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Q. How do I enable Desktop Composition on a Windows 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Session Host?

A. Desktop composition is the technology that provides Aero theme effects such as Flip 3D. Windows Vista and Windows 7 support desktop composition from remote connections, and Windows Server 2008 R2 introduces support for desktop composition for remote sessions if you have the Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) role installed. Without RDSH, you can't use desktop composition for remote connections. Note that the RDSH hardware doesn't have to support desktop composition—in my environment, the RDSH runs as a Hyper-V guest.

While you're installing the RDSH role, you can select the option to enable desktop composition during the Client Experience stage, which makes all changes to your installation for you and no further actions are required.

To enable desktop composition if you've already installed RDSH, you need to do the following:

  1. Install the Desktop Experience feature, found under Server Manager, Features
  2. Set the Themes service to Autostart and start the service. This is found under Server Manager, Configuration, Services, Themes, Startup type, Automatic. Click Apply then Start.
  3. Enable the Allow desktop composition for remote desktop sessions policy, either with local policy or via a domain Group Policy Object (GPO). The setting is located in Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Windows Components, Remote Desktop Services, Remote Desktop Session Host, Remote Session Environment.

    Click to expand.

  4. Enable 32-bit color support for the remote connections. Under Server Manager, go to Roles, Remote Desktop Services, RD Session Host Configuration, RDP-Tcp Connection Properties, Client Settings, then uncheck the Limit Maximum Color Depth option.

    Click to expand.

Make sure you have color set to Highest Quality (32 bit) on the remote desktop client in the Display tab. Under Experience, make sure Desktop composition is enabled (I generally just select the LAN profile).

Click to expand.

Now all the standard desktop composition features will be available in your remote session, as shown.

Related Reading:

Check out hundreds more useful Q&As like this in John Savill's FAQ for Windows. Also, watch instructional videos made by John at
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