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How to emulate the Windows 8 touch interface on a virtual desktop

You can use a virtual desktop to test the new OS, but it's tricky to mimic the Windows 8 touch interface.

Testing Windows 8 on a virtual desktop is a great way to explore the OS, but Windows 8 relies heavily on its touch...

interface, so how do you mimic the touch experience on a desktop?

You can debate the merits or drawbacks of the Windows 8 touch function all you want, but you can't deny that touch has become a major hardware component as of 2012. Whether it's suited for larger devices -- bigger than what can be comfortably stuck in a pocket -- is still up for debate.

Using a virtual desktop, you can try out Windows 8 without sacrificing a whole machine to do it. Only one problem: In many cases, there is no way to emulate the behavior of touch devices within a virtual machine (VM), even though support for the touch interface is a major reason for Windows 8's existence.

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This isn't a trivial problem. With previous versions of Windows, the mouse and keyboard were the standard input devices for Windows. Now, touch has been added to the mix -- probably for keeps.

Touch devices may support five- or ten-fingered multi-touch, which is all but impossible to emulate with a mouse. It may be possible to emulate that with a touchpad, but that's only if the touchpad supports multi-touch functionality in the first place. It's not something that can be programmed in but requires hardware-level support. (You can use the Windows 8 Simulator and Visual Studio 2012 to emulate touch, but only for the sake of debugging Metro apps, not as a general replacement.)

To help you test Windows 8 in a virtual desktop environment, here are three options for emulating touch devices within a VM that's running Windows 8:

Run your emulation on a device that supports touch, if possible. If you can install your VM software on a system that has touch devices, it may be possible to configure device pass-through so that the touch display is visible to the guest OS.

Note that this would mean anytime you're emulating touch in the VM, you wouldn't be able to use touch in the host OS (assuming you're using it in the first place), because the guest OS would have to commandeer the use of that device. Also, the device would need to run some variety of VM software to do this, and not all such devices are that robust.

Add a touch device to the host. If you don't have a touch-driven system, you may be able to connect a USB touchpad to the host system and use device pass-through to make the device visible to the guest.

The downside to this approach is that you have to buy additional hardware, which may not come cheap. Logitech's T650 can run as much as $80, but it supports multi-finger touch and has native Windows 8 driver support. On the plus side, if you have an existing touch device that can be connected to the system, you can always use that.

You might not have to emulate Windows 8 touch. Bear in mind that almost every one of the Windows 8 touch actions, such as swiping to expose the charms bar, has a corresponding hotkey. (For the charms bar, it's Winkey+C -- C for charms, get it?) You can find a rundown of all the different hotkey combinations here. If you just need access to the different bits of functionality that the various Windows 8 touch actions expose, you can perform most of them through key combinations.

Most desktop systems aren't touch-equipped. This will change as touch becomes a ubiquity not only for specific PC form factors (notebooks, convertibles, etc.) but for PC peripherals as well (monitors with touch included, for instance). We will also see more elegant integration of touch interface support into host OSes in VMs, but for now, workarounds to Windows 8 touch on desktops do exist.

This was last published in December 2012

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Would the Windows 8 touch interface be useful in your VDI environment? Why or why not?
Windows 8 is being tested for deployment along with training for use.
Yes, for use with client devices such as tablets
I think so
Particularly in our SCADA environment, the ability to manipulate multiple points simultaneously would enable our techs to accomplish their tasks faster using a more natural set of movements.
No use for this in corporate environment, therefore it has no place in a VDI deployment.
Based on the work that we do it makes no sense as a business solution
Some of the applications we use are very amenable to a touch interface and it would be valuable to have both available in those instances.

Offers the touch-friendly interface and responsiveness of the iPad, plus the versatility of the traditional desktop and the ability to run tons of traditional apps smart screen technology for verifying downloads against a list of reputable files, viruses and other malware

We're in a very corporate environment. This would cause more support headaches trying to get our users over the learning curve. And given the amount of things that can go wrong, the cons outweigh the pros.
Touch is not very usefull for a desktop or laptop usage.. might be fine for a tablet, but it a bit gimicky on anything else
We're on Windows 7. We do plan to initially try Windows 8 for scenarios where it makes the most sense, which would likely exclude our VDI environment, at least to begin with.
Touch is/will be ubiquitous.
Get rid of Metro
It limits the requirement of purchasing a new device with this capability and allows you to share the technology throughout your organization.
Windows 8 Enterprise is a superset of Windows 8 Pro, offering all the same capabilities as Windows 8 Pro, plus additional management capabilities, as well as functionality specific to VDI scenarios
How it connects to the remote session remote fx to support virtual desktop sessions,  remote fx can harness a graphics processor on the server to power multiple remote desktop sessions. Users can then access apps with 3D graphics and handle all the heavy lifting on the back-end, either through a full remote desktop experience or through a Remote App virtualized application session
Iis a virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI. As with the previously-discussed remote desktop capability, VDI presents an image of a full remote desktop running in an enterprise datacenter can be pooled shared between multiple users or dedicated to a particular user as required. In either case, all enterprise data remains within the corporate network
to deploy remote desktop services architectures that provide employees the flexibility to work anywhere, while allowing them to seamlessly access their corporate windows desktop or application environment running in the datacenter from a range of devices. The features and unified management infrastructure for centralized desktops in Windows Server 2012 R2 release, combined with applications virtualization technologies with System Center increases flexibility of access for remote desktops and applications, delivering personalized, consistent, and secure experiences for users, while also improving compliance through centralized control and access to confidential data. 
The Windows 8 Pro edition doesn't enable Remote App, which is application publishing. It enables specific applications running on the OS to be published and used instead of a complete desktop, bringing a far more seamless experience in addition to being more accessible and usable on smaller form factor devices
Windows 8 or 10 touchscreens  "don't" work well on tablets that use roll over like menu buttons small icon need stylus