Share a single Outlook with Remote Desktop

How to use a single copy of Outlook on multiple machines.

There’s an easy way to run a single copy of Outlook and use it on multiple machines – Remote Desktop.

We’ve heard from many Outlook users who move their PST data files between a laptop and desktop computers. We’re happy to say there’s a better way.

Remote Desktop is a way to operate one computer (eg a laptop) from another (eg desktop). On the remote/desktop machine you can operate almost anything on the other computer. You can copy/paste to and from it, print files. With a fast LAN connection there’s no noticeable time lag in response, it’s as if you have a ‘machine within the machine’. Here’s an example of remote desktop on the main/desktop computer – click on the image to see a full size version.

Remote Desktop display on main computer.jpg image from Share a single Outlook with Remote Desktop at Office-Watch.com

On top left is the remote computer displayed in a window. In this case Outlook is taking up the full screen on the remote computer, but you can see the remote machines start button and taskbar at the bottom.

Once running you can switch between the remote desktop and programs on your main computer quite normally.

For this article we’ll talk about the remote computer as being a laptop and the computer you’re working from as a desktop. They can be any two computers however the “laptop displayed within a desktop” is a common situation so we’ll use that wording here.

Remote Desktop is good as a work-around for the problem of managing multiple Outlooks but has other uses.  It lets you run software on a powerful computer (eg a desktop) while working from a slower machine.  You can operate expensive software from another computer without having to pay for another licence.

In short, we get many questions about installing Office or accessing documents that can be fixed with creative use of Remote Desktop.

There are options for remotely operating a computer from anywhere on the Internet and we talk about them separately.  In this series we’ll focus on the faster and easier connection within a home or office local network (cable or wifi).


Compatibility

Windows Remote Desktop is available in all higher priced versions of Windows XP, Vista and 7.

Specifically:



  • Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate
  • Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate editions
  • all XP editions except Home edition

The lower priced versions (eg Home edition) don’t support Remote Desktop, however there is a Microsoft made alternative, Live Mesh, that works for Windows 7 and Vista (with Service Pack 2).  There are several free Remote Desktop alternatives.

The more recent versions of Remote Desktop has additional features however they should connect to older versions, just without supporting the newer technologies.

On the client / desktop side you need the Remote Desktop client software:
Windows 7 machines should have the latest client software installed. Vista and XP users can go to Microsoft to download the latest v7 client software, the download links are near the bottom of the page.


Setup

Remote Desktop has to be configured on the machine to be controlled (ie the laptop machine in this example). The configuration is done in the Advanced System Properties tab – right-click on the My Computer desktop icon and choose Properties. Or go to Control Panel | System. This is the dialog box in Windows 7 – it might be slightly different in your version of Windows.

Remote Desktop - system properties.jpg image from Share a single Outlook with Remote Desktop at Office-Watch.com

Make sure the ‘Allow connections from computers running any version of Remote Desktop’ is selected. This gives you maximum compatibility across versions of Windows. As with many Windows features, corporate users may be blocked from using Remote Desktop by their network administrators.

Then click ‘Select Users’ to choose the user logins that can access this computer.

Remote Desktop - select users.jpg image from Share a single Outlook with Remote Desktop at Office-Watch.com

All Administrator level users are automatically allowed remote access. Click Add to select other users who can login remotely.

Once Remote Desktop is setup on the computer you’re connecting to (ie laptop), switch over to the other machine (ie desktop) to use the Remote Desktop client software.

Make sure the remote computer us running and connected to the local network. You need to know the remote computer machine name or IP address.

On the main / desktop machine start Remote Desktop Connection (in Windows 7 it’s under Start | All Programs | Accessories).

Type in the name or IP address of the remote computer.

Remote Desktop - simple client connection.jpg image from Share a single Outlook with Remote Desktop at Office-Watch.com

Click Connect and, if all has been configured properly, you’ll see a new window on the main machine with a login prompt for the remote computer. Enter the login for the remote machine (there’s a special button for Ctrl+Alt+Delete if you need it).

Then you can start any program on remote machine, like Outlook, and it’ll run quite normally.  Simply use the Start Menu or taskbar inside the remote desktop pane.

Give a few things a try like copying something to the clipboard then pasting it into a program on the other computer.

When you take the laptop away from the local network you can simply disconnect the machine and walk away. The remote desktop session will disconnect automatically.

There are many Remote Desktop configuration options worth checking.