Connecting Remotely to a Windows 7 Desktop from Mac OS X

Computers running Windows XP Professional and certain versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 (nearly every version except Home, Basic and Starter) can be controlled remotely via the Remote Desktop Connection protocol. This allows a remote user to log in to the Windows-based computer and control it as if he or she was sitting right in front of it. Windows-based machines with Remote Desktop Connection enabled can accept connections from other Windows computers as well as OS X computers running the Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to install the Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac and connect to a Windows computer which has enabled Remote Desktop Connections.

NOTE: Even though the guide was created on previous versions of OS X, it has been tested also on Mac OS X Lion and it works. Unfortunately Microsoft has stopped updating this product and it won't work with Mac OS X Mountain Lion.

NOTE: Before actually applying this tutorial, make sure you have enabled the Remote Desktop Connection on the Windows computer to which you will be connecting. To learn how to do this in Windows 7, check out Enabling Remote Desktop Connections in Windows 7.

Installing and Configuring Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac

Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac comes bundled with Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac, but you can also get it for free at the Microsoft Download Center. Click here to download Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac.

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Once the ’Remote Desktop Connection2.1_ALL.dmg’ file mounts, double-click RDC Installer.mpkg to install the client.

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Follow the on-screen instructions and click Continue when prompted.

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Make sure you read through the Software License Agreement before clicking Continue.

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By default, the Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac installer will choose the hard drive where OS X is installed as the install location. Click Install.

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Wait for the installer to finish installing the Remote Desktop Connection Client.

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After the installation finishes, click Close.

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Now, you can launch Remote Desktop Connection from your Dock.

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Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac Preferences

When you first launch Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac, you can go ahead and launch a connection using the default settings. But for the best performance and security, you may want to set up some preferences first. Begin by typing the name of a computer into the Computer field. If you’re not sure what the name of your computer is, you can find it in the System Properties pane on your Windows-based machine.

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Now, access the Preferences for the connection you have open by clicking the Remote Desktop Connection menu and clicking Preferences.

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The Login tab lets you choose your user name, password and domain. The user name and password correspond to an administrator level user account on the host machine, or a standard level user account which has been enabled for Remote Desktop Connection connections. In other words, type in the same user name and password that you would use if you were sitting right in front of the computer and logging in locally.

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The domain should already be filled in with the computer name. Note that in this screenshot, I’ve changed the domain name to the local IP address of my host computer. Occasionally, Remote Desktop Connection will have trouble connecting using a computer name. If this happens for you, try the IP of the host computer instead.

Lastly, you can select ’Add user information to your keychain’, which saves you from entering these credentials next time. OS X users will recognize the keychain as Mac OS’s system-wide password manager.

Choose ’Reconnect automatically if disconnected’ if you’d like Remote Desktop Connection to attempt to reconnect if the connection is interrupted before you log off or you close the connection manually.

The Display tab lets you tweak settings such as the color depth, display size and some other visualization features. These options can help with performance when remotely connected. For example, you can disable the background, themes and menu and window animations and decrease the color depth in order to speed things up on the Remote Desktop Connection Client, especially since these extra flourishes aren’t particularly essential for the types of tasks you’ll likely be doing via Remote Desktop Connection. Disabling font smoothing may also make the text more readable, especially when the window is resized.

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The default Keyboard settings are designed to let your Mac keyboard access inputs such as right-clicks, the Windows start key and print screen. If you’re using a different keyboard, you can remap the behavior in this window.

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You can also change how Sound plays. You can choose to play the sound only on the Macintosh (client), only on the Windows-based computer (server) or on neither.

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In the Drives tab, you can choose which drives and folders you want to make available to the Windows-based host machine.

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The drives you choose here will show up under tsclient in Windows Explorer. Here, you can read and write to and from your Macintosh’s hard drive.

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Likewise, the Printers tab lets you make printers connected to your Mac available on the Windows host when you are connected via Remote Desktop Connection.

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In the Applications tab, you can choose to run just one application when you log in to the remote computer. This is the Mac equivalent of RemoteApp. For example, if you only wanted to launch the Windows Home Server without going through the trouble of loading Windows Explorer and other programs, you could enter the application path and file name here. Now, when you connect, you go right into that program. When you close the program, the connection is closed. You can give the application access to local folders by entering them into the Working directory field.

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In the Security tab, you can change the authentication settings. Remote Desktop Connection tries to prevent you from connecting to a computer other than the one you intended by double-checking that the server name on the certificate matches the address or computer name that you entered. If it does not, authentication will fail. In this case, you can tell Remote Desktop Connection to connect anyway, to warn you before connecting or to cancel the connection.

In most cases, the third option, ’Do not connect if authentication fails’, is the most secure. But if you are entering your IP address rather than the computer name to connect, the server’s name won’t match what you entered to connect, thus causing authentication to fail, even though you are connecting to the machine you intended to. If you’ll be using an IP address to connect, choose the second option ’Warn me if authentication fails’ or the first option ’Always connect, even if authentication fails’.

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To save the settings you’ve just made, click File, choose Save as and enter a filename for your .rdp file. Or, you can choose Save and the connection will be saved as default.rdp.

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You can go back and change your preferences when the connection is open by clicking the Remote Desktop Connection menu and choosing Preferences. Note that if you make these changes with a connection open, you’ll have to disconnect and reconnect before any of the changes take effect.

Connecting to Your Windows Machine with Remote Desktop Connection for Mac

Now, when you launch Remote Desktop Connection for Mac, it’ll automatically load the last .rdp file you had open. If you want to start a new connection, you can simply type a new name into the field and click Connect.

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If you didn’t enter your credentials in the preferences pane, or if you didn’t save your credentials to your keychain, you’ll be asked to enter your username and password now. Enter your Windows user name and password, just like you would if you were sitting in front of the host computer. The domain will already be filled in for you with the computer name or IP you entered before.

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Note that if you typed in an IP instead of a computer name, you may see a message that says ’The server name on the certificate is incorrect’. This is expected and isn’t a big deal. It’s just telling you this because you typed in an IP address, such as 192.168.1.5, but the server you’re connecting to will be identifying itself by its computer name (i.e. MY-WIN7-PC). Click Connect to dismiss this message. If you don’t want to see this message again, choose ’Always connect even if authentication fails’ in the Security preferences tab.

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Now, you’ll be able to see the host machine’s desktop in a window of its own. To give the window focus for your keyboard and mouse, simply click into it. You can fit the screen to the Window by pressing Command - 2 or make the remote desktop full screen by pressing Command - 1. I like to pull the remote desktop window to another monitor and make it full screen there. That way, you have a Windows 7 desktop and an OS X desktop right in front of you so you can easily switch back and forth.

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When you’re done, you can either close the Remote Desktop Connection Client from your Mac or you can click Start and choose Log off.

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Note that if a user is logged on to the host machine when you connect with Remote Desktop Connection, they’ll be logged off and won’t be able to see the screen. Instead, they’ll see the Windows user login screen. If they login, the remote desktop connection will be disconnected. This isn’t necessarily a bug or limitation of Remote Desktop Connection, since it isn’t meant to allow remote and local users to be logged in at the same time. If you’d like to see the screen while a remote user is connected, you should use Remote Assistance instead. (We’ll discuss that in a later tutorial.)

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Conclusion

Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac is a handy way to control Windows-based computers from a Macintosh computer. This is useful if you are a systems administrator running a Mac and want to access a Windows server, or if you are simply looking for an alternative to dual-booting. For more information on Remote Desktop Connection, check out some of our related articles below.