If you've spent any time at all working with Windows Server 2012 or Windows 8, it's easy to find yourself stumped trying to accomplish a simple task that, in previous OS versions, was second nature. I thought I had all of the magic sequences figured out – until I attempted to shut down a system remotely through Remote Desktop.

I've written previously about how to get around in Windows Server 2012 (and by extension Windows 8), and particularly about how to configure Remote Desktop Connection (mstsc.exe) to pass all keyboard commands to the remote session so Winkey shortcuts work. What is not so obvious is shutting down a system remotely.

In fact, it's not obvious at all. There's no Start button, so there's no Shutdown menu item. I hit CTRL+ALT+END (the equivalent of CTRL+ALT+DEL in a Remote Desktop session) and hit the little power button in the lower right-hand corner. Lo and behold, the usual choices of sleep, shutdown, and shutdown and restart were missing; the only choice available was to disconnect. I even tried Task Manager, but that didn't offer me a shutdown option. (Process Explorer, if you've installed this highly-recommended Sysinternals tools, has a shutdown option but it's not native to either OS.)

There are two ways you can shut down a Windows Server 2012 or Windows 8 system through Remote Desktop (as compared to remotely shutting down a system). The first is through the command prompt with the shutdown command. You can simply shut down the system  with this command:

Shutdown –s

To reboot, you can use

Shutdown –r 

Shutdown has many options in addition to these basics; check out the shutdown TechNet reference for more details.

Here's my favorite way to shut down a Windows Server 2012 or Windows 8 system through Remote Desktop:

  1. Go to the Desktop.
  2. Click on the desktop background (to make sure you don't have any window in focus).
  3. Hit the Alt-F4 keyboard shortcut. This brings up a simple dialog box (below):

You can choose Disconnect, Sign out, Shut down, or Restart.

The Alt-F4 keyboard shortcut has been around about as long as Windows has, as a shortcut to close the window that's in focus. You can use it today; I've begun using it regularly to shut down a Metro – sorry, "Windows Store" – application on non-touch systems.

Sean writes about cloud identity, Microsoft hybrid identity, and whatever else he finds interesting at his blog on Enterprise Identity and on Twitter at @shorinsean.