Out of frustration with Windows and Wintel notebooks, my brother Joe bought an iBook. Unfortunately, he still needed a few pieces of critical Windows software, thus Virtual PC, thus Window's style kludge and instability ruining his otherwise decent Mac OS X experience. He's very close to giving up and getting another real Wintel notebook, but we are experimenting with the other way to add Windows functionality to a Mac: Microsoft Remote Desktop. As long as you have an IP connection, you can keep a cheap desktop PC anywhere in the world to run Windows software natively, without destabilizing your Mac.
- A PC running Windows XP Professional. Microsoft does not give this to XP Home users.
- A router capable of both port mapping and Dynamic DNS.
I purchased a used Netgear RT314 router from a merchant on Amazon for $27 shipped. This is an older router, and quite big, but when updated to the 3.25 firmware version does everything I want.
I created a free account at www.dyndns.com and created a host name named yoursite.homeip.net (not the actual name).
I hooked up my network in the following topology, turned off DNS serving in my Airport Extreme hub, and relied on the RT314 to handle DNS.
I logged into the router through the web interface, and configured it for Dynamic DNS using my new account.
Now the DynDNS servers will know the IP address Comcast has given my router, and the yoursite.homeip.net address maps to that IP address.
But of course, I don't usually want to talk with my router, I want to log into my PC using Remote Desktop. So I have to configure the router to route port 3389 traffic to my PC. So I configure that page under "Advanced" options on the router.
But what IP address, should I forward it to? My PC has a local IP address that the router assigned it, but the next time I turn it on, it might get another. I need to force the PC to always have the same IP address, so I have to configure my PC.
First, find my active network connection.
Second, click on the "Properties" button of Connection Status dialog.
Third, select the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) item of the Local Area Connection dialog and hit the "Properties" button.
Fourth, enter an IP address high in the range of local addresses will distribute, as there are only 6 networked devices in my home, and the range starts at 192.168.0.1, I went with 192.168.0.15. My router (192.168.0.1) is also the default gateway and in charge of getting DNS information.
Make sure this fixed IP address is the one in your router's port mapping page.
If all went well, you will now be able to run the Remote Desktop Connection software and log into your PC from around the world, just by typing the yoursite.homeip.net address (or whatever you chose). There is, of course a version of Remote Desktop Connection for Windows, and it's installed by default on all XP boxes.
Anywhere in the world, but your own home, however, as you have to be upstream of your router in order to have this work. (Inside your home, you can use the 192.168.0.15 address). Or your ISP might filter port 3389, or any number of things could go wrong, but if your PC is running XP Professional, it's pretty cheap to try, especially if you have mission critical software to run which doesn't require lightning fast screen redraws.
If you have a .Mac account, you can even use the iDisk Utility for Windows XP to provide a shared disk to ease transferring files from the remoted XP box to your Mac. Just drag a file onto the iDisk from the PC and drag it off onto your Mac.
Of course, having done this, I noticed a security advisory against Remote Desktop. So opening up that port in the router and enabling Remote Desktop access might be dangerous, especially given my brother's typical luck with computers.