Connect Windows Phone to Desktop Apps Remotely

Remote Desktop App for Windows Phone 8.1 has limitations that rankle some, though.

Microsoft's new emphasis on lightning-quick product updates isn't just reserved for Visual Studio; it's happening on the Windows side of things, too.

Take, for instance, the release of yet another preview of its Remote Desktop App for Windows Phone 8.1, which enables users to access applications remotely on their smartphones.

Remote Desktop App preview version 8.1.1 for Windows Phone 8.1, which was released this week, is an update to version 8.1 that Microsoft released in late April. The first version of the app included support for Microsoft's RemoteFX 3D graphics capabilities and support for the Network Layer Authentication Protocol for data protection. It also added touch capabilities on Windows Phone 8.1 devices.

This new 8.1.1 preview version includes user interface improvements, such as the ability to pin desktop connections to Windows Phone 8.1's Start Screen and the ability to use the predictive text capability of the operating system to specify a remote connection. Users can also disable thumbnails on the Windows Phone 8.1 screen and show the background image through application tiles. The connection experience now shows various stages, and devices will disconnect quicker when sessions are terminated, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft also has Remote Desktop Apps available for Windows 8.1, iOS, Mac OS X and Android.

Lack of Enterprise Support
As with the 8.1 preview version, this 8.1.1 preview release of the Remote Desktop App for Windows Phone 8.1 doesn't come with support for Microsoft Azure RemoteApp, nor does it support the addition of VPN connections. Support for those capabilities will arrive sometime this summer, according to the announcement. In addition, version 8.1.1 preview currently lacks support for Remote Desktop Gateway, Remote Desktop Connection Broker and Desktop Connection, although support is promised by Microsoft for "later this year."

Those omissions likely will be disappointments for IT pros running virtual desktop infrastructures using Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012 R2. The lack of support means that some management capabilities won't be available. In addition, it will make accessing session-based desktops or virtual desktops harder for end users using the Windows Phone 8.1 client.

Microsoft describes RemoteApp and Desktop Connection as enabling "a personalized view of RemoteApp programs, session-based desktops, and virtual desktops to users." The Remote Desktop Connection Broker enables IT pros to manage session-based remote desktops and virtual machine-based remote desktops, and it adds support for the RemoteApp and Desktop Connection capabilities, according to a TechNet article. The Remote Desktop Gateway Server enables encrypted transport using the HTTPS Protocol and Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol, which is another management essential.

The lack of support for RemoteApp and Desktop Connection in the Windows Phone 8.1 client was noted by readers of Microsoft's blog when the 8.1 version was announced. A reader named "Tom" commented that Microsoft provided such support for other platforms first, even over its own Windows Phone 8.1 client:

No support for remote resources (i.e. RemoteApps pushed out over a RemoteApp and Desktop Connections [RADC] web feed connection URL) like is included in all of the other Microsoft Remote Desktop clients (i.e. Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows RT)??? Just another case of Microsoft leaving their own smartphone platform behind. How sad.

However, it's not an unprecedented move. For instance, Microsoft rolled out a touch-enhanced Office for iPad first, even though it is still working on releasing a touch-enhanced Office version for Windows 8 systems.

Faster Release Cycle
Microsoft now has a faster release cycle for its software products. The release cycles can be yearly, monthly or even weekly (as in the case of Microsoft's Yammer updates). However, with Microsoft's apps, the release schedule seems even harder to predict.

This Remote Desktop App release for Windows Phone 8.1 reflected a one-month turnaround for an app that's still at the preview stage. That's a different release practice for Microsoft. The company used to follow a more predictable "beta," "release candidate" and "general availability" pattern.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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