Utility Spotlight: Organize and Access Remote Desktops

Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Manager is a quick and easy way to manage your connections to remote servers.

Lance Whitney

Those of you who use Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) to access remote servers may find it challenging to juggle multiple connections for numerous machines. Instead of maintaining separate settings in the RDC client for each computer, you might find it easier to manage all your connections through a free Microsoft tool called the Remote Desktop Connection Manager (RDCMan).

The RDCMan displays all your remote connections in a single screen. You can easily set up, view, organize and connect to any of them. Download the RDCMan from its page at the Microsoft Download Center. Install the downloaded RDCMan.msi file on a client PC. From there, you can connect to your remote servers. After installation, you’ll see a new shortcut in your Start Menu Programs area called Remote Desktop Connection Manager.

Launching the RDCMan will bring up a sparse startup window. Your first step will be to create and save the RDG configuration file that will contain all your remote PC settings. Click on the File menu, select New, and then choose a name and location for the RDG file.

You’ll inherit the settings that will propagate to all your remote connections from the default parent group. You can change the default settings by clicking on the Tools menu and selecting Options. From there, you can modify the settings for any of four different features: Tree, Client Area, Experience and Full Screen. By clicking on the Default group settings in the Tree section, you can also set up the default Logon Credentials, Gateway Settings, Display Settings, Security Settings and more (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 You can set up default Logon Credentials and adjust all types of settings.

The next step is to create the groups in which you’ll store and organize different remote servers. You could create individual server groups based on function, for example—so you’d have one group for database servers, another for file servers and a third group for print servers. You could also create groups based on location, in which case you’d have one group for servers at your main office and separate groups for remote offices.

To add a group, click on the Edit menu and choose Add Group. In the Add Group dialog box, enter a name for the group. If the Logon Credentials or any other settings for the group are different from the default parent group settings, you can change those here as well.

Your next step is to populate the group with your remote servers. To manually add a server, choose the group, click on the Edit menu and choose Add Server. Type the domain name of the server and choose a different display name if you wish (see Figure 2). At this point, you can also change the Logon Credentials and other settings if they differ from the group settings.

Figure 2 You can add and edit server connection names.

You can also add multiple remote servers in a single shot by importing a simple text file. Create a text file with the names of each server. In RDCMan, click on the Edit menu and choose Import Servers. Browse to and select your text file.

You’ll find your remote machines all added to your current group. At that point, you may need to change the Logon Credentials and other settings for the individual servers. To do that, select a computer, click on the Edit menu and then select Properties.

You can always move servers from one group to another simply by dragging and dropping to the new group. After you’ve set up your remote server connections, make sure to save the RDG file, otherwise you’ll lose your changes.

Each group will now display the names of its servers in the tree view in the left pane and thumbnails for each server in the right pane (see Figure 3). To connect to a specific computer, right-click on it in the tree, then select the Connect server command.

Figure 3 Remote Desktop Connection Manager will display available servers in a tree view.

Once there’s a connection established, you’ll see the remote server’s desktop appear in the right pane (see Figure 4). To create more viewing space for the remote desktop, you can hide the tree view on the left by clicking on the Tools menu, selecting Server tree visibility and then setting it to hide or auto hide. You can also open the remote desktop in an undocked display by right-clicking on the server name, choosing undock and then choosing connect.

Figure 4 You can view and manage remote server desktops in the pane on the right.

From the tree view, you can connect to other servers and maintain several connections at once. To move back and forth between different active connections, simply click on the server you wish to view from the tree list.

You can run RDCMan under Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Vista by default. You can also use RDCMan with Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, but you’ll need version 6 or higher of the RDC client software.

If you need to frequently access an array of different servers, RDCMan provides a quick, clean and convenient way to organize and maintain all of those remote connections.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.