In addition to using the Microsoft Remote Desktop client application installed on Windows PCs, you can also remotely connect to computers from within a web browser.
Microsoft provides an ActiveX web application that is actually a Remote Desktop client able to run within Internet Explorer or other browsers that feature ActiveX support. When you visit the web page for the client you'll see an interface where you can input a server address, optionally choose a screen resolution, and connect.
A web-based Remote Desktop client offers the ability to customize some of the Remote Desktop Services user experience, like Microsoft discusses. You could also integrate the Remote Desktop functionality into your own website, web application or portal. Even some simple customizations — replacing the Server address box with a drop-down menu prefilled with your common remote addresses, for instance — could be beneficial.
You can host the web page with the ActiveX control on a third-party web server or even enable the server that's built into Windows, Internet Information Services (IIS). Here we'll discuss both options.
Embedding the ActiveX Control in a Web Page
When hosting the web page on a third-party web server you can create an HTML page using the code provided from the Microsoft site. Then you simply upload the web page to the server and access it via a browser.
Using the Windows Web Server
If you'd like to host the web page using the Internet Information Services (IIS) web server, first ensure all Windows updates are installed on the PC. Activating the server exposes your computer on port 80 to the local network and/or Internet, so you'll want to ensure any known security holes are patched in advance.
When you're ready, here's how to enable IIS in Windows Vista and later:
- Open the Control Panel and select Programs and Features.
- Click the Turn Windows features on or off link.
- On the Windows Features dialog box, expand the Internet Information Services category and then expand the Web Management Tools and World Wide Web Services options.
- Under the Web Management Tools section, select the IIS Management Console checkbox, and under the World Wide Web Services section, select Common HTTP Features.
- Click OK to install and enable the components.
Now that IIS is installed and enabled, you can download the Remote Desktop Web Connection software from Microsoft for Windows Vista and later, or you can create a web page manually like discussed in the previous section.
If downloading the software, ensure it's installed in the default root directory (such as C:\inetpub\wwwroot). If manually creating the webpage, you can place it anywhere in the directory.
On Windows XP and Windows Server editions, you'll find a Remote Desktop Web Connection component in the Windows features that you can enable, so you don't have to download the Remote Desktop Web Connection software.
Now that everything is set up properly, you can access the web-based Remote Desktop client via the browser. If you downloaded Remote Desktop Web Connection software, point your browser to the tsweb subdirectory on the IIS server — for instance, http://serveraddress/tsweb/. When on the same PC you can use localhost as the server address, its Computer Name when on other PCs on the same network or the Internet IP address when accessing it from outside the network.
If you have trouble accessing the web page, ensure port 80 is opened on the firewall. And when accessing it outside the network via the Internet, your router must be set to forward port 80 to the PC where you've set up IIS.
Eric Geier is the founder of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi networks with the Enterprise mode of WPA/WPA2 security by offering a hosted RADIUS/802.1X service. He is also a freelance tech writer — become a Twitter follower or use the RSS Feed to keep up with his writings.