In keeping with its new, more heterogeneous strategy for devices and services, Microsoft this past week released the first version of its Remote Desktop app for iOS—iPad, iPhone and iPod touch—and Android (handsets and tablets). I've tested the app on the iPhone 5S, iPad 2 and Android-based Google Nexus 7, and it works exactly as expected.
(There's also a new version of Remote Desktop for Mac, though I'm not particularly interested in that, personally.)
Windows Server 2012 accessed via iPad 2
What I'm most curious about is how Microsoft is positioning this app. Obviously, third parties have been shipping remote desktop solution for iOS and Android for years. So Microsoft's entry now is interesting. According to a recent blog post by Microsoft corporate vice president Brad Anderson, the release of Remote Desktop was tied to the release of the firm's massive set of Cloud OS products, many of which bear the R2 moniker. And it is "a great solution from Microsoft to deliver Windows applications to your users across all the devices they are using."
I sort of approach Remote Desktop from the standpoint of remote administration. I can use such an application on Windows—where we have the excellent Remote Desktop Connection—to hit my Windows Servers interactively and perform troubleshooting and maintenance tasks without having to visit them physically. (My own servers aren't in my office, as would be the case for most corporate admins and IT pros.)
But what Mr. Anderson is suggesting is that while Remote Desktop for iOS and Android will work in such a scenario—and that's how I've pretty much used it in testing—the real aim here is to deliver Windows applications to whatever devices corporate users are actually using.
"What we are trying to accomplish is pretty straightforward," he writes. "Enable users to access the apps and data they need to be productive in a way that can ensure the corporate assets are secure. Notice that nowhere in that sentence did I mention devices. We should stop talking about PC Lifecycle management, Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Management – and instead focus our conversation on how we are enabling users."
This is a very server-centric viewpoint, of course, which I suppose is what one might expect from the Windows Server & System Center business at Microsoft. So what's the Windows client experience like?
Well, it works as it does for Windows Server, though you'll need to enable remote access from the System control panel first, and of course if you intend to do this on a personal basis, you'll have to figure out some way to access your PC remotely if you're using a standard home-type cable connection. But just in testing this around the house, yeah, it works. The touch screens on the iPad and Nexus 7, in particular, work well because of their sizes, and you can easily access Windows 8.x-type swipe gestures, such as that used to enable the Charms. (And if you're familiar with remote desktop solutions, you won't be surprised to discover that the remote system runs full-screen, at the native resolution of the iOS/Android device you're using.)
Windows 8.1 accessed via Nexus 7
And the speed, at least on the internal network, was good enough to type in WordPad without any stuttering.
Is this good enough for the occasional foray into a Win32 (desktop) app or the seemingly less necessary Metro-style app? Perhaps. I'm not sure I'd want to work this way regularly, though as suggested previously, its fine for the random admin task on a server.
Regardless, an interesting move by Microsoft, and one that should overcome any doubts about Microsoft's true direction going forward. Devices and services indeed.