Microsoft Remote Desktop for iOS


Today, Microsoft released “Microsoft Remote Desktop” for iOS devices (iOS 5+). For a long time, the Apple store has contained many 3rd party solutions to this which usually require a 3rd party app to be installed on the Windows PC you’re connecting to (never a fan of this option), or have ‘basic’ Remote Desktop support, without the Network Level Authentication. This app supports it.

Firstly, by allowing this on any PC you’re opening up a way for attackers to get in. You need to weigh up the risks with this, and what data can be accessed. I won’t get into that with this post, but consider firewall settings and potentially using a VPN for extra security.

The iOS side of things is very simple. Go to the app store, install the “Microsoft Remote Desktop” app and launch it. You’ll end up with a ‘RD Client’ App on your home screen, and when launched will look like this (without my ‘Home’ connection):

2013-10-18T14-47-25_0Pretty clean. So, you can add a ‘New Remote Desktop’ if you know the PC name/IP address you’re connecting to. Most people will want this when they’re out and about though – so the first thing to do is make sure Remote Desktop is enabled on your PC.

At the PC end under System > Advanced System Settings are the Remote Desktop settings. Make sure you’ve got the ‘Allow connections only from computers running…’ tickbox selected. Why? Have a read here but the summary is that it’s more secure and is less susceptible to attacks.

system propeties

For the ‘Select Users’ box, add only the accounts you need to use remotely (unless they’re already a local admin). As part of this, you should have your local administrator account disabled as that’s often what someone or something will use as a username to try to access your PC. The account you’re planning to use can be a Microsoft account, so you’d just enter your email address (e.g. [email protected]) with your password, and that will authorise you to the PC.

Keep in mind you may need to allow port 3389 (RDP) traffic in via your Router, and have that go to the PC you’re trying to connect to.

Once you’re on, the iOS app is rather clean and easy to use. You’ll see a small menu bar at the top of the screen. To the right is the keyboard which has all the keys I could imagine wanting (even a start button!), and to the left is a zoom/scroll button. Pressing this shows a small circle in the top middle half of the screen, and zooms the screen in. If you want to navigate around in zoomed mode, press the circle and swipe the way you want to go. If you just swipe without starting at the circle, you’ll probably end up highlighting text like a mouse would. Right clicking is done by holding down your finger, and you’ll see a small square appear and increase in size, until the right click happens.

You can also change to mouse mode by pressing the middle of the top menu, which will drop down a larger menu. On the left side you’ll see a hand, press that and it will change to a cursor. The right side of this menu has the disconnect option when you’re done.

Android and Windows Phone 8 versions of Remote Desktop are on their way too, with the Android version available here:

Also Simon Sharwood from The Register has posted this article about the app and quoted me :)

Finally, here’s a really good article from Berkley University around Remote Desktop security

A Brief History Of My Nokia Lumia 920

I don’t know where I was going with that title. Approximately three weeks ago, I received a Nokia Lumia 920 to try. My first Windows 8 Phone experience. It was grey, and not by choice – it was the only colour they had available. Still, it looked decent. Coming from using the Samsung Galaxy S III for the last several months, the first things I noticed was the extra weight and thickness of the Lumia. It’s also quite solid, it’s the phone that socks should be filled with if you were robbing a convenience store.

Fast forward a few days and I’ve sent the phone back to the carrier. What? Yes, close that open mouth and share my disappointment with the ear speaker being faulty. Some calls were OK, others sounded really muffled. The actual primary use of a mobile phone was faulty out of the box. I’m now waiting for it to be returned, and back on the Samsung Galaxy S III. I hate to say it, but I like it better.

The few days in between the two above events contained a lot of mucking around on the Lumia. The front screen with the tiles, I really like. At a glance of the screen you’ll see if you have messages, emails, or many other indicators as you deem fit. It’s nicer than Windows Phone 7.5 due to the 1/4 tile option, meaning you can fit a lot more on there without needing to scroll up and down.

The sub menu, which lists all your apps is OK. I’d rather have a screen of icons to swipe through, rather than swipe down a single list. I want lots of information at once! Nothing terrible there though.

Lying in bed, I noticed that the screen changed it’s orientation. As I would have done on the Galaxy, I looked for the option to turn orientation off and on. It doesn’t exist. After some research and complaining on twitter, I found out that the native experience doesn’t have the option, and each app controls it individually. That’s rather disappointing.

OK, so after playing with a bunch of settings (much less than I would of liked – on par with an older version of iOS and way behind Android) it was time to look at some apps. Most apps have a trial which is great, but the quality of the apps currently is rather poor. Both iOS and Android went through this, so it will get better – but coming from either of these devices, you will be disappointed.

A podcast app – surely something that’s easy to find. Several exist, but they’re incredibly basic. Subscribing to podcasts and have apps automatically download is not possible, which is crazy. Some developers have told me this is due to limitations with Windows 8 Phone not allowing background downloads unless very limited requirements are met. There is a native podcast functionality, but not enabled in most countries including Australia.

The official Twitter app is also poor in comparison to iOS and Android versions. You can’t see as much, and there’s not much customisation. That’s really my biggest complaint – customisation. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like iOS for my personal use, I don’t like being restricted. In saying that, Windows 8 Phone I can see working really well in a corporate environment. It’s basic, does a lot, and manageable.

Back to the Nokia Lumia side of things, there’s some extras you get vs other Windows 8 Phones. The most well known are Nokia Maps, which is awesome navigation software, and the high quality camera. I played with the camera and it really does take great pictures. One of the cool features is called Cinemagraph which will make an animated GIF from 5 seconds of video. The cool thing you can do with this is easily animate just part of the picture. Having someone perfectly still, but their hand waving is a creepy thing to see. I also found the autocorrect to be much more accurate than Android.

So, I will give the Lumia a second chance when it comes back with it’s high quality screen, but I’ll also feel crippled. It might be a different transition for someone using iOS and not fussed about many apps, but as it is now there’s more negatives than positives moving from Android. In a few months with some updates from Microsoft, and some more apps from developers, I’m hoping it’s a much closer choice.