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Fixing issues with a computer mouse on a remote desktop

Running a remote desktop comes with all sorts of hardware considerations for IT to address, including how the desktop interacts with local hardware, such as a computer mouse.

Although remote desktop sessions are generally reliable, a user's peripheral desktop hardware, such as a mouse, may occasionally fail to function within the remote desktop environment.

When this happens, the user's mouse may continue to function within the confines of their local OS but is not recognized by the remote desktop environment. While it is possible to operate Windows and Windows applications by using keyboard shortcuts as a workaround in the absence of a mouse, most users probably don't know how to do so.

As such, mouse-related issues occurring in a remote desktop session need to be dealt with quickly to restore the user's productivity. As a remote desktop administrator, you should follow these steps to troubleshoot a remote desktop with a faulty mouse.

At the most fundamental level, troubleshooting any desktop issue is all about doing simple tests to find out what is working and what is not. The idea is to eliminate some potential causes of the problem, making it easier to figure out what is going on.

Suppose, for example, that a computer will not power on. A technician might verify that the computer is plugged in and that the power strip is turned on before replacing the system's power supply. This approach is all about checking the simple things first. A technician might even try using a different power cord before swapping out the machine's power supply.

This same basic idea can be easily adapted to troubleshooting remote desktop mouse problems. Start by checking the easy things first, and eliminate those things as potential sources of the problem before moving on to more complex troubleshooting steps.

1. Verify mouse functionality

The first step in fixing issues with a computer mouse on a remote desktop is to make sure that the mouse is working properly at the hardware level. Even though this might seem like an overly simple step, that does not make it any less important. After all, you don't want to waste time troubleshooting a remote desktop session when the mouse itself was the problem the whole time.

Most of the time, a mouse either works or it doesn't -- there isn't usually a lot of in between. Even so, wireless mice can sometimes suffer from intermittent problems as a result of a weak signal or radio interference. Such issues typically stem from placing the mouse's Bluetooth module in a location that prevents good radio reception. For example, if a user has a desktop computer with a large metal case and plugs their receiver into a rear USB port, then the computer's metal case may obstruct the signal. When this happens, the mouse pointer may suffer from lag, or it may occasionally fail to move at all. Similarly, a mouse with a dirty optical sensor may suffer from intermittent problems.

In any case, it is important to verify that the mouse is working properly outside of the remote desktop session prior to attempting to troubleshoot the problem from the remote desktop level.

If you suspect that the problem is related to the RDP client, you should try to establish a remote desktop session from a different client entirely.

2. Determine if the mouse's problem related to the user or the device

This step might be difficult if the user is working remotely or from a personal device. If the user and their device are on site, then you could simply try logging in to the device using a different user account. If the user is working remotely, you could create a temporary account solely for this purpose. Similarly, you could try asking the user to log in to a different device.

These two tests go a long way toward helping you troubleshoot the problem. If the problem follows the user from one device to another, then the problem is most likely related to the user's account -- that is, assuming that the secondary device has been confirmed to work properly with a separate login from another account.

If, on the other hand, the problem affects anyone who logs in to the user's device, then the problem is device-specific. If you have already verified that the mouse itself is working properly, then the problem is almost certainly going to be related to the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) client that is installed on that device. As such, it may be worth checking to make sure that the user is running the correct version of the RDP client or even removing and reinstalling the RDP client.

Such actions are only an option if the user is employing a third-party RDP client. There isn't a way to reinstall or version-check Remote Desktop Connection -- the native Windows RDP client -- short of simply using Windows Update to update the machine itself.

3. Try an alternative RDP client

If you suspect that the problem is related to the RDP client, you should try to establish a remote desktop session from a different client entirely. For instance, if the user is working from a third-party RDP client, then you should establish a session using the native Windows client. Conversely, if the user normally works from the native Windows client, then you might temporarily install a third-party client to see if the problem goes away.

4. Check the RDP client configuration

Once you have narrowed down the source of the problem to the RDP client itself, the next step in the troubleshooting process is to make sure that the RDP client is configured correctly. The steps for doing so can vary widely from one client to the next.

If you are using the native RDP client, then there are not any mouse-related configuration options. Normally, the mouse simply works. Even so, there are a couple steps that you can try.

The Windows OS client for Remote Desktop Protocol showing the option to detect Plug and Play devices checked off
Figure 1. The Remote Desktop Connection client showing the checked-off option to include Plug and Play devices, including ones that you plug in later on

First, try plugging in a different mouse -- preferably one that has been proven to work in your remote desktop environment -- into the user's machine. It's possible that the remote OS simply lacks the device drivers needed for the user's mouse and that using a different mouse solves the problem.

If this isn't a suitable solution, you can enable plug and play for the remote session. This technique is a long shot, but it may be worth an attempt. Open Remote Desktop Connection, and then click on the Local Resources tab. You may have to click on the Show Options button to reveal this tab. Then, click the More button, and scroll to the bottom of the device list. Select the Other supported Plug and Play (PnP) devices checkbox and the Devices that I Plug in Later checkbox (Figure 1).

When you are done, click OK. Now, unplug and reconnect the mouse, and try connecting to the remote desktop session.

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