If you’re using multiple monitors as a part of your system setup and you regularly connect to other Windows Vista or Windows XP via Remote Desktop, you’ll definitely want to learn how you can take advantage of Vista’s Remote Desktop support for multiple monitors. Once you do, you can use this feature to connect to a remote computer and then span its desktop across your local system’s multiple monitors.

However, this great feature is essentially hidden, as it is tucked away in a command-line switch rather than being another check box in the Remote Desktop GUI. In this edition of the Windows Vista report, I’ll show you how to use this command-line switch. I’ll then show you how to create a specially configured shortcut that will relieve you from having to rely on the command line.

This blog post is also available in the PDF format in a TechRepublic download.


While Vista’s Remote Desktop support for multiple monitors is an awesome feature, it does come with two caveats:

  1. Your multiple monitors must have the same screen resolution.
  2. The screen resolution on your multiple monitors as well as the monitor of the computer to which you’re connecting must be under 4096 x 2048.

The command line

To launch Remote Desktop Connection with multiple monitor support, you must open a Command Prompt window and type the command:

Mstsc /span

You’ll then see the standard Remote Desktop Connection dialog box, shown in Figure A, and will need to fill in the connection settings.

Figure A

When you use the standard command-line method, you’ll have to manually fill in the connection settings.

As soon as you make a connection, you’ll immediately see the desktop of the remote system spread across your multiple monitors. When you need to have access to both the local and remote desktops, you can reduce the size of the remote system’s desktop to only one monitor by clicking the Restore Down button on the Remote Desktop window. As a shortcut, you can also use the keystroke [Ctrl][Alt][Break].

Once the window is on one monitor, you can use click-and-drag to resize the window to completely cover a single monitor. Keep in mind that when you reduce the size of a spanned remote widow, it will display both horizontal and vertical scroll bars, as shown in Figure B, that you’ll have to use to see the entire screen. However, you can instantly span the window by clicking the Maximize button.

Figure B

When you resize the remote desktop’s spanned window, you’ll have to use scroll bars to view the entire screen.

Creating a shortcut

Of course, using the command line to launch your Remote Desktop connection isn’t the most convenient way to use this feature. Chances are that you already have a saved Remote Desktop Connection RDP file saved on your desktop. Fortunately, you can create a standard Windows shortcut that will incorporate both the special command line and your RDP file.

Right-click anywhere on the desktop and select New | Shortcut from the context menu. When you see the Create Shortcut wizard, just type mstsc /span and the path to the RDP file in the text box, as shown in Figure C. Be sure that you enclose the path to the RDP file in double quotes if it has spaces in it. To continue, click Next and give the shortcut a appropriate name such as Saturn – MultiMon Remote and then click Finish.

Figure C

You can create a standard Windows shortcut that will incorporate both the special command line and your RDP file.

You can now use this shortcut to launch your remote desktop connection and use all the available space on your multiple monitors. Of course, the spanned desktop won’t exactly behave like a multiple monitor setup when you open multiple windows. You’ll have to use a little creative click-and-drag resizing to reposition the windows on the spanned desktop.

What’s your take?

Do you have a multiple monitor setup? Do you regularly use Remote Desktop? Will you take advantage of Vista’s Remote Desktop support for multiple monitors? Please drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.