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August 28, 2014

Making Remote Desktop fun again: Dynamic resizing and resolution changes while connected

I remember reading about this feature when Windows 8.1 was made generally available in late 2013, but for I didn’t have time then to try this out. Today while being connected to my home server to do some development work I decided to test if the new features in Remote Desktop (RDP) work or provide any real benefits.

My number one gripe with RDP has in the past few years been the amazingly clumsy way to resize a remote session from full screen to something smaller. Experienced RDP users know how to do this, but less regular users always seem to struggle with this view:

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You first have to close the current connection, and start a new connection. Before clicking Connect you have to scroll theslider from Large (Full screen) to something smaller. Just small enough as not to fill your desktop (and to fit in a window, so less than your max resolution on the host), but large enough to actually be useful. It’s a tiny thing but annoying.

Several tools, like Remote Desktop Connection Manager from Microsoft (download) have kind of resolved this issue, but it would always mean an additional software install on whatever host system you were working on. There’s also the fabulous Remote Desktop Manager, which does all this and “just works”, but it’s not free. Admittedly, paying for good software is something we all should do more often, but still, $84,99 for a tool I already (kind of) have as part of the OS seems too steep.

So what’s new in RDP?

In Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2, Remote Desktop Connection client (mstsc.exe) introduces resolution and scaling support, among other things. While the resolution is still being when you initiate the connection, you can now freely adjust it while being connected.

Here’s how it works:

First, you’ll need to connect from Windows 8.1/Server 2012 R2 to Windows 8.1/Server 2012 R2. No way around this.

My home server is a Windows 8.1 Update, and my client workstation is also a Windows 8.1 Update, so that’s enough to get dynamic scaling to work. When connecting, you must first connect with Full Screen, as in the picture above.

After you’ve connected, press Ctrl-Alt-Break. On my laptop it actually requires Ctrl-Alt-Fn-Break, since Pause/Break button nowadays seems to have to functions.

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This actually toggles between full screen and windowed mode. Now, in the windowed RDP session, click the top-left corner and in the menu enable Smart sizing:

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You can now resize the RDP window and see smart sizing in action. Here’s a screenshot from my RDP session with about 50% scaling:

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And again in about 25% scaling:

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Based on my testing it works just like it should: You don’t have to think about after setting Smart scaling once.

Smart scaling is a small update but long overdue – RDP’ing to servers feels just that much nicer from now on!

Jussi Roine
Jussi Roine
Helping organizations create secure cloud and hybrid solutions using Microsoft Azure and Office 365 | Microsoft MVP, Microsoft Regional Director, Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Trainer Regional Lead | Actively dislikes tomatoes. Contact me through Twitter at @JussiRoine

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