In the past couple of weeks, I set up three workstations: a desktop running Windows 7, a Lenovo X201 laptop that came with Windows 7, and a Lenovo X300 laptop whose 64 GB solid state disk I had upgraded to 128 GB. The first two computers came with an OS installed; the disk upgrade on the X300 upgrade wiped out the original OS, so I opted for a clean install of Windows 7. I also setup two servers, both running Windows server 2008.
In all five cases, my life was made substantially easier by doing most of the OS configuration and applications loading from my usual workstation. There are lots of ways to gain control of a remote machine. I’ve used plenty of them in the past. Most of them involve either paying up front for an application such as PCanywhere or going with a web based service like WebX. For the last 10 years there has been a third alternative: using the Windows tools. I haven’t been very happy with this in the past, especially when the controlling operating system and the controlled operating system are different.
No longer. I am a convert to Windows Remote Desktop. It’s built into the latest Microsoft operating systems. For instructions on how to set it up, just Google ” Windows Remote Desktop”. It’s free. It’s bulletproof and (which is something I couldn’t say a previous versions), and it provides resolution on the controlling computer independent of the resolution available on the controlled computer. This is important when configuring servers, whose native resolution using the standard motherboard display controller rarely extends beyond 1024 by 768, or maybe 1280 by 1024.
No longer do you have to keep running back and forth between your workstation and the computer you trying to set up. No longer do you have to write down passwords or try to remember them as you take information available at your workstation imported into the computer that you’re configuring.
Here’s the way I used to set up a new computer. I’d find a spot to park it. With a laptop, that usually wasn’t too hard, but with a desktop, it usually ended up in the basement. In no case was the machine within easy reach of where I sit to use my main workstation. I’d load the OS if it was an upgrade or if I built the machine myself. Then I’d answer the basic OS configuration questions, get the OS updates from the web, reboot, and join the machine to the domain. Then the real fun began. I’d load a backup program, most often paying for a new license, and back up the initial configuration. Then I’d load an antivirus program, then whatever suite of applications I wanted on the machine.
There was a lot of waiting around. In the case of desktop computers, there was a lot of running up and down stairs. While this may have been good for my figure, it wasn’t a very efficient use of my time. It seems like most of the steps involved in configuring a new computer are too long to comfortably wait staring at the screen, but too short to run up the stairs and go do something else. Also, there were registration codes and passwords to enter, and early in the configuration, I didn’t have Office installed so I couldn’t read Word files on the server.
Using Windows Remote Desktop for computer setup doesn’t make the process go much faster, but it does allow you to do a lot more useful work on your main machine while the setup tasks are running to completion in a window that you can see at a glance from the computer that you use all the time. You also have easy access to all your passwords, URLs, and activation codes, and Remote Desktop cleverly allows you to copy something into the clipboard from a window on your workstation and paste it into a window on the computer you’re controlling.
You can’t see the POST run, and you can’t turn the computer on remotely like you can with hardware-based solutions, but that’s not a problem in setting up a machine. All in all, using Windows Remote Desktop has made dealing with a new computer a whole lot easier and more pleasant. It’s not often that a free (or, to be more precise, included) product makes such a difference.