Remote Desktop: How to work from your Mac on a Windows PC

If you want to work from your Mac on your Windows PC at work, you use Microsoft Remote Desktop. There are a number of things you should take into account. In this article you can read how to install Remote Desktop and then work optimally with it.

Install Remote Desktop

The first thing you need to do is install Microsoft Remote Desktop on your Mac. You can easily do that via the App Store. Then there are a few things you need to know: your computer name, the gateway and of course your login details. You probably know these login details yourself, you can ask the system administrator at work for the computer name and gateway.

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That system administrator will probably also need to configure your Windows PC to accept remote connections. If you want to arrange this yourself, you can do so by going to ‘Start>Settings>System>Remote Desktop’. Install the app, fill in the required information, and a connection is made directly to the PC at work.

install remote desktop

Safety warning

When you connect from your Mac to your Windows PC, a security warning appears regarding an unverified certificate. If you’re at home or on a small business network, you can just click Continue and ignore the message. But be warned if you are on a large network with public access.

Safety warning

Once the desktop connection is established, your Windows PC will lock and switch to the login screen. If someone tries to use the PC, your remote session will be terminated. It is not possible for two people to use the same computer at the same time.

Configure Remote Desktop

You can further configure the app via the ‘edit’ function. For example, with ‘Clipboard mode’ you decide whether you can exchange files between both computers, or only in one direction or only in the other direction. You will also find the option that determines which PC audio is played. While the default settings are probably what you want, it’s still a good idea to check them out.

Remote desktop

The ‘Folders’ option allows you to make certain folders on your Mac available in your remote Windows session. You can access these folders through Windows Explorer. You can work with files stored on your Mac in a Windows application or copy files between computers. However, it all remains within the remote session. Sharing a folder in this way makes the folder inaccessible on the physical Windows computer.

Multiple screens

The Remote Desktop screen, like all apps, opens on your primary screen. If you use multiple monitors, it is therefore important that the monitor you want to use Remote Desktop on is set as the primary monitor. You can easily adjust this via the System Preferences>Display app. If you don’t do this, Remote Desktop will open on the wrong screen. You can then choose to move it to the other screen, but there is a good chance that you don’t have the right resolution and it will certainly not benefit the quality.

Remote desktop

Work with Remote Desktop

In principle, Remote Desktop gives you full access to your PC at work. But operating a Windows PC with a Mac keyboard takes some getting used to. For example, keyboard shortcuts that you use by default on your Mac in Remote Desktop suddenly don’t work. And there are Windows features that you can’t just use with a Mac keyboard. We’ll give you an overview of the things you’re likely to run into and tell you how to fix them.

Move and delete files

It is not possible to drag and drop files from one computer to another. However, because both computers use the same clipboard (provided you’ve left the clipboard mode set to ‘Bidirectional’), copying and pasting isn’t a problem at all.

Clipping is something you can’t normally do on your Mac. But because you’re now working on a Windows PC via your Mac, it’s suddenly possible. Fortunately, the key combination for this is very obvious: Cmd + X. Then you can just paste as you are used to, so with Cmd + V. Copying and pasting also takes place as you always do.

delete files

Deleting files becomes a little more difficult. On your Mac you normally use Cmd+Backspace, but it doesn’t work on a Windows PC. But luckily there are two handy alternative ways: The easiest is to press Ctrl+D. But you can also click on the file with two fingers at the same time. The shortcut menu that opens on your Windows PC when you right-click on it will then appear. There you can simply select ‘Delete’.

Use Alt Tab

Switching between different screens with ‘Alt-tab’ on your Windows PC is possible via Remote Desktop, but you need to use the correct key combination. Selecting ‘Cmd+Tab’ switches between Remote Desktop and the app you last used on your Mac. To switch between the different screens on your Windows PC, use Option+Tab.

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The most important keyboard shortcuts

As mentioned, during a remote desktop session you use keyboard shortcuts on the computer you are connected to. How you use these hotkeys on your Mac keyboard varies to a greater or lesser degree. Below are the key combinations you are most likely to use:

  • Select all: Command + A
  • How to copy: Command + C
  • To cut: Command + X
  • To hold: Command + V
  • Undo: Command + Z
  • Apply again: Control + Command + Y
  • Close the window: fn + Option + f4
  • Change file name: fn + F2
  • Remove file: Control + D
  • Show file properties: fn + Option + Enter
  • Show shortcut menu for a selected item: Shift + fn + F10
  • Create new folder: Control + Shift + N
  • Open Task Manager: fn + Control + Option + Backspace

Don’t want to use these shortcuts and prefer to decide them yourself? This is possible with the free Karabiner-Elements software.

carabiner elements

Practice makes perfect

In principle, Remote Desktop from your Mac works brilliantly. At first, you have to get used to certain key combinations. As you can see from the list above, not all of them make the same sense. For example, if you’re used to using Alt+Tab, you’ll probably accidentally use Cmd+Tab instead of Option+Tab at first. It is therefore a good idea to keep the above list at the start. And remember, the more you work on it, the better it gets!

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