Today’s technology has come a long way in closing the divide between Windows and Mac applications, especially in the enterprise. However, a gap still exists for some and requires a bridge to move between computing environments.
For Mac users, the stalwart tool has been the Microsoft Remote Desktop connection. Available through the Mac App Store, the free application allows Mac users to remotely connect to a Windows desktop to access local files, applications and network resources.
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Step 1: Download the Microsoft Remote Desktop app
In order to get started with Microsoft Remote Desktop, you must download it from the Mac App Store. You can open the Mac App Store by clicking the blue App Store icon in your Mac’s dock, selecting the app’s icon using Launchpad or by clicking the App Store entry within the Mac’s Applications folder (Figure A).
Once you’ve accessed the Mac App Store, use the search bar at the top left of the screen to search for Microsoft Remote Desktop. The first search result should be what you’re looking for. To begin the download, click the blue Get link. The app is free, so no price will be listed. If you’ve previously downloaded the app using the Apple account currently logged in to the App Store, you’ll see a cloud icon with a down arrow (Figure B); just click that icon to again download the app.
Step 2: Open the Microsoft Remote Desktop app
Next, open the application by clicking the Microsoft Remote Desktop icon within the Applications folder, or by activating Launchpad and clicking its red-and-white icon. Or, you can use the Mac’s Spotlight search feature by clicking the magnifying glass icon from the Mac’s menu bar or by using the shortcut Command + Space Bar and searching for Microsoft Remote Desktop.
If you think you’ll frequently use the remote desktop connection app, now would be a good time to set it in your dock. Just click and drag the icon from the Applications folder in Finder and release it within the Mac Dock. This step will keep you from having to look for the icon every time you need to use it.
The next step is to open the Microsoft Remote Desktop program on the Mac. Just click it from the Dock or double-click its Applications folder entry (Figure C).
Opening the Microsoft Remote Desktop app should look like Figure D.
Step 3: Enable remote access
At this point, you’ll need to enable remote access on your target PC. For a Windows 10 or 11 Professional machine, which is required to access Microsoft Remote Desktop, click Start, select the Settings icon, click System and choose Remote Desktop. Confirm the remote connection is enabled. You may need to provide the administrator password to complete this step.
Be sure to also disable Sleep Mode on the target PC; otherwise, you may not be able to reach the PC if it falls asleep or turns off. To disable Sleep Mode, click Start, select Settings and click Power and Sleep and use the provided drop-down boxes to disable those features.
Next, confirm the Windows PC’s name. One method for doing so is to open the Windows Control Panel such as by entering Control Panel within the Windows search box, clicking System And Security, then selecting System. Windows will display the device name. You’ll need that name to connect to the PC from your Mac, so write it down if you cannot remember it. Alternatively, you can remember the PC’s IP address (which is accessible by entering cmd within the Windows search box and typing ipconfig and pressing the Enter key), although if the PC receives its address via DHCP, the address will likely change over time and make that method problematic.
Step 4: Add a PC
With those steps complete, head back to your Mac and click the Add PC button or the + icon, then Add PC from the app’s menu bar. You’ll be prompted to fill in quite a few fields, as shown in Figure E.
The first thing you’ll need to input is the PC name or IP address. This is the PC name you wrote down. Alternatively, you can enter the IP address so your Mac knows where to find your PC.
Next, you need to specify the user account. This is the user account and corresponding username and password that should be fed to the remote PC to complete logging on remotely to that system. The username and password chosen must possess permission to log on remotely to the host PC to which you’re trying to connect. You can leave the value set at the default (Ask When Required), or you can add the username information by selecting Add User Account from the drop-down menu.
Within the Friendly Name field, enter a name for the connection; the name you provide has no real bearing on the connection. For example, you could call it “John’s work computer,” or “Jennifer’s PC.”
You can save the new connection within a group of PCs or Workspaces. The default is Saved PCs, which works well for most users.
The next line down allows you to configure a Gateway, which would let you connect to virtual desktops or session-based desktops that are on your company’s network. Check with your network administrator to see if there is a gateway you are to use, in which case you can add the gateway using the information the administrator supplies.
Three additional checkboxes are provided. Check each box to enable the respective function (reconnect if the connection drops, connect to an admin session on the remote system and swap mouse buttons).
Using the Add PC window’s Display tab, you can configure a variety of display settings (Figure F). Among the remote connection display choices that can be set on the Mac are the option to use all monitors, start the session using a full screen view (the default) and color quality choices.
The Add PC’s Devices & Audio tab (Figure G) offers the ability to redirect several accessories. Check the box to redirect printers to enable using your local printer versus one connected to the host Windows PC to which you are connecting and smart cards, for example. You can also choose to play sounds from the Windows computer on your Mac; to do so, do not change the default On This Computer setting within the Play Sound drop-down box.
The last tab on the Add PC menu is Folders; this is where you should check the Redirect Folders box (Figure H) to choose a local folder you want to be available during your remote session. Click the “+” button, choose a name for the folder and input the folder’s path to have it available.
When you are finished configuring your remote desktop, click the Add button on the bottom right corner of the dialog box and your new remote desktop will be added (Figure I).
If you want to edit, duplicate, export or delete that remote connection, right-click (control + click) on the PC name within the PC’s window.
Step 5: Connect to the remote PC
To start a session with a remote Windows desktop, double-click the connection to begin. With the connection properly configured, and once valid logon credentials are provided, the Windows system will display on the Mac (Figure J).
If you don’t think Microsoft Remote Desktop is the option for you, here are some other options: