Configure Microsoft’s RemoteApp for Terminal Services

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Ryan BassWeb apps are getting better and better these days. In fact, some offer a superior user interface to many standard applications. Someday Web applications will rule the world, but for now there are still some pesky Windows applications that are not available as a Web app. They still need to be deployed, managed, and patched on each user’s individual machine. Microsoft’s new Terminal Services RemoteApp solution offers a nice alternative to local installations of your Windows applications.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that this is old news; Microsoft has had terminal services around for many years. Sure, you’ve been able to setup a terminal server since the NT days. You could have users logon to your terminal server and run applications from the remote desktop. You could even configure .rdp files on a user’s “real” desktop to automatically open a specific program on the terminal server. So what’s the big deal with TS RemoteApp?

The reason that TS RemoteApp is such a great leap forward is that is actually allows you to associate a file extension with your remote app. This means that you can setup Microsoft Word as a remote app, and when a user double-clicks on a .doc file it will automatically open the remote app version of Microsoft Word to display the document. Not only that, but the user will not even know that Word is running as a remote app. From the user’s perspective it will appear that Word is just a regular program. The window that Word lives in will behave just as if it is any other program running on that machine.

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There are some prerequisites that you will need to meet before you can use TS RemoteApp. First, you will need to be running Windows Server 2008 as the terminal server. Second, you will need to be running Windows XP SP3, Vista, or Server 2008 as the client. You can use still use Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP1, or Windows Server 2003 SP2 as the client if you install the new RDP client (version 6).

Let’s get our hands dirty and see what it takes to setup a RemoteApp. First things first, the terminal server needs to be setup. Follow the steps below to install TS RemoteApp on your Windows Server 2008 server:

  1. Open Server Manager » click on Roles » click Add Roles
  2. Select Terminal Services » click Next » Next
  3. Check the Terminal Server role » click Next » Next
  4. Select Require Network Level Authentication » Next
  5. Choose your licensing model » Next
  6. Add any users/groups that should be able to logon to your terminal server (you can change this later by modifying the local Remote Desktop Users group) » Next » Install

Once you’ve installed Terminal Services we need to setup our RemoteApp:

  1. Install the application you want to make available to clients on the terminal server
  2. Click Start » Administrative Tools » Terminal Services » TS RemoteApp Manager
  3. On the Actions side bar click on Add RemoteApp Programs » Next
  4. Select a program from the list » click Next » Finish

At this point you should see the program you chose to deploy as a RemoteApp in the RemoteApp Programs list at the bottom of the RemoteApp Manager. The next step is to create an .rdp or .msi file to run the RemoteApp on your client. The .rdp file will be able to open your RemoteApp when users double-click on it, but it will not associate a file extension with the RemoteApp. To make the file association you need to create an .msi file for your RemoteApp. When you run the .msi file on a compatible client it will setup the file association and create icons (which you can configure). Follow these steps to create an .msi file on the server:

  1. Click Start » Administrative Tools » Terminal Services » TS RemoteApp Manager
  2. Select the RemoteApp you just setup in the previous section
  3. In the Actions menu click on Create Windows Installer… » click Next » Next
  4. On this screen you can choose where the icons for your RemoteApp will be created. IMPORTANT: This screen is also where you tell the wizard to associate the file extensions for the RemoteApp on the client machine. If desired, select the checkbox for “Associate client extensions for the program with the RemoteApp program”.
  5. Click Next » Finish

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Set up an application for remote access with Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services – from both the server side and client side.

That’s it for configuration on the server side, and you’re almost done! Once you’ve completed creating your .rdp or .msi file a window should open up to the location of the newly created file. If you need to find it later the default location is c:program filespackaged programs. To use the .rdp file all you have to do is copy the file to your client machines. Users can open the RemoteApp by double-clicking on the .rdp file. The .msi file can be used to install your RemoteApp (and associate the appropriate file extensions) on any compatible client. This can be done manually by copying the file to each client machine and double-clicking on the file, or you can use group policy via Active Directory to automatically deploy the RemoteApp.

You can check one more program off the list of applications that need to be maintained locally. RemoteApps behave almost identically to a “normal” application, but you will be able to manage it centrally. In fact, the only way a client will be able to tell the difference is that they may have to logon to the Terminal Server when they open the RemoteApp. Also, users will see their local drives mapped to their terminal server session if they try to open a file within the RemoteApp.

For information on other new Terminal Services features in Windows Server 2008 see the following Technet article:

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