Seriously, I'm lost in all that sales mumbo-jumbo. Let's say I want 1 or 2 users to be able to remotely log on to a server, run Word, Visual Studio, Firefox, and whatever. Do I gain anything at all if I install Remote Desktop Services? Or do I just install Desktop Experience feature pack, enable remote desktop and voila, nobody will ever notice the difference?

Here's what TechNet says about Remote Desktop Session Host:

A Remote Desktop Session Host (RD Session Host) server is the server that hosts Windows-based programs or the full Windows desktop for Remote Desktop Services clients. Users can connect to an RD Session Host server to run programs, to save files, and to use network resources on that server. Users can access an RD Session Host server by using Remote Desktop Connection or by using RemoteApp.

The good old simple remote desktop can also host a full Windows desktop for remote clients so that they can run programs, save files and do all that stuff. Why do they write about it like it's such a great new invention, besides that they want to sell it? RDSH doesn't seem all that different at all. What do I install when I install RDSH, since all those features are already there in Windows?

What's even more confusing is that you need to take special care when you want to install applications to an RDSH so that they will be usable by many concurrent users. Why? All the modern applications install the program files in one directory, store some common settings in the ProgramData folder and the HKLM hive, and store user specific settings in the Users folder and the HKCU hive. They are designed to be usable by many users on the same machine. 2 or 2000 users can use them concurrently without any efforts. I can sign in with 2 users to a server with only remote desktop enabled, and both of us can run Word or anything without any problems, can't we? So what changes if I set RDSH to install mode, or what happens if I don't? Why is the feature to switch between install and execute mode there at all?

Yes I know of some advantages in Remote Desktop Services, like there's no 2 user limit, it supports virtualization, video acceleration and stuff, it has a whole infrastructure with gateway, web access, connection broker, etc. But I don't need those, so if you take these away, how are these two technologies different? From the articles it seems like they are completely different technologies, whereas it looks to me that they are completely the same at the core, and Remote Desktop Services just adds some additional features, but doesn't reinvent anything.

3 Answers 3


You're confusing remote desktop for administration with remote desktop services. Remote desktop for administration is for remotely managing a server via RDP. Remote Desktop Services is for remotely working from a server session as if the remote session were your workstation and running applications within that session via RDP. The conceptual aspects may be blurry but the licensing is certainly perfectly clear. In addition, remote desktop for administration is limited to 2 concurrent sessions and no additional licensing is required. Remote Desktop Services requires RDS CAL's and is limited to the number of RDS CAL's that you've purchased (this isn't a technical limitation, it's a licensing/legal limitation).

They may seem like the same thing and from a technical perspective they are (except for the concurrent session differences) but from a legal and licensing perspective they are two wholly independent things.

If you're running applications on the server while using remote desktop for administration you're most likely in violation of the EULA of both the server and the application.

  • Now that's something new: remote desktop can only be used for administration? That sound hilarious at first, but on a second thought, this would explain why they say services lets you run applications. Except the correct phrasing would be it lets you legally do all that stuff. Any thoughts about installation mode in RDSH?
    – fejesjoco
    Jul 1, 2011 at 15:30
  • As far as I know, install mode hasn't changed with RDS in W2K8. Here's a blurb from MS: When you install programs in Install mode, Terminal Services tracks all registry entries, and the HKEY_CURRENT_USER information is primarily written to the following registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install. - So it's still important to use install mode. You can do this from the command line as such : change user/install. If the program you're installing uses a setup.exe or install.exe bootstrapper the server will put itself into install mode.
    – joeqwerty
    Jul 1, 2011 at 15:55
  • 1
    Am I correct in assuming that install mode is for badly written, legacy programs? Nice programs don't put stuff in HKCU or c:\Users\currentuser when they are installed, nice programs are installed in a way that all users can use them, nice programs place their icons in the all users start menu/desktop, etc. So install mode shouldn't matter in the case of newest MS programs, Firefox, etc., right? If I'm right though, I still wonder if there are so many bad programs out there that this feature still exists.
    – fejesjoco
    Jul 1, 2011 at 17:35

As far as I know, they are one and the same. I could be wrong, but I believe the main difference is licensing. Remote Desktop is for 'remote administration' of the server and RDSH is for publishing applications and desktops to remote users.

  • That's what the role installer said, if I need only administrative access, don't install RDSH. Like I can't run Office with remote desktop? I'm really confused.
    – fejesjoco
    Jul 1, 2011 at 14:56
  • You can but, technically you are not supposed to. If you have two licenses for Word, Visual Studio, Firefox (free, but still) and you have per user server cals then you should be OK. That said, you might as well just do RDSH to avoid any possible trouble down the road.
    – Nate
    Jul 1, 2011 at 16:05
  • We're MS partners and have an abundance of licenses, so that's not an issue.
    – fejesjoco
    Jul 1, 2011 at 17:31

Remote Desktop Services (RDS), known as Terminal Services in Windows Server 2008 and earlier, is one of the components of Microsoft Windows that allow a user to take control of a remote computer or virtual machine over a network connection.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.