Windows Server 2003 allows remote connection to the console session of a server resulting in 3 connections made available when connecting via Terminal services / remote desktop. In Windows 2000 Server terminal services could not connect to the console session.
It is always possible to connect to the console session even if the following message appears on the standard sessions: "The terminal server has exceeded the maximum number of allowed connections." Note: Use Terminal Services Manager to log off un-used sessions remotely.
Remote Desktop Client Versions
To be able to connect to the console session Remote Desktop client V5.1 or higher is required. XP ships with V5.1 .
Windows Server 2003 ships with RDP client V5.2 which has an auto-reconnect option as well as other new features. It can be downloaded from: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=a8255ffc-4b4a-40e7-a706-cde7e9b57e79&DisplayLang=en Unlike the previous version it can be installed from 95 and up - although advanced features such as mapping local drives will not be supported pre XP.
How to connect to the console session
To connect to the console session start the client from a command prompt (or create a shortcut) or directly under Start Menu -> Run with the following command:
The server name can be selected as usual when the client starts.
mstsc is located in: %Windir%\\System32\\mstsc and the 5.2 download installs in: %ProgramFiles%\\Remote Desktop\\mstsc
The RDP client V5.2 installer does not update the 5.1 client and the new directory is not added to %path% .
Be warned that if a user is already logged on to the console session different from the user trying to logon they will be force logged off and any unsaved data will be lost. This is in contrast to logging on with the same account where the session will be resumed for when it was last used and anybody currently using the session - whether physically at the terminal or via RDP - will be disconnected.
Managing Remote Connections
Once logged on to the console (or any other session) you can right click on the taskbar and select "Task Manager". When in a session you get a tab here called "Users". You can now choose to log off or disconnect the other sessions that might have become orphan or are still being open on a computer at work or something. You could connect to those sessions as well to see if any files are open in them first or even remote control them to interact with them.
You will notice in the terminal service manager that the console session always have sessionid = 0. You still see both a remote connection with sessionid = 0 and a "console" object as well. The "console object" will always be there as well but to identify which session is connected to it look for the one with sessionid = 0.
Other cool stuff is that you can remote control other sessions on the computer to interact with them (right click on them -> Remote Control). I don't remember if that was possible in Windows 2000. In other words the "connect" option takes the session directly, while the "Remote Control" option will interact with the session, two at the same time.
By default the current user of the session gets a message telling him/her that another connection is incoming for Remote Control. You can select Yes or No to this. If you are the only one using the server then you can disable this message under policies but on the other hand you could just "connect" instead of remote control the sessions in that case.
Contrast to XP
This concept of console session is different compared to the remote desktop service built-in in Windows XP. In Windows XP you only have one session which is the console session and that's the one you always connect to. With Windows 2003 in Remote Administration mode you have the console session and two other "standard" sessions as in Windows 2000 Server, where the console never is the default one unless you use one of the methods mentioned above.