Remote Apps and the Metro RDP client


Introduction


RemoteApps – remote applications that run seamlessly on a client desktop have been around for some time now. With Windows Server 8 Beta, Microsoft has put in a good effort to make the RemoteApps on the Windows 8 desktop interact and integrate better than before. In this article, we will look at the integration of RemoteApps running on Windows Server 8 Beta launched from a Windows 8 client.


In Windows 7, you have the ability to connect to a Windows Server 2008 (R2) RDS environment and retrieve a list of Remote Apps assigned to you. In order to do so you had to open the control panel and open the item called “RemoteApp and Desktop Connections”.



Figure 1



To configure the connection you had to enter the URL of the server hosting the RD Web Access role. This URL consists of the hostname or fully qualified domain name and the RD Web Access folder followed by /Feed/webfeed.aspx. This was, of course, is not very user friendly for a typical end user.



Figure 2



It was also possible for an administrator to send his users a generated setup file that would automate the process of configuring this URL.


With Windows Server 8 Beta (soon to be Windows Server 2012) and the Windows 8 (the client operating system) this process is simplified a lot! With Windows 8, a user can still configure the connection using the classic Control Panel option. Note however, that there is a slight change in the interface here, with a big impact. A user can now also enter his or her corporate e-mail address instead of the web feed URL! Seen from an end users perspective, this is of course much easier! The screenshot below shows what the Control Panel item looks like in Windows 8.



Figure 3


Windows 8 is all about Metro of course. Many settings can now also be configured using Metro style Apps, designed to work better for multi touch devices. Therefore, with Windows 8 a user can also configure this setting using the new Metro style Remote Desktop App. Let us see what configuring Remote Apps using Metro style App on Windows 8 Metro looks like.


Just like inside the classic Control Panel options, the user can still enter the web feed URL here or configure this setting using his corporate E-mail address.



Figure 4



After pressing ok, the user is asked to enter the credentials with which he would like to access the Remote Apps. This is a one-time configuration of course as the user has the ability to save these credentials. The screenshot below shows this dialog.



Figure 5



After configuring this RemoteApp setting, just like inside the classic control panel interface, we receive a summary of the number of applications that have been assigned to us by the administrator. Of course, the same amount of RemoteApps is also available to us when using RD Web Access from within a browser.



Figure 6



In this example, we have been assigned four RemoteApps (and zero full desktops).


The applications that are assigned to us are now also accessible using the Metro style RDP client. When we launch the Metro Style RDP clients we (after a quick splash screen) see the RemoteApps that are assigned to us. The screenshot below shows the four RemoteApps.



Figure 7



The applications are, of course, also still available inside the classic Control Panel shown below.



Figure 8



The RemoteApp applications that are assigned to use are in fact .lnk files (links). These links are placed in the following folder on the Windows 8 client.


C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Work Resources (RADC)



Figure 9



These .lnk files point to corresponding .RDP files. These .RDP files are placed in the following folder:


C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Workspaces\{51E2DFBB-F1F9-4F1B-BD5A-46247B50BB82}\Resource


These .RDP files contain the configuration settings that are needed to connect to the RD Session Host server(s) to launch the Remote Apps, by making use of the RD Connection Broker.


When we open the .RDP file e.g. notepad, we can see the configuration in plain text. Below is a snippet of an example .RDP file.


full address:s:FARM.LAB.LOCAL
alternate shell:s:||calc
remoteapplicationprogram:s:||calc
gatewayhostname:s:rdgw.lab.local
remoteapplicationname:s:Calculator
remoteapplicationcmdline:s:
workspace id:s:FARM.LAB.LOCAL
use redirection server name:i:1
loadbalanceinfo:s:tsv://MS Terminal Services Plugin.1.Wortell_sLab_Ses
alternate full address:s:FARM.LAB.LOCAL


Here we can see that the full address specified is actually the farm address that resolves as (one of the) Connection Broker(s). Since we specify a workspace id and loadbalanceinfo we will of course get a session on one of the RD Session Host Servers that is part of the farm.


Also, new with Windows Server 8 Beta is the ability to configure the Web Feed URL without users having to configure anything. With Windows Server 8 a new Group Policy Object (GPO) setting and section is available.


The new GPO section in Windows Server 8 Beta is called “RemoteApp and Desktop Connections”. See the screenshot below.



Figure 10



There is, at least with the Windows Server 8 Beta release, only one setting inside this new section. This new setting is called “Specify Default Connection URL”.



Figure 11


Taken from the description:


‘This policy setting specifies the default connection URL for RemoteApp and Desktop Connections. The default connection URL is a specific connection that can only be configured by using Group Policy. In addition to the capabilities that are common to all connections, the default connection URL allows document file types to be associated with RemoteApp programs.


The default connection URL must be configured in the form of http://contoso.com/rdweb/Feed/webfeed.aspx.


If you enable this policy setting, the specified URL is configured as the default connection URL for the user and replaces any existing connection URL. The user cannot change the default connection URL. The user’s default logon credentials are used when setting up the default connection URL.


If you disable or do not configure this policy setting, the user has no default connection URL


Note: RemoteApp programs that are installed through RemoteApp and Desktop Connections from an untrusted server can compromise the security of a user’s account.’


To use this policy, you need to create a GPO on the OU where your users exist, and you would like to configure the default RemoteApp URL for, and configure the setting explained above. After logging on with a test user, this user does not have to do any manual configuration. The GPO makes sure that the default web feed URL is set. The RemoteApps that are assigned to this user are available from the Remote Desktop Metro App instantly without any configuration.


All the RemoteApps are also available when selecting the “All App” button. (This button is shown when pressing the right mouse button somewhere on the Metro Style background).



Figure 12



The RemoteApps that are available for the user are all nicely grouped underneath the section called “Work Resourced (RDAC)”.



Figure 13



Conclusion


Microsoft has put in some great effort to increase integration of RemoteApps on the client. Furthermore, the configuration of the integration can now also be done using group policy and RemoteApps are easily accessible from the new Metro Interface.

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