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Thu, Jan 12, 2006 12:47 am

Controlling a Windows System from a Linux System

If you need to remotely control a Windows system from a Linux or Unix system, you can use rdesktop. Rdesktop is an open source client for Windows NT Terminal Server and Windows 2000/2003 Terminal Services, capable of communicating with a Windows system using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

With rdesktop you get an X Window display on your Linux/Unix system that looks very similar to what you would see if you were sitting at the Windows system. It works much like Windows remote desktop software that allows you to control one Windows system with another.

If you are using a Linux system, rdesktop may already be present. You can check by issuing the command rdesktop. If it isn't present, installing rdesktop is easy. Download the file from,, or here and then issue the following commands on your Linux or Unix system, subsituting the particular version number you have downloaded:

tar -xvzf rdesktop-1.4.1.tar.gz
cd rdesktop-1.4.1
make install

You can then run the software with the rdesktop command. E.g., if I wanted to connect to a Windows system with IP address, I could issue the command rdesktop If the Windows system is behind a firewall, you will need to open TCP port 3389.

I often boot a Windows system with a Knoppix Linux Live CD when I am working at a site, so that I can be sure that I am working on a secure system rather than a system that may have been compromised by viruses, trojans, spyware, etc. If I need to access a server at the site, such as a Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 server, I can still access it from the system booted into Knoppix Linux with a Live CD by using rdesktop. Knoppix Linux comes with rdesktop, but you may have another Linux Live CD, which doesn't already provide rdesktop. Since you are booting from a Live CD and can't alter its contents, you need to specify a directory that is stored in memory rather than on the CD when you are installing rdesktop. You can do so by using "--prefix" to specify the directory into which you wish to install it. Otherwise, you will get the following error when you attempt to install it.

$ make install
mkdir -p /usr/local/bin
mkdir: cannot create directory `/usr/local/bin': Permission denied
make: *** [installbin] Error 1

To eliminate the problem, you can use the following commands after you have downloaded the software into a virtual disk Live CDs will typically set up in memory. Suppose you have /ramdisk/tmp as such an area and you have made that your working directory.

tar -xvzf rdesktop-1.4.1.tar.gz
cd rdesktop-1.4.1
./configure --prefix=/ramdisk/tmp
make install

Unless you specify otherwise, a new logon session will be established to the system. The current one won't be terminated. But, perhaps a user is already logged onto the system and you wish to connect to the current console session on the system, to see exactly what you would see if you were sitting at the system. Then you should use the -0 option to attach to the console, e.g. rdesktop -0 You can specify the userid to use with the -u option, e.g. rdesktop -0 -u administrator You may also want to change the color depth with the -a option. The default value is 8-bit color, which gives you only 256 colors. If you use -a 16, you will get 16-bit color, which is 2 raised to the power of 16 colors, i.e. 65,536 colors. If you use rdesktop alone with no options, you will get a list of other available options for the command.


  1. Administer Windows from Linux with rdesktop
  2. Using Rdesktop To Access Windows Terminal Services from A GNU/Linux Client

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