Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tips for Developing Through the Remote Desktop

With an out of town client, I've been using Windows Remote Desktop extensively for some time now for remote development. I've picked up these tips to help the remote developer:

1. Don't Save your Credentials in Remote Desktop Client

This is a no-brainer. If you were on site, a password would be required. Why not have the same minimum requirement of a remote session as well? We owe it to the site administrator to keep the remote session as secure as possible.

2. Can't Connect? Do this First

Its frustrating when you can't connect to your remote desktop, but network admins are a busy folk. Help them help you by diagnosing the problem. Ping first the VPN server by IP address and then name. If both are successful, ping the remote desktop host by name and then IP address. If all these work, try reestablishing your VPN connection. If you are able to ping by IP and not name, you should be able to substitute IP address for name and keep working, while DNS is fixed.

3. Keep your Remote Workstation up to Date with Windows Updates

As I've reported, Windows features in the remote workstation stop working when there are Windows updates waiting to be installed (in spite of what Ray Ozzie thinks). Keep that up to date, to keep your features working. See the next tip related to this.

4. Learn Three Ways to Establish a Remote Desktop Session

There are 3 ways:
  • Start Menu Item
  • Double-Click a .RDP file (Or select a .RDP recent document)
  • Start a Console Session
Each has their own features. The Start Menu item is for ordinary usage. An RDP file can be used to customize the session, and is critical when you can't get a remote desktop window to maximize (my laptop has this issue). Save the .RDP file, then right click to properties to change it to full screen. The Console Session is required for some installations, including some Windows Updates. It is started through the command:

mstsc /console

5. Learn How to Restart Your Remote Host

For many reasons, you may need to restart your remote host, but the start menu does not have a Shut Down option. How do you do this? Open a Command Prompt and type the command:

shutdown /r

The /r is important, it is the restart option.

6. Don't Chain Together Remote Desktop Sessions

Do not open a Remote Desktop session from within your Remote Desktop client. It causes two problems: A) Performance degrades severely and B) Users get confused as to which machine they are working on. Instead, open both desktops from your real desktop, switching back and forth as needed, security permitting.

7. Keep a Task Manager Open

Hey, it is Windows, things go haywire. When they do in a remote desktop session, things become unusable. Keep a Task manager open to make it easier to kill apps which are not responding.

8. Learn how to Force the UI to get some Cycles

Perhaps the greatest tip of all - what to do when the screen won't refresh due to a process in an infinite loop. When this happens, don't panic. It happens, but your in luck. You can force the UI to get some CPU cycles by switching your Remote Desktop cilent from maximized to normal and back again to maximized. This can be done by double clicking on the top bar, and then double clicking on the title bar. The Window I need eventually gets its CPU and I can close it or whatever. This has never failed me, but I do use a dual core system, and the solution may not work in a single core.

Happy Coding.

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