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Microsoft Remote Desktop app turns phones into thin clients

The Microsoft Remote Desktop app could make mobile users more productive by allowing Windows 10 Mobile and smartphones that support Continuum to function as PCs.

Remote desktops on smartphones typically offer a subpar user experience, but a new app and Windows 10's Continuum...

feature could change all that.

The Microsoft Remote Desktop Preview app on Windows 10 Mobile enables users to connect to remote PCs from their smartphones. When the app is combined with Continuum, which transforms the Windows 10 user interface to suit a particular form factor, users can cast the remote desktop and apps onto any monitor, and get a full PC experience -- essentially using their smartphones as thin clients.

"This feature ... is the future, and everyone will be doing it," said Steve Greenberg, CEO and principal consultant at Thin Client Computing, a virtualization services provider in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Continuum works in conjunction with Universal Windows Platform apps, which can run across smartphones, tablets, PCs, Xbox and other Windows 10 devices. Certain Windows 10 Mobile smartphones, including Microsoft's Lumia 950 and 950 XL, can connect to a monitor via a USB 3 display dock, or wirelessly with Bluetooth and Miracast. When running the Microsoft Remote Desktop app on a phone and casting the display to a monitor, Continuum kicks in, giving users a familiar PC interface, with universal apps running in desktop mode. Users can even connect a full keyboard and mouse.

This capability has opened the door for a new client that has desktop virtualization experts buzzing.

Microsoft Remote Desktop app use cases

Microsoft is trying to make a bigger push into the enterprise with Windows 10, and support for desktop virtualization with Continuum on smartphones creates some very compelling use cases for the mobile workforce, said Robert Young, an analyst at research firm IDC.

This feature ... is the future, and everyone will be doing it.
Steve GreenburgCEO and principal consultant, Thin Client Computing

"You ... can have a full desktop experience in that virtualized environment that can't function natively on the phone," Young said.

Any workplace where employees are on the go and need quick access to data, such as a hospital, could find these tools useful, he added.

Organizations could set up workstations composed of a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse that supports Continuum, allowing employees or customers to hook up their phones when they need a work experience larger than a phone screen, said John Savill, founder of SavillTech, a Dallas-based  IT education company.

"The idea that, essentially, a phone is a computer is the reality today, and Continuum just lets that capability get expanded," he said. "Think of any time you may want your computer ... but don't want to carry a PC. Continuum can help with that."

'I doubt this will be a game changer'

The concept of using a smartphone for a full desktop experience is not new. Motorola's Atrix smartphone, released in 2011, had a similar feature; users could connect the phone to a dock that came with the device, and attach the dock to a monitor. The technology did not take off, and Motorola scrapped the feature in its following phone release.

Despite the potential of the Remote Desktop app, Microsoft will have to overcome several hurdles to avoid a similar fate.

First off, Windows 10 is still in its early days of adoption, and Microsoft only released the first Windows 10 Mobile phones in late November. The company continues to develop its own apps to support Continuum, but the number of third-party universal apps is still limited. With insufficient apps and few smartphone models able to support the remote desktop client, desktop virtualization and Continuum on Windows 10 Mobile may not take off as a widely used tool.

"I doubt this will be a game changer for [Windows 10 Mobile]," said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications in Camano Island, Wash. "But as a substitute for carting a computer around ... [Continuum] would be a very effective tool."

Microsoft's small share of the smartphone market could also hold it back, but future generations of the concept will catch on, Greenberg said.

"Even though we have wireless ways to cast it, it might still be before its time," he said. "It is the right idea, and the current offering is interesting, but may not become mainstream."

The Microsoft Remote Desktop app is now in preview, and the company did not provide a release date for the full version.

Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's End-User Computing Media Group. Contact him at

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