Mobile Management How-to: Remote PC Access via Windows Mobile

When you're out and about but the files or programs you rely on are sitting on a faraway Windows PC, the ability remotely access that computer via the Internet can be a lifesaver.


There are myriad products and services that will provide remote access to your distant PC from another PC that's close by. But you need not necessarily lug a laptop around or constantly be on the lookout for the nearest available computer to stay in touch with your home or office PC, because remote access can also be performed through the Windows Mobile phone you carry with you every day.


Before we get into some Windows Mobile remote access options, it's worth reviewing a couple of caveats concerning remote access on any handheld device, the most obvious of which is limited screen size. Obviously, even relatively large, high-resolution displays-like the 4.3-inch 480x800 one found on the HTC HD2-- are only a mere fraction of those found on a typical desktop or laptop PC. Therefore, be prepared to do a fair amount of zooming and scrolling to navigate the full expanse of a Windows desktop. (Touch screens make this somewhat easier than relying on a D-pad and soft keys.)


Then there's the issue of connection speed. Remote access tends to work best when you've got a Wi-Fi connection, and barring that, a 3G mobile broadband connection. If your phone is saddled with a slower EDGE or 1xRTT data link, you can try remote access but you may find the experience quite frustrating. Also, if you plan to use remote access frequently and have a metered (i.e. not unlimited) data plan, keep an eye on your usage.


Microsoft Remote Desktop Mobile

Every desktop version of Windows from XP onward contains a Remote Desktop Connection utility that can be used to remotely control other Windows PCs via Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). (The Professional, Business, and Ultimate versions of Windows XP, Vista, or 7 include support for RDP, but alas, the ubiquitous Home editions do not.)


It turns out there's a similar Remote Desktop utility available for Windows Mobile 6.x phones, but since it's considered an optional component, mobile carriers are free to leave it off their devices (and many do, perhaps fearing the bandwidth it might consume on their networks.) If your device has the utility, you'll find it directly under the Programs menu, usually labeled "Remote Desktop Mobile". If your phone lacks the software, you can find a copy of it from the XDA Developers Forum (account sign-up required) that will run on many phones.


MochaSoft Remote Client for Windows Mobile

An alternative to Microsoft's Remote Desktop Mobile utility is MochaSoft's Remote Desktop utility. It's essentially an enhanced version of Microsoft's, with some added features such as the ability to operate in landscape mode. Because it also relies on the RDP protocol, it too only works with non-Home versions of Windows.


Although it's not free, the $20 price tag is fairly reasonable and you can try it for 30 days before laying out your cash. One caveat worth mentioning is that unlike Microsoft's utility, MochaSoft's appears to only work with touch-screen devices (although it installs on non-touch devices, we couldn't get it to run on several we tried).


Don't Forget the Set Up

Before you can use either Microsoft's or MochaSoft's RDP-based utility, you'll need to set up Remote Desktop on the system you want to control. To do so, open the Start menu, right-click Computer, choose Properties, then click Remote (XP) or Remote settings (Vista/7). Then under Remote Desktop, select "Allow users…" (XP) or "Allow connections…" (Vista/7). If the Windows account you'll use for remote access is an administrator account, you done, but to grant remote access to a Limited or Standard account, you'll need to click the Select User button.


If you were only trying to use Remote Desktop over a local network, connecting to your PC would be a simple matter of running the utility on your phone and entering the name or IP address of the remote computer, along with the account username and password. But if you want to access your PC from the Internet, and it's behind a hardware router/firewall (which is almost always the case), you'll need to take two additional steps to ensure a successful link. The first is to set up a rule on your router that forwards UDP port 3389 to the PC you wish to reach.


The second is to make note of your ISP-assigned global IP address, as this is the address you'll need to specify to make the connection. (You can determine your global IP from Web sites such as this one, but if your global IP periodically changes, a service like Dynamic DNS will give you a consistent and user-friendly URL to use instead.)


MochaSoft VNC for Windows Mobile

Another remote access option is MochaSoft's VNC for Windows Mobile software coupled with a free VNC server utility, such as TIghtVNC, that you install on your remote PC. Since this approach doesn't rely on RDP, you can use it to control a PC running any version of Windows.


Something else to consider is that MochaSoft's VNC software (also $20 and free for 30 days) offers separate versions for touch screen and non-touch screen devices. Like RDP, using VNC behind a router will require you to forward a port (except this time its TCP 5900) through your firewall and know your global IP address in order to reach your remote system.



The no- and low- cost options outlined so far involve usage limitations and/or involve a fair amount of secondary configuration (i.e port forwarding, etc.) to work properly, but for a bit more green, you can eliminate both. RDM+ from Shape Services consists of a desktop component that installs on your remote PC and a client app for your Windows Mobile device. (The previous link contains a version of the mobile software that must be installed via ActiveSync, but you can download RDM+ over the air from here.)


Like VNC, RDM+ works with any version of Windows, but unlike either RDP or VNC it doesn't require you do any port forwarding on your firewall or to know the IP address you need to connect to-- all you need is the 8-digit computer number assigned to your remote system, which never changes. (The desktop software maintains constant contact with dedicated servers whose job it is to locate remote systems and facilitate connections to them.


While the RDM+ desktop program is free, the Windows Mobile client will set you back $40. You can try it out for seven days, though, the mobile client even includes access to a "demo" computer (#1000000) that will let you get a feel for the software without first having to install the desktop software on your system.


Remote access from your Windows Mobile device won't take the place of doing it from a full-size PC (incidentally, all of the above options also allow remote access via desktop application and/or Web browser) but it's nice to know that it if you need it, remote access can be as close as your hip, pocket, or purse.



Microsoft, Windows Mobile, remote access, Windows Mobile software, mobile management