An in-depth look at Windows 8’s Remote Desktop app

Win8RP Remote Desktop - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

In past versions of Windows, the remote desktop application could be somewhat intimidating for new users. With Windows 8, Microsoft has given the app a fresh new look, bringing it in line with the other Metro-style apps and making it much more approachable.

When you first start up the app, you’re presented with a list of all of the computers you’ve previously connected to. If nothing is available, it’ll display a brief description of how to use the app and what it can do. At the bottom of the screen is a big address bar for the name of the PC you wish to connect to. Entering a name and choosing connect brings up a login screen, which is smart enough to keep a list of other accounts you use with this connection as well.

Unlike most Metro-style apps, Remote Desktop is actually fairly simplistic. While it does support live tiles, the tiles themselves aren’t actually alive. The search, share, and devices charms are also out, although settings will allow you to manage the appearance; connected devices like the printer, microphone, and clipboard; the remote desktop gateway; and a few advanced settings like persistent caching, showing thumbnails of recent desktops on the home screen, and touch pointer speed. It’s also possible to access RemoteApps and desktop connections from here.

Even the traditional right-click to bring up the app bar isn’t accessible, since you’re connecting remotely to another computer. It’s possible that you’re still able to swipe up or down from the edge of the screen to invoke the app bar on a touch-enabled device, but I was unable to test it. Instead, the app bar is invoked by selecting the black box with the computer’s name at the top of the screen. You can, of course, slide this box left or right if it’s in the way of something. The top portion of the app bar contains a list of computers you’ve previously connected to (the same as on the home screen and arranged much like tabs in IE 10 Metro, complete with close buttons), while the bottom has options to return to the home screen, bring up a touch pointer, or zoom. Strangely, zoom brings up a dialog that still takes advantage of the Windows chrome.

Lastly, the app does support snapped mode, but it only displays a list of tiles representing available connections. Naturally, this makes sense, as it would be difficult to use a remote machine in such a small space. It should be noted that the remote device will preserve its original aspect ratio if you attempt to switch between full screen and full screen with another app snapped next to it. Closing and re-opening the app, however, will force the remote machine to use a new resolution better suited to whatever you happen to be using.

The remote desktop app included with the Windows 8 Release Preview is fairly simple, but it’s not dumbed down. It’s arguably the most polished of the Windows 8 apps so far. In fact, few – if any – changes were made to the app since the Consumer Preview version. I relied on it heavily during the spring semester and it served me quite well.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/ Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.

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