Microsoft's newly-announced RemoteApp tool lets you stream Windows-based applications to computers and tablets using Azure -- effectively creating a virtualised desktop, but with a focus on apps rather than the overall OS. Here's how it works.
I got the chance to try out an early preview of RemoteApp at Microsoft headquarters last week ahead of the official launch at TechEd North America. Right now anyone can sign up to test it, but you're limited to connecting 20 users and can only use a pre-defined small range of Windows apps (including most of the Office suite).
The ability to include your own apps -- arguably more useful as a means of getting essential business software that isn't available in tablet versions onto a broader range of devices -- will be added later this year. While any Windows software should work, apps which require a GPU (think image editors and games) might struggle, since Azure doesn't offer a native GPU.
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There's no finalised pricing or release date for RemoteApp yet; Microsoft says the test is to work out how people actually want to use this kind of virtualised desktop service, so only the Azure usage charges will apply. The trial version includes 50GB of persistent storage for each user.
There's no offline mode -- you need an active connection -- and you have to run the appropriate RemoteApp client. Microsoft says it is "considering" an HTML5 version, but that's not a priority right now. It deliberately chose to focus on remote apps rather than a full virtual desktop.
"Most organisations start down a path and the majority of what they end up doing is app remoting, not VDI," Microsoft VP Brad Anderson told a TechEd media conference. "75-80% of what they do is apps so that's where we've started."
RemoteApp can be set up from the standard Azure management portal.
The QuickCreate option lets you select which data centre you want to host in.
During the trial, predefined templates supplying Office and other Windows desktop apps are available.
The initial deployment of the service can take a while (Microsoft quotes 30 minutes or more, but this only needs to be done once).
After the service is deployed, you can specify users who are allowed access and which apps are available.
During the trial, a maximum of 20 users per service will be allowed.
Apps can be chosen from those specified in the template you deployed.
There are RemoteApp client apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. I tested the Windows version. While obviously you could run Windows app natively in that context, being able to stream them could be useful in scenarios where users only require intermittent access (such as being forced to work from home because of a natural disaster).
After installing the desktop or tablet software, you'll receive an invitation to use the service within the client.
With RemoteApp running, you can launch apps from an interface that's oddly reminiscent of Windows 3.1.
Launching apps triggers a streaming process.
Once launched, apps appear to behave like native code.
Administrators can track who is using specific apps.
If your account is deprovisioned, apps can't be launched.