RemoteApp MSI files: Useful but no longer available.

In Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 there was a nifty feature buried in Terminal/Remote Desktop services that allowed you to create an .MSI installer for RemoteApp applications. RemoteApp is that nifty Terminal/Remote Desktop services function that has each application run in its own window, rather than requiring you to run it through the full desktop window of Remote Desktop Connection.

Up until Windows Server 2012, you could take any application installed on a Terminal/Remote Desktop services server, use the console to create an .MSI file and then distribute that MSI file to clients who could install it and then run the RemoteApp application as they would any other application (as long as they had a connection to the Remote Desktop Server). The MSI file would ensure that all of the correct file type associations were created, even if you were deploying the RemoteApp to a computer that wasn’t a part of the Active Directory domain.

What has me scratching my head is that this MSI creation functionality is no longer available in Remote Desktop Services in Server 2012. RemoteApp exists, but you can’t publish them via MSI – you can publish RemoteApps to clients via Group Policy.

Why this is a bummer is that it means you can no longer deploy RemoteApp through Configuration Manager, Intune, or any other 3rd party product that supports MSI files. RemoteApp was a great solution in BYOD/Consumerization of IT environments as it allowed access to RemoteApp applications without requiring a domain join.

Hopefully one day there will be a way of deploying RemoteApp on Server 2012 through products like Intune and Configuration Manager. It was a great bit of functionality and the product is diminished for its loss.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Oct 2, 2012
The other VERY useful feature that's been cut from WS2012 remote desktop is the abilty to remote control (aka "shadow") another user's session. This is great for remote support and for the life of me I can't think of a reason to remove the feature. I've asked on various forums but have never heard a reason why. It was never floated in the RDS team's blog either.
on Oct 1, 2012
I've not used WS2012 yet, but as I understand it, you now distribute RemoteApps to domain members the same way you distribute them to non-domain members: Using the RemoteApp and Desktop Connections web feed feature. That's actually quite efficient, as it doesn't require any admin steps beyond publishing the RemoteApp. It does require Win 7 or 8 clients, however, which MSI distribution did not.

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Orin Thomas

Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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