I'm trying to get a shortcut for Remote Desktop in my quick launch bar.

I have Remote Desktop client installed, and when I click the shortcut in Start->Accessoiries->Communications, it starts fine, however when I make a copy of that very shortcut and attempt to start it with the new shortcut, I get the error:

Windows is searching for %SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe. [...]

When I go to the system32 folder, I cannot find mstsc.exe and it's not hidden either. A disk-wide search turns op nothing. When I go to properties of the shortcut and press OK, it also complains that "The name '%SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe' in the target box is not valid.

Oddly enough, when I start it from the Accessoiries menu and use Process Explorer to view the command line of the process, it says "C:\WINDOWS\system32\mstsc.exe". When I paste this line in Start->Run, it works but when I paste it in the shortcut, I get the aforementioned errors.

I have another machine with XP 32bit instead of 64 and it works fine there with the same path.

  • Where is this 'phantom' mstsc.exe?
  • Is it safe to just copy mstsc.exe from the other machine?

2 Answers 2


You mentioned you are on Windows XP, 64-bit (which was considered a bit buggy IIRC). There is a chance that mstsc.exe is a 32-bit executable (and that Microsoft did not provide a 64-bit version at that time), in which case it will sit in SysWOW64, which contains the 32-bit executables and libraries normally found in System32 in 32-bit installations. In 64-bit installations, System32 only contains 64-bit executables and libraries.

Basically, try %SystemRoot%\SysWOW64\mstsc.exe. Though it is odd you can run it through other commands.

You may wish to try checking through the command prompt. Try dir /a "%SystemRoot%\System32\mstsc.exe", which will list one file if it exists and say File Not Found if not.

Just in case the 64-bit version used to be there and is now missing, you can try restoring it. The first thing you should try is running the command sfc /scannow (in the command prompt), which may restore the file if you are lucky.

Alternatively, you could try copying from another computer. If you do copy mstsc.exe from another machine, it must be running the same Windows version and service pack as the current one, and must also be 64-bit.

All available updates should be applied. Another thing you can try is copying from the original installation CD, though that may be lacking required service packs and updates.


Are you using an alternative shell or file manager, perchance? Ultimately, if the application is launching successfully from the original shortcut, it must exist. The question is why can't you see it.

I suspect you are running into an issue with either User Account Control, File and Registry Virtualization, or a combination of the two. Starting with Windows Vista, certain critical system folders and registry keys are protected from access by non-compliant applications. Windows will present a different virtualized view of a folder or registry key, so that the application can function, but won't compromise system stability.

Some more information is available here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/927387

There were significant changes to the Remote Desktop protocol and client with Server 2008/Vista and more with 2008R2/Win7, and though you can update the RD client on XP, I'm not sure that copying the binary is the best solution.

  • He said he's running Windows XP, 64-bit - so anything introduced in Vista and later (notably UAC and file and folder virtualisation) probably does not apply. And you are correct in saying that copying the binary from a different version of Windows will not work - there is at least one linked library, IIRC. Even if all linked libraries are copied, a different version may not be compatible with XP 64-bit.
    – Bob
    Nov 29, 2012 at 15:46
  • Oh, sorry. Missed the OS bit, so my suggestion is way off the mark. Thanks, Bob.
    – Geoff Duke
    Dec 11, 2012 at 13:05

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