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Use Windows Mobile to Manage Your Desktop PC

By Joe Moran

Windows’ Remote Desktop feature-- which comes with Vista Business and Ultimate as well as XP Professional and Media Center editions-- lets you control your PC from a distance much as you would if you were sitting right in front of it. The most common way to access a faraway computer with Remote Desktop is through the Remote Desktop Connection utility that’s found in all versions of XP and Vista. But if you have a handheld device that uses Windows Mobile 5 or 6.x, you may have another option in the form of Remote Desktop Mobile (RDM), the pocket-sized version of desktop utility.

Get Ready

Your Windows Mobile device may or may not have come with Remote Desktop Mobile. There’s a good chance the answer is “not”-- mobile carriers don’t have to include the utility with their devices, and in fact many don’t. If you can’t find Remote Desktop Mobile on your device, all is not lost because the utility is available for download from a number of hobbyist/enthusiast Web sites. I found it here (caveat: you need to register an account on the forum to download the file).

Given the differences in Windows Mobile hardware, there’s no guarantee that Remote Desktop Mobile will work on every device, but we got it working on phones running both touch screen and non-touch screen Windows Mobile 6 devices-- an AT&T Tilt with WM 6 Professional and a T-Mobile Dash with WM 6 Standard, respectively.

Before you can connect to your PC via your Windows Mobile device, you need to turn on and configure the Remote Desktop on the PC. See this Practically Networked articles here and here for instructions on how to get a PC set up for Remote Desktop, as well as how to configure a firewall and router to allow incoming connections over the Internet.

Install and Configure

After the PC and network configuration is complete you can install Remote Desktop Mobile utility on your mobile device (if don’t already have it). Just copy the .CAB file to your device using ActiveSync (in XP) or the Sync Center (in Vista), then run it from File Explorer. You’ll probably have to click past two warning messages—one that the program is from an unknown publisher, and another that the program may not display correctly because it was written for an earlier version of Windows Mobile. After you’ve installed Remote Desktop Mobile, you’ll find it in the under the name WPCTSC.

Before trying to make a Remote Desktop connection, select Options (on WM6 Standard devices it’s Menu|Options) to check out some of the ways to customize the connection’s display, storage, and sound settings.

Under "Display," you can opt for either 256 colors or 16-bit (65,536) color. While the latter option obviously looks better, it also increases the amount of data that must be transmitted so it’s best saved for Wi-Fi or 3G-based connections. If you check the "Fit remote desktop to screen" options, the desktop resolution of your remote PC will be reduced to match that of your mobile device, which most likely is 320x240. This will allow you to see the desktop PC’s entire screen without having to zoom or scroll on your handheld, but it may also cause display problems for many programs (as well as the Start menu) which aren’t designed to run in such a restricted space.

Turning on the "Map to the remote machine" option under Device Storage is a good idea since it will allow you to transfer files from your remote system to your mobile device. (When enabled, your mobile device will be listed as a networked drive within My Computer and Save dialog boxes.)

Finally, you can configure the Remote desktop sound option to mute the remote PC’s audio (the default option) or instead play it through your mobile device. Although there may be some situations where the latter option may be useful, in most cases you’ll want to leave the audio muted since it will consume some of your limited connection bandwidth.

Make the Link

To make a connection with Remote Desktop Mobile you’ll need to provide the IP address of the remote system as well as your username and password on the machine. (Remember that when making a Remote Desktop connection over the Internet, you’ll need to enter your network’s public IP address, and not the private IP address of the system you’re trying to connect to. (Your router will handle passing the incoming connection to the correct system on your network.) Press "Connect" and within a few seconds you should be looking at a pint-sized version of your remote system’s Windows desktop.  

If you haven’t chosen the "Fit to Screen" option, the zoom box in the lower right of the screen will let you more easily navigate to the part you want to see. You can also expand your display real estate slightly by pressing the Full Screen button (just press the right soft key again to exit Full Screen Mode). Select "Disconnect" to end your Remote Desktop session (it will also disconnect on its own after a several minutes of idle time).

Owing to the unavoidable display and bandwidth limitations (it’s usable on an EDGE connection, but just barely) making a Remote Desktop connection from a Windows Mobile device isn’t quite the same thing as doing it from a standard PC and Net connection. But for times when a traditional PC isn’t available and the only thing you’ve got is that Windows Mobile device on your belt or in your bag, it can come in quite handy. 


For more help, check out the PracticallyNetworked Forums.

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