Whether you have a small workgroup at home, with one computer upstairs and another in the basement, or you have a large network spread over a site consisting of multiple buildings, there will come a time when you have to do something on a computer that's not relatively near you.

There are a number of options available to help you out in such times of need. Over the next three days, we will take a look at three very different solutions to this problem: Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection, WinVNC, and DameWare.

Remote Desktop Connection
Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection is a Windows to Windows connection. The computer that is ultimately the host (i.e. to which you will connect) must run Windows XP (or Windows 2000 Server or 2003 Server). The client computer can be any flavor of Windows 95 or newer

RDC will not let you save anything you do on the host computer to the client computer. However, RDC will let you change all the settings and it will make you feel as if you are right there at the host computer keyboard.

These connections are not secure. There is no data encryption or anything of the sort. Thus, it is not recommended that you use RDC over the Internet. For that Microsoft offers its Remote Desktop Web Connection or you can use commercial products, such as GoToMyPC or more robust solutions from Citrix, which also owns the aforementioned.

Set Up
Windows XP already has the RDC client installed. For all other Windows variants, you must download the client and install it first.

The host computer must also have the RDC enabled. To do this, right click on My Computer and choose Properties. Click on the Remote tab and check the box next to "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer." (Since RDC runs on Terminal Services, servers that are meant to serve as hosts will need to install this Terminal Services before proceeding.)

The connections using the Administrator account is by default enabled. You can add other users by clicking on Advanced. When you are done, click ok.

There may be further configuration changes if you are running a firewall, but these too are simple.

If your host computer is running a ZoneLabs firewall, the safest way around this is to identify the client computer as Trusted in the Zone configuration page. You can also just enable the program by clicking on its settings in the Program Control page. (You may still have to click okay when the firewall notification comes on, though this does not seem to be consistently the case.)

With Windows Firewall you can check to see that Windows has properly added Remote Desktop to your Firewall Exception list by finding the Windows Firewall in the Control panel and clicking on the Exceptions Tab. The checkbox next to Remote Desktop should be checked.

Start up the RDC, which is located under Start – Programs – Accessories – Communications – Remote Desktop Connection. In the computer field type in the computer name or the IP address of the host computer and click Connect.

Once RDC has found the host computer, you'll get asked for a user name and password.

The connection will redraw the host over your current desktop, but you can always toggle back by clicking on the bar at the top or shift it into a smaller window.

When you're done, Log Off under the start menu instead of closing out the window by clicking X at the top.