Tips and tricks for remotely administering workstations

You can't be two places at once, and when a user has a problem with a workstation, they want it fixed NOW! That's where remote administration comes in. This articles gives you some tips and tricks about how to use remote administration on workstations in your organization.

One of the topics that falls under network administration is that of remote administration. The benefits of being able to use various technologies to remotely administer workstations and servers are numerous and can include a decrease in time and cost associated with administering a network.

For example, if an organization has remote sites, a network administrator does not necessarily have to visit the location to troubleshoot technical problems. Instead some of the troubleshooting can be done remotely. Windows XP includes two technologies that can be used for remote administration: remote assistance and remote desktop for administration.

In this article, I will describe different tips and tricks that you can use when remotely administering another computer. This article assumes that you can successfully establish a remote desktop connection in Windows XP.

Overview of Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop in Windows XP

Remote Assistance is a tool included with Windows XP that enables you to remotely assist users with computer problems. Using remote assistance, the expert or assistant can remotely view a user's desktop and even remotely take control of a desktop if permission has been granted. In order to send remote assistance invitations from a computer running Windows XP, remote assistance must be enabled using the Remote tab from the System Properties dialog box.

Another technology used for remote administration is known as Remote Desktop. When this functionality is enabled in Windows XP, you can remotely connect to the computer and perform administrative tasks. The obvious benefit is that you do not need to be physically seated at a computer in order to administer it. This in turn can save you time and money.

Enable Remote Desktop on a remote computer

Normally, Remote Desktop is enabled using the Remote tab from the System Properties dialog box shown in Figure A. Selecting the All users to connect remotely to this computer will enabled Remote Desktop. However, in order to use this method, you must log on to the local computer.

Figure A

Remote Desktop can be enabled through the System Properties dialog box.

Remote Desktop can be enabled remotely by creating a new RDP listening port through the remote computer's registry. You can accomplish this by completing the steps described below:

  1. Open the Registry Editor on your computer.
  2. From the File menu, click Connect Network Registry.
  3. Locate or type in the name of the remote computer. Click OK.
  4. Browse to the following registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server
  5. (REG_DWORD) as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You can enable Remote Desktop on a remote computer through the registry
  1. Change the value data from 1 to 0. This will enable Remote Desktop on the remote computer.
  2. Click OK and close the Registry Editor.

The remote computer must be restarted in order for the changes to take effect.

Locking a computer remotely

If you are physically seated at a computer, you can easily lock your workstation by pressing [CTRL][ALT][DEL] and selecting the Lock Workstation option. Alternatively you can also press the Windows Logo and [L].

However, for those of you who use the remote administrator feature of Windows XP, you will soon discover that you can not lock the workstation using either of these methods (for the obvious reasons of course). What you can do though is create a shortcut on the remote desktop. When you double click the shortcut, the remote computer will automatically be locked.

Here is what you have to do. Right click on the remote desktop, point to New and click Shortcut. In the Create Shortcut dialog box, type in the following as shown in Figure C: c:\Windows\System32\rundll32.exe user32.dll,LockWorkStation.

Figure C

You can create a desktop shortcut to remotely lock a computer

Click Next. Type in a name for the shortcut, such as Lock Workstation and click Finish. Now when you double click the shortcut, the remote computer will then go into a locked state.

Shut down Windows remotely

There are a few different ways that you can shutdown a computer. You can use the Shut Down option from the Start Menu. Conversely, you can choose the Shut Down option from the Windows Security dialog box.

If you frequently use remote administration in Windows XP to manage remote computers, another shutdown alternative is to create shortcut on the remote desktops. You can then use the shortcut to shutdown Windows XP remotely.

Once you are connected to the remote Windows XP computer, you need to create a new shortcut using the procedure outlined in the previous section. When you create the shortcut, type in shutdown -r. This will shutdown and restart Windows. By default, a dialog box will appear indicating that the computer will be shutdown in 30 seconds. You can change the wait time by including -t followed by the number of seconds to wait. For example, shutdown -r -t 02.

Remote Desktop from Windows 98

In order to remotely control a Windows XP computer from a computer running Windows 98, you must install the Remote Desktop Connection client software. This software must be installed if you are running any of the following operating systems: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000.

You can find the Remote Desktop Connection client software on the Windows XP CD (either Windows XP Professional or Home edition). If you are running Windows XP you do not need to install this software because it is installed by default. In any case, you can install the software by inserting your Windows XP CD. From the Welcome page, click Perform Additional tasks. Select the option to Setup Remote Desktop Connection as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Remote Desktop Connection client software can be installed from the Windows XP CD

Prevent users from connecting to your computer

Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 all support Remote Desktop. As you already know, this allows users on a remote computer to connect to your computer and access resources as though they were physically seated at your desk.

If you have no intention of using Remote Desktop, you should disable this option to increase security on your computer. If you occasionally use this feature, you may even want to leave it disabled and only enable it when you need to use it. You can easily disable Remote Desktop on your computer. Simply right click My Computer on your desktop and click Properties. Select the Remote tab and remove the check beside the Allow users to connect remotely to this computer option. Once you click OK, users will no longer be able to connect to your computer.

Save Remote Desktop connection settings

There are many different remote desktop related settings that can be configured. Each time you change the settings, they will be saved to a file called default.rdp. However, you can create your own file for connection specific settings. This way the settings for a particular connection will always be remembered.

From within the Remote Desktop Connection dialog box (click Start | All Programs | Accessories | Communications | Remote Desktop Connection), click the Options button. From the General tab, click the Save As button. Type in a file name and choose the location where you want to save the file. Next time you want to initiate a connection using those settings, double click the file you just saved.

Prevent sounds on a remote computer

When you establish a remote desktop connection, sounds will be played on the remote computer as you perform various tasks. If you do not want sounds played on the remote computer when you execute a remote desktop connection, all you have to do is edit the settings within the Remote Desktop Connection dialog box.

You can open the dialog box using the steps outlined in the previous section and the click the Local Resources tab shown in Figure E. Under Remote Desktop Sound, click the drop down arrow and click Do Not Play. This will prevent sounds on the remote computer (and the local computer).

Figure E

You can prevent sounds on a remote computer

Optimize remote desktop over dial-up connections

Not everyone these days use high speed connections. Dial-up connections are still very popular. Typically Remote Desktop works well over high speed connections but you can alter some of the settings to optimize the experience over dial-up connections.

From the Remote Desktop Connection dialog box shown in Figure E, click the Experience tab. Use the drop down arrow to choose your connection speed. For even better performance, consider selecting a speed that is slightly slower than the actual speed of your connection. You can further optimize the connection by removing the checks beside the Themes and Bitmap caching. Once you have configured the settings, return to the General tab and click Save As so the new settings are saved.

Prevent wallpaper from being displayed

Another way that you can optimize Remote Desktop Connection is to prevent wallpaper on the remote computer from being displayed on the local computer. You can do this by editing the Local Computer Policy on the Remote Desktop host computer.

Open the Group Policy Editor. Navigate to the following: Computer Configuration| Administrative Templates| Windows Components| Terminal Services. In the Details pane, double click Enforce Removal of Remote Desktop Wallpaper, select Enable, and click OK. The desktop wallpaper configured on the remote computer will no longer be displayed on your computer when you establish a Remote Desktop Connection.

Remotely possible

Remote Desktop and Remote Assistance make it easier to remotely administer computers that are running Windows XP. Once you are familiar with establishing remote connections, you can begin using some of the tips, tricks, and techniques outlined in this article to enhance your remote administration experience.