Microsoft's Surface RT: Using existing Windows apps remotely

Microsoft's Surface RT: Using existing Windows apps remotely

Summary: Can you run existing Windows apps on Surface RT and other Windows RT devices? If you have the right back-end infrastructure and licenses, Remote Desktop may provide a way.


Among the top free apps listed in Microsoft's new Windows Store right now are IHeartRadio, Newegg, Kindle and ... Remote Desktop.


Remote Desktop may not be sexy, but it does allow Windows 8 and Windows RT users to connect to a remote Windows PC and access resources from it. And on the Windows RT front, given its restrictions on use of almost any existing Win32 applications (other than Office 2013 Home & Student, Internet Explorer 10 and some other Microsoft-developed utilities), Remote Desktop sounds -- at least in theory -- like a great way for users to continue to use apps they already have on new hardware like the Microsoft Surface RT.

As usual with most things Microsoft, the reality is a lot more complicated. In order to use Remote Desktop and Remote Desktop Services (the renamed "Terminal Services") product, users need certain back-end infrastructure and licenses.

Here's what a Microsoft spokesperson told me regarding use of Remote Desktop and RDS by Windows RT users:

Q: Will Windows RT users, including Surface RT users, be able to run legacy/Win32 apps using Remote Desktop and RDS. If yes, how?

A: The best way is through the Remote Desktop Client, which is available through the Windows Store. When this is combined with Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows RT devices (including Surface RT) users can access data and easily launch apps – including legacy/Win32 apps – one of two ways:

* RemoteApp: RemoteApp grants access to line-of-business applications and data, allowing a user to easily launch apps from Windows RT devices and securely access corporate data while avoiding storing it on a consumer device, ensuring compliance requirements of the business.

* VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure): This option offers a richer user experience than the above. When using Windows Server 2012 for your VDI infrastructure, additional benefits including WAN enablement, USB redirection, and better multi-touch support can be achieved. This is the best value for VDI and offers a more simplified administration for IT, with single console and full PowerShell support.

Q: How is this licensed/what are the limitations?

A: Appropriate server and client licenses are required for both of the above scenarios. To access a Remote Desktop Server for VDI or RemoteApp, you would need an RDS CAL (Client Access License) and a Windows Server CAL.

Q: What's the deal with VDA (Virtual Desktop Access) license and CDL (Companion Device License)? It seems folks using iPads and Android devices to access Windows desktops remotely also need these. Do Windows RT users need to purchase these additional two licenses in order to use Remote Desktop?

A: RT devices don’t need a VDA or CDL license when used as a secondary device for accessing remote desktops. The user still needs an RDS CAL/VDA license for their primary corporate desktop.

Q: In the description of the Remote Desktop app in the Windows Store, Microsoft mentions Remote Desktop allows users to "experience rich interactivity with RemoteFX in a Remote Desktop client." What does this really mean?

A: RemoteFX is the new branding for the user experience. Previously it referenced just the vGPU for VDI, but now also the term also includes the WAN experience, USB Redirection, etc. There’s not a GPU or Hyper-V requirement to take advantage of the improvements. And it’s not limited to just Windows 8 – a recent update provides the RemoteFX functionality to Win7 desktops as well.

Q: Anything else that might help users trying to wade through these licensing details?

A: Here are a couple of additional documents that might help:
* Windows Server RDS Volume Licensing Brief 
* VDI/RemoteApp licensing information 

OK. My brain hurts now. Anyone out there who has used Remote Desktop and RDS to gain access to their "legacy" apps on Windows RT hardware? Feel free to chime in with any additional caveats and lessons learned. And anyone with other questions on this, send them in through the comments and we can all try to wade through this together....

Also: If you're still wondering at this point what does and doesn't work on Windows RT, Microsoft's Windows RT "disclaimer statement" is worth a read.

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • A few extra items

    I have two additional things to add. The first one is that the core windows mstsc application is also available. So if you want to have multiple sessions side by side from the desktop or have smaller resolutions for the remote desktop you can also do that.

    The second is you can always remote to any other machine that is setup for it without needing any special license. I have a work windows 7 machine at home and I can just use the surface rt to remote directly into, hook up my mouse and use the type cover, and fully develop from it wihout needing either of those licenses.
    • Agreed...

      This is another great option for those with Windows 7/8 Professional installs.
    • Yes, remote desktop works great among on-LAN machines

      I notice that remote desktop works fine on my on-premise, SOHO LAN. I don't use it much, although it is a life saver when my headless Windows Home Server needs serious Sys Admin access. The LAN also includes Windows XP SP3 (Pro), Windows 7 (Ultimate), and now Windows 8 Pro systems.

      This doesn't solve the problem of remote access, but it does allow a Surface RT to make local WiFi access to software and applications running on the other systems. In my case, I'm not about to open up my residential firewall to incoming Internet access, so this is not going to work for roaming access to on-premise applications. I think any consumer-friendly and routine-business solutions are going to involve cloud storage, services, and supporting acess (via Surface RT or Pro applications).

      Of course, a Secure Shell and even X Windows client on Surface RT might earn geek-happiness achievements.
      • RemoteFX in Win 8 is WAN ready

        Check out series of blog posts regarding this starting -
  • How to work around the latest nightmare MS put on your desk

    Here is a simpler solution. Costs way less, far more reliable. And I am not on an endless forced upgrade system.
    • And how does this contribution relate

      to Windows 8 RT Remote Desktop ?
    • A great idea!

      Can I run Office 2013 on it?
      Visual Studio 2012?
      • can you run either under Windows RT?

        The moderately crippled ARM version of Office, yes. Any version of Visual Studio, no.

        Running Visual Studio via remote desktop? On a tablet? That'd be pleasant.

        More to the point, there are remote desktop clients for iOS and Android (and Linux). This isn't unique to Windows tablets. Good that Windows tablets also provide this feature, but only because it means comparable functionality to other tablets, not because it distinguishes Windows RT.
    • that's the ticket!

      a world with no more M$ crap.
      LlNUX Geek
  • For businesses...

    This is a great solution. I'm actually testing it out with my system administrative tools like Putty, vSphere Client, and Active Directory and Exchange management tools.
    • alternative

      You should try out ThinServer. It's like a MS Server 2008 R2 terminal services but without the expensive server license.
  • Both 'Metro' and 'Desktop' Remote Desktop works in Win RT

    Both 'Metro' and 'Desktop' Remote Desktop works in Win RT and its exactly like the Win 8 version.
  • Citrix Clients

    There is also a Citrix Client in the store. If it works then access to Virtualized citrix apps will work as well. There are some benefits for this model as it will be for the moment immune to Viruses, have activesync policies, restriction to store purchases, and a common user experience through a Citrix Web portal to keep data securely on our premises might make a great solution for some business cases. My CIO thinks a combination of Surface RT and Pro devices might be an ideal solution depending on the user's needs. Its definitely going to be an interesting year.
  • Same old profit driven technology 'decisions' (PDTD) ...

    ... or is it even worse?

    If I buy a PROPER Windows PC or laptop (not this 1/2 PC netbook or Surface crap) ... then I simply use Remote Desktop ... to wherever I want. No vastly expensive Enterprise Windows infrastructiure crap, no vastly expensive VMWare Enterprise infrastructure crap, ... I just enter an IP address and use the computers both ends over the network, which I've already paid for by the way.

    But in the MSFT REIMAGINED world ... I have to pay a second time!!

    The entire play of Windows 8, Server 2012, METRO and Surface ... is based around preserving MSFT's traditional revenues.

    I mention this time and time again to ZDNET bloggers, especially Mary Jo who seems to be devoid of design knowledge, ... and they don't have the intellect, objectivity or balls to include it ... not even in a footnote :-(

    "Remote Desktop may not be sexy ..."
    It is the killer feature, the orgasm for anyone who knows and loves Windows, computers and networking ... since XP!

    "As usual with most things Microsoft, the reality is a lot more complicated."
    The reality is not more complicated ... the transition from existing technology facts to MSFT corporate Profit Driven Technology Decisions ... follows Scott's 'Oh what a tanlged web we weave, when we practice to deceive'.

    To make things worse we have the advert for RemoteFX ... great, MSFT have a more efficient remote protocol, ... but its going to cost you baby. Did I mention you have to have the full MSFT server infrastructure?

    "OK. My brain hurts now."
    I can see ... but I'm going to be sympathetic to MJF because I think she is a good REPORTER, if a useless TECHNOLOGIST ... here is the bottom line Mary Jo:

    1. IP (invented 30-40 years ago) is all you need to connect two computers and run arbitrary applications atop the network. You paid for them in 2001.

    2. The whole 'cloud' , 'VDI infrastructure' balony thrust on you by MSFT and VMWare ... is simply their way of maintaining their traditional revenue streams. Its your money they are taking, Ms. Notepad user.

    End lesson.
    • Really?

      Grow up. There are many reasons to have a layered system to do this. Primarily for security reasons and manageability.

      And there is nothing wrong with a company selling a service that people want and making money at it.
    • Oh no he di'n't! =O

      "...dude, seriously..? you need to chill. out. What is up with all the drama, son?! " Ah, passion. It's what all this is really about. The mere fact that Microsoft has and continues to invoke such enflamed cries of anxiety and god only knows what most of this fussing is about. I was actually quite excited by each thing that has come as a result of the "tablet threat" and STILL "haters gon' hate" no matter what anyone in any company, organization or firm is going to do. What am I talking about here? I haven't the slightest clue, what the heck are YOU talking about?? Why don't we just let Mary write her articles and only post an actual reply with what she is looking for...someone with a Surface for Windows RT, that has some Remote Access experience. Okay? oOkaayyy... =p
    • Ok, but Bro...

      You need a vacation Bro, your job may be too much for you, Bro.
    • Mary Jo

      I'm sorry you had to read johnfenjackson's hate speech, but glad you're so far above it that it probably didn't make a scratch. :-)
    • Windows Server 2008 R2 doesn't require RDS Cals... or Server Cals..

      UNLESS... you want more than 2 users. If you are the only person connecting via RDS... then no extra licensing is necessary since 2 users are included. However, for multi user Remote Desktop... RDS Cals and Server Cals always have been required, no matter if you are using WinXP, Win7, Win 8 or Windows RT...

      So, it isn't like this is news. And.. of course it will work. As long as the applications will run on the server, they can be accessed remotely.

      The question is whether it will be a good experience. The answer is probably not. 10 inch screens are TINY for using win32 apps, so it will be a stretch even on the Surface pro. The 15 inch model they say is coming will be a better option.
  • Microsoft's Surface RT: Using existing Windows apps remotely

    That is another plus for anyone using Microsoft Window RT and wanting to work remotely.
    Loverock Davidson-