connect to the remote system, as well as a domain name if necessary. This user account must exist on the remote Windows XP Professional system, and the account must have permissions for Remote Desktop (more on that shortly). If you want to make future reconnections easier, use the Save As button on this tab to save your customized connection settings as a .RDP file that can be used as a shortcut later.
The Display tab looks somewhat similar to the Settings tab in the Control Panel display applet. However, its purpose in this case is to control how the remote desktop environment will be displayed on your local PC. Most users will prefer to use the right-most setting in the Remote Desktop Size section, allowing them to view things “full screen”. Smaller windows are also possible, and often preferable over slower connections. If you are dealing with a slower connection (such as dialup), then make a point of choosing the lowest possible color setting, namely 256 colors. If you choose 16- or 24-bit color more information will need to be transmitted over the connection, and performance will definitely be sluggish. Higher color settings are generally responsive enough over broadband connections, however.
The Local Resources tab allows you to control how different remote elements are presented to your local computer. For example, in the Sound section you can control whether remote sounds (like error beeps) are sent to your system running Remote Desktop Connection, and what will happen when you press a Windows key combination like Alt+Tab. As a general rule, avoid having sounds sent over the connection as this may chew limited bandwidth. As for the Keyboard section, the default setting (In full screen mode only), ensures that the remote system responds to Windows keys in full screen mode, and that the local system responds at any other window size.
The most important settings on this tab are those in the Local devices section. By checking the checkboxes for Disk drives, Printers, and Serial ports you can make these devices on your local system available to the system running Remote Desktop. That may sound confusing, but it’s actually quite simple. If you were to select Printers, for example, after connecting you would be able to open a file on your remote system and print to the printer sitting next to you. Similarly, making local disk drives your system available to the remote system would allow you to open a file on the remote system and save it to the disk of the system you’re working from – a very simple and effective way to transfer that forgotten file.
The Programs tab allows you to specify a program that should be started on the remote system once a connection to that system is established. This would be useful in cases where you need a certain application running on the remote PC and want to have it started automatically without any additional interaction.
Finally, the Experience tab allows you to specify your connection type and speed to optimize the performance of Remote Desktop – make sure the setting here matches your connection type for best performance. In the Allow the following section, you can control which “fancy” Windows elements will be enabled over the connection. We generally suggest unchecking all boxes here with the exception of Bitmap caching, since elements like Themes and animations will slow down performance. Bitmap caching helps to reduce the amount of information that needs to be transferred between the Remote Desktop system and the connecting client, and can noticeably improve performance.