Windows Tips: Access Your Desktop From Wherever You May Be

Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
(2000, XP, 98, ME) It happens all the time: You're at home and the files you need are on your office computer. Or you're at Grandma's place and you want to use her PC to do a little Web browsing without leaving a bunch of cookies and other Internet cache files behind. Perhaps you'd just like to show some clients the software you're running on your system back in the office without having to take them there or install the program on their computers.

If the PC you need to access uses Windows XP Professional, you have everything you need to do this and more, thanks to Remote Desktop. If you don't have XP, don't worry: RealVNC offers a free solution for you called VNC (Virtual Network Computing).

In most cases, the computer you're accessing from afar must have an Internet connection. The computer you're actually using (called the "client") can run any version of Windows from 95 on, though you may also need the Windows XP CD (Pro or Home). Likewise, if you're using VNC to make the remote link, you can work with any PC that runs Windows 95 or later. Both Remote Desktop and VNC require the remote computer to be accessible over a network, via a modem, or across a virtual private network (VPN) connection. A high-speed DSL or cable-modem connection works best.

First, let's look at XP's Remote Desktop.

Set up the remote computer: Log on to the PC you'll be accessing remotely as the administrator or with an account that is part of the Remote Desktop Users group. (To find out whether your account is in this group, select Start, Run, type lusrmgr.msc, and press Enter to access the Local Users and Groups utility.) After you log on, right-click My Computer on your desktop or in Windows Explorer, and choose Properties. Click Remote; and under Remote Desktop, check Allow users to connect remotely to this computer. Click OK at the explanatory prompt. Make a note of the full computer name listed there.

By default, all administrator accounts are set up to permit remote access. If the account you want to access isn't an administrator, click Select Remote Users. If you don't see the desired name listed in this dialog box, click Add, type the user account name or multiple account names separated by a semicolon (;), and click OK. (You'll receive a prompt to try again if you type the name of an account not set up on that system.) Click OK to close the System Properties dialog box. If any of the accounts you've specified are not password-protected, you'll need to change that: Choose Start, Run, type nusrmgr.cpl, and press Enter. Click an account name and select Create a password. Follow the on-screen prompts and then click Create Password. Close the User Accounts control panel when you're done.

Various network and connection settings may make it difficult for the system or network you're accessing to find the computer's name. To be on the safe side, note its IP (Internet Protocol) address, too (if applicable): Launch Explorer if needed, right-click My Network Places, and choose Properties. Select Local Area Connection, and look in the Details box in the Task bar on the left side of the window. You may need to scroll the Task bar or click headings to collapse the ones you don't want and to reveal the Details contents. If your Network Connections folder still doesn't have a Task bar, choose Tools, Folder Options, make sure Show common tasks in folder is selected under the General tab, and click OK. Once you see the Details data, note the IP address. It consists of four groups of numbers separated by periods, like (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Your IP address is on the Network Connections window's Task bar.

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