We've been talking quite a bit about Windows apps delivered to tablets over the past few weeks. As you know by now, one of the new features of the upcoming Windows 8 is the support for "metro style" which are touch-based apps which will be available from a Microsoft app store.
Metro style apps are interesting because regular (classic?) Windows apps are NOT touch-based at all, instead requiring a keyboard and mouse. In scenarios where a user accesses regular Windows apps from a tablet (via VDI, TS, GoToMyPC, etc.), the user experience is pretty poor because there's an on-screen keyboard and a lot of pinching and zooming to get the interface to work right.
So these new Windows 8 metro-style apps will change that since they're designed for tablets. Unfortunately we now believe that tablets running Windows 8 will be in the $700-800 price range, so they're not going to be too mainstream. And considering that Apple sold over 15m iPads last quarter alone, it's a forgone conclusion that most of the tablets used to connect to Windows 8 environments will NOT be Windows-based tablets.
And that leads us to the main question of the day: What will the remote experience be like for metro style apps running on remote Windows 8 hosts?
Details about Microsoft's own Metro style Remote Desktop Connection client
Microsoft actually shared quite a few details about the remote desktop experience in Windows 8 at their build conference this past September, specifically:
- The main keynote video contains a metro style remote desktop demo at 1:41:00.
- A breakout session called "What's new in remote desktop?" has a more detailed metro remoting demo.
Here's what we know so far:
First, Microsoft is building a metro style version of the remote desktop connection software. So there will be two versions in Windows 8--the existing mstsc.exe that works with the classic keyboard and mouse interface, and the new metro style one that's based on touch. Here's a screen shot of the connection screen for the metro style remote desktop client:
It's important to note that this is just the CLIENT software that you would use if your client is a touch based metro style client. You can still use this metro style client to run non-metro (classic) Windows apps though.
One cool thing is that the metro style remote desktop client WILL remote multitouch gestures to the remote host, including the touch pressure. This is not "mouse to touch" conversion or anything--this is real touch remoting.
This new client also has the ability to connect to remote metro style apps. So if you're using a Windows 8 tablet and you make a remote connection to a Windows 8 host running the metro style version of Internet Explorer, then YES, you can use IE with all your fingers and it will seem just like a local metro style application that was running on your tablet. (Assuming you had the bandwidth for a good experience, etc.)
What about connecting to remote metro apps from iPads, Android, etc.?
Microsoft's own metro style remote desktop client looks cool. The only downside is that it's a Windows 8 metro style app itself. (And there's an ironic catch-22 here: If your tablet is powerful to run Windows 8 metro, then you don't need to connect to remote metro apps--you can just run them locally on your tablet. :)
The real sweet spot for "metro remoting" is going to be to non-Windows 8 tablets, like the iPad and Android. Recall that in the current remote desktop world, Microsoft only really focuses on making an RDP client for Windows (well, and a really crashy Mac one). So we can assume that the same will be true moving forward. I would think that there's a huge opportunity for someone else to build a metro-aware remote desktop client for the iPad and Android. (Is that a job for Citrix? Maybe, but it could also be a simple PocketCloud-like standalone app.)
Regardless of who builds it, I think that we can all agree that yes, tablets (of all kinds) will have remote access to Windows 8 metro style apps. This is a good thing, as deploying Windows apps in the datacenter has a lot of advantages which would also apply to metro apps. (The biggest downside in the past was just that the traditional keyboard-based Windows UI was not fun when delivered to a tablet. But remoting metro style apps will fix that, which is great.)
We'll look forward to the Windows 8 beta which is due out next month. Stay tuned!