Save time, money with remote system connections

Sometimes, Microsoft introduces an excellent feature into its operating systems but then makes the feature difficult to exploit. One example is Terminal Services (TS).

Sometimes, Microsoft introduces an excellent feature into its operating systems but then makes the feature difficult to exploit.

One example is Terminal Services (TS). This feature is built in to Windows 2000 server but its clients are also compatible with Windows NT, Windows Millennium Edition (Me) and Windows 9x. It's a versatile and convenient way to use the resources of one computer while sitting at another. Despite its name, TS can offer far more than mere dumb-terminal emulation, but you'll need several tricks to get the biggest bang for your buck.

TS is definitely an improvement over its predecessors. I visited administrators Larry Witherspoon and David Curry in the IT centre of the Seattle Mariners baseball team. While sipping lattes in Space Needle-land, they use TS to reconfigure the servers located at the team's training centre in Arizona. Prior to installing Windows 2000, the same procedure required the use of PC Anywhere or SQL Server client software -- or talking a less technically minded person in Arizona through the steps.

In addition to its remote administration features, TS is also used by many for application sharing. For example, with TS, employees who work from home can check email or remotely access their company's in-house software, which can be more convenient than using separate remote-access software or installing numerous applications on every home computer.

You can get a lot more out of TS if you know how to deal with some of its quirks. I delved into this at length with Harry Brelsford, author of Windows 2000 Server Secrets and MCSE Consulting Bible (both from Hungry Minds).

Microsoft has links to an extensive list of resources on the benefits and uses of TS at its website. But Brelsford shared with me a lot of secrets that you'll never find there.

Don't pay for a licence. Many administrators buy Microsoft's client access licence (CAL) packs to run Terminal Services on Windows 9x, Windows Me or Windows NT. These packs cost about $US135 for each user in a five-user concurrent licence.

The trick is that TS is free in Windows 2000. If you install TS in application-sharing mode on a Windows 2000 server, you can add an unlimited number of TS clients on Windows 2000 Professional without paying licence fees. For little more than the cost of TS for your Windows 9x and Windows NT boxes, you can upgrade each machine to Windows 2000.

Don't install TS after the fact. Yes, you can install TS on Windows 2000 Server by running the Add/Remove Programs control panel. But this has the nasty habit of forcing you to reinstall many applications.

A better way to install TS is to select it in the middle of installing Windows 2000 Server in the first place. Any applications you install after this will likely be fine.

Don't install TS on a domain controller. The rule about not installing TS after the fact is easy to follow because you shouldn't install it on a Windows 2000 domain controller anyway. Allowing TS users to log in to such a server poses an unacceptable security risk. And, because TS in application-sharing mode gets high priority, it sucks up performance from other server tasks.

It's best to set up a new server (or a lightly used server) to handle TS users.

Don't let codes drive you nuts. If you support Windows 9x and Windows NT users of TS, you must buy a CAL pack within 90 days of first use. But the 25-digit code in the licence pack doesn't work. You need to call Microsoft to get the real 35-digit number. It doesn't say this in the licence pack.

Brelsford recommends an excellent technical article by Ron Oglesby of Progressive Network Solutions on 10 ways to significantly optimise TS.

Send me your experiences with TS. I'll send you a book free if I print your comments.

Livingston's latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to Brian Livingston.

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