Microsoft has updated its Remote Desktop software for Macs, allowing them to connect to a computer running Windows XP Professional or Vista Business and control the Windows computer just as if sitting in front of it.


Remote Desktop has been so thoroughly optimized on Windows computers that menus pop up and down, windows appear and disappear at virtually full speed, sounds are played, until it’s easy to forget that the computer under control is in a different office (or across the world). I won’t be using the Mac software but it is also reasonably mature at this point; Mac users can hope for a similar experience.

For most people, however, Remote Desktop does not work over the Internet. It’s possible to configure a firewall to forward port 3389 to a computer and control it with Remote Desktop but it’s difficult to set up and it’s not secure.

Businesses running Small Business Server can use Remote Desktop over the Internet because SBS does a special trick – it sets up a web page with an ActiveX control that can start a Remote Desktop session on office computers. SBS users can use Remote Desktop to control their office computer from any PC running Internet Explorer, anywhere in the world.

Mac users cannot take advantage of that SBS function – and as far as I know, the new Remote Desktop software for Macs does not change that. People with Macs at home that want to work remotely with an office PC should look at LogMeIn, which has software that runs on both PCs and Macs.

So the Remote Desktop software for Macs is really only useful for computers in the same network – using a Mac to work remotely on a PC across the room or down the hall in the same home or office. That’s useful but not quite as exciting as it looks at first.

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