Modern UI Remote Desktop Client, experiences so far

by [Published on 11 July 2013 / Last Updated on 11 July 2013]

In this article the author takes a closer look at the Remote Desktop App of Windows 8 and discusses some of the pros and cons.

Introduction

As you will probably know by now Windows 8 (and Windows Server 2012) come with a new Remote Desktop Client, more specific an App in the Microsoft App store. This new App and the traditional mstsc client can both be used, but the modern UI Remote Desktop App is obviously optimized for touch and thus ideal for tablets and hybrids running Windows 8 or Windows 8 RT. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the Remote Desktop App and discuss some of the PRO’s and CON’s.

Installation

The modern UI Remote Desktop App is not installed by default. The App is available in Microsoft’s App store. If you search for Remote Desktop you can easily find and install it.

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Figure 1: Remote Desktop app in Microsoft Store

The App can be used in two different scenarios:

  • Connect to a VDI (RDS) deployment to retrieve published Remote Apps and Desktops
  • Directly connect to a server or client (either with or without an RD Gateway in between)

These two types of scenarios correspond to the two options presented upon first launch of the App.

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Figure 2: Two types of scenarios to use the App

We’ll discuss these two scenarios in greater detail.

Sign up to a workspace

You can use the App to connect to a corporate VDI deployment (Session-Based, VM-based or even a mix) and retrieve Remote Apps and Desktops that are being assigned to your user account (based on Group membership).

To perform the sign up process, select the option “Access RemoteApp and Desktop Connections”. That will result in the following being displayed.

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Figure 3: RemoteApp and Desktop Connection

Basically this is the modern UI version of what we previously knew as “RemoteApp and Desktop Connections” as part of the control panel. This classic control panel is also still available on Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.

With Windows Server 2008 R2 we already had the option to define a so called Web Feed URL address to retrieve assigned RemoteApps and Desktops. As we can see in the screenshot, this is the address of our RD Web Access server followed by a specific path which results in webfeed.aspx being launched. What has been added with Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 is the ability to retrieve the assigned RemoteApps and Desktops using a corporate e-mail address. What happens here is that the client performs a DNS lookup and looks for a specific DNS TXT record (_msradc) for the domain of the e-mail address you specify.

Basically the App retrieves the content of that txt record (being the web feed URL) and uses that to connect. Below is what’s being displayed:

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Figure 4:
Web Feed URL retrieved

For more information on how to set up the necessary TXT record see To configure DNS feed lookup for RemoteApp and Desktop Connection.

After specifying either the corporate e-mail address or web feed URL we’re presented with a credential prompt. Note that because we’re using RDP8 and Windows Server 2012 this is the first and only credential prompt.

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Figure 5: Credential prompt

Based on the configuration of the Session Collection within the VDI deployment the Remote Apps and Full Desktops that are authorized for the user account specified are retrieved.

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Figure 6: Retrieved Remote Apps and Desktops

Now, the published Remote Apps and Desktops are available and ready to launch from within the Remote Desktop App underneath the name Work Resources. “Work Resources” is the default name which you are able to change using PowerShell. More info on that: Customizing the RDS title “Work Resources” using PowerShell on Windows Server 2012

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Figure 7: Work Resources inside App

The same Remote Apps are also available directly from within the Start Screen.

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Figure 8: Work Resources inside Start Screen

Launching these Remote Apps or desktops actually results in mstsc (the traditional rdp client) being launched. What happens under the hood is that an .RDP file is created for every Remote App and Desktop within the user profile in the folder:

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Workspaces<workspace ID>\Downloaded Files.

And a corresponding shortcut for every Remote App and Desktop is created in the folder:

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Work Resources (RADC)

Because mstsc is launched here, the true Modern UI Remote Desktop App is not being used to run the actual RDP Session. That leads to the question; when is the true Modern UI Remote Desktop App used to run the RDP Session? The answer is: only when you use the Connect box within the App and specify a servername, FQDN or IP address to connect to.

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Figure 9: Connect option within the App

To further configure the properties and settings, access the charms bar and choose Connection Settings.

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Figure 10: Connection Settings

The App also shows a history of recently accessed destinations making it easier to perform a reconnect.

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Figure 11:
Recently accessed destinations

Limitations

Now that we have covered how to install and set up the Modern UI Remote Desktop App let’s look at some of the limitations of the App you need to be aware of.

Although the App can be used to set up connections to a corporate workspace, the App does not have an option to refresh and reload the list of Remote Apps. A reload only takes place on schedule. To refresh the Remote Apps you still need to use the traditional Control Panel.

Also, the App does not have an option to remove configured workspace connection. To remove a workspace connection, use the traditional Control Panel.

The Connect option (and thus using Modern UI Remote Desktop App for the actual RDP Session) can only be used to connect to a single destination (RD Session Host or client VM). You cannot use this option to connect to a farm of RD Session Host servers brokered by a Windows Server 2012 RD Connection Broker or by using a combination of Windows Server 2008 R2 RD Connection Broker and RD Dedicated Redirector. This will result in the following error:

“Because of a protocol error, this session will be disconnected. Please try connecting to the Remote PC again.”

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Figure 12: Protocol error

Conclusion

The Modern UI Remote Desktop App works great for touch devices and you can easily access corporate Remote Apps and Desktops, as well as direct connections. However, please be aware of the fact that the App does not contain all functionality you were used to having in the classic mstsc.exe and the classic control panel. Hopefully, some of the above mentioned missing functionality will be added in an upcoming update.

See Also


The Author — Freek Berson

Freek Berson avatar

Freek Berson is a Microsoft MVP on RDS and works as an Infrastructure Specialist at Wortell. His main focus is Session Virtualization (RDS and TS) and Desktop virtualization (VDI).