Tip & Review: Microsoft Remote Desktop for Macintosh


I have to admit, when I first saw the announcement of this piece of software, I wondered: "What is Microsoft trying to do here?" For those of you unfamiliar with Microsoft Remote Desktop Client for Macinntosh, it is a piece of software created and maintained by Microsoft that allows you to remotely control a Windows machine.

Now, I'm still not certain that I've figured out why Microsoft created this product, but I'm definitely certain that I like it.

For reasons that aren't particularly important, I was over at a friend's house and needed to shut down a program at my own house.

[A review and some suggestions for using this through firewalls follows.]

The problem is that you can't just SSH into a Windows box and do the old 'ps' followed by 'kill' in order to turn it off (as I can, thankfully, with my Macs --I just think it's ironic that the Mac has so much more robust a CLI these days than Windows).

As you can imagine, I have a fairly robust security setup, so I can't just fire up RDC and connect it to the remote machine. However, enter my favorite piece of security software, SSH. I created a local SSH tunnel (since the Macintosh version of RDC doesn't allow you to specify a port number, you need to create the SSH tunnel from and to the actual RDC port).

ssh -L 3389:_hostname_:3389 _tunnelhost_ will work, by substituting the windows computer name (DNS, not WINS) for hostname and replacing the name of your tunnel host (on the network with the Windows machine) for tunnelhost. The usual security issues and concerns apply here when tunneling through third-party hosts, but unless you have sshd running on your Windows box, you don't have the choice of tunneling directly.

ReviewAll things considered, this is a really nice piece of software. Not only does it allow you to fully control the Windows box, but it is pretty darned fast (especially if you consider I'm tunneling it through ssh), robust (it allowed me to get to the Task Manager to kill off a running Direct-X program), feature-laden (you can actually mount your Mac's local disks on the Windows box while you are connected to it), and cheap (it's a free download).

Whatever Microsoft's reasons for creating this product, I'm happy they did and am happy to endorse it for people whose environments can benefit from it.

There is one caveat, however, in order to talk to a Windows machine, it must be running either Windows Terminal Services (available with Windows Server family and as a separate product) or Remote Desktop (included with Windows XP Professional, but turned off by default).