How do you remote desktop to your Windows PC from a Mac?


Remotely accessing your Windows PC at work

I have a Macbook Pro laptop and a Windows PC desktop at work. For the longest time, I have hunted for a way to remote desktop properly into my Windows PC from my Macbook Pro but in vain. Notice the word ‘properly‘. If you have Microsoft Office for Mac, you will have the remote desktop application also installed with it in Mac. However, this application is nothing compared to the way how Windows remote desktop works. In a typical Windows OS when you need to remote desktop to another Windows PC, all you have to do is to fire up the remote desktop application and type in the name of your PC. Of course, if your company has a firewall, you will need to use VPN. This is not so simple if you are using a Mac.

The key irritation with the remote desktop application in Mac is that it can’t resolve the PC name and you are left to specify the IP address instead. You will be completely screwed if your PC obtains its IP address from a DHCP server (like in the case of my company, NUS). For the benefit of my non-IT readers, IP address is like a unique network address that allows you to communicate with your PC remotely. You can treat it like your house post code. When your IP address is being managed by a DHCP server, it just means that it has a very high chance of being changed often. That is to say, you may remember the IP address of your Windows PC at work before you knock off. But by the time you reach home and try to perform a remote desktop from home using your Mac to it, the IP address may have already changed and you will not be able to connect to it anymore. The worst part is there is no way for you to know the new IP address issued to your Windows PC by the DHCP server when it does change unless of course you drive all the way back to your office. Note that discussion of DHCP is not within the scope of my blog entry. :P

How do I solve this? Basically I did the following. Do take note that getting the software is not within the scope of my blog entry either. I just show you the steps and I leave it to you to set up and get the software you need:

  1. Install an application called VMware Fusion (this is a virtual machine application)
  2. Install a Windows 7 OS into this application (you will need the Windows installation disk). That is to say that doing so will allow you to run a Window OS within your Mac.
  3. Startup the Windows OS in your Mac through VMware Fusion and get into the familiar Windows Desktop
  4. My company NUS has firewall, hence I will need to run VPN (for NUS environment, you can activate the VPN by pointing your browser in the Windows OS to and follow the instructions on-screen to login). Of course if you are still within the firewall of NUS, you don’t have to run VPN.
  5. Once the VPN is active, run the remote desktop in the Windows OS and access your Windows PC at work using the PC name. You no longer need to remember the IP address.
That’s all you need to do. Sometime it makes me wonder why do I have to go through so much trouble just to remote desktop to my work PC. But Mac lover can easily argue that why do you need to use a Windows PC then. I think I have to be fair to say that each OS has its pros and cons and as an IT professional, we should know how to leverage on the strengths of both world. :)
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2 responses »

  1. Hi, I’m a NUS student on a personal laptop running on Windows Vista business, trying to remote access a school desktop. On the desktop, I have already added my NUS account as an user who can remote access it (I’m the administrator on the desktop).

    However, when I try to access it via my laptop (even after logging in to VPN), I just can’t access my desktop. Is there anything, like setting, that I need to twig in order to do a remote access?


    • Hi Yuuka,

      I have a strong suspicion that your desktop is being blocked by firewall. Double check your desktop to make sure that the standard port 3389 for remote desktop can be accessed. By that, I meant using a telnet client to try accessing this port from your laptop. If it is blocked, then you will need to get it unblocked from your Windows Firewall setting.

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