Comparison of six free RDP client tools

Michael PietroforteMVP By Michael Pietroforte - Tue, October 30, 2007 - 37 comments google+ icon

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor of 4sysops. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with more than 30 years of experience in system administration.

Some days ago, I blogged about RoyalTS and visionapp Remote Desktop, two free RDP management tools. Some readers linked to four other tools which I didn’t know before. Thanks a lot! All these RDP clients are quite similar, although each of them has its special features that might turn out to be useful in a certain environment. In this post I am comparing six Remote Desktop clients in a feature table: RD Tabs 2.0.8, mRemote 0.0.8.0, RoayalTS 1.3.2, vissionapp Remote Desktop v1.5 (vRD), Terminals 1.6, and Remote Desktop Manager 3.0.0.1 (RD Manager).

There is another tool that was recommended today by a reader in my original post. iShadow makes quite a professional impression to me, but it is not free. Unfortunately, the tip came a bit too late for this test. Thanks anyway! Maybe I review it some other time.

Okay, let me explain the features I evaluated first:

RDP file import: This feature allows you to load settings you have stored in RDP files. It can be quite useful if you already have many RDP files.

Navigation pane: Most of the RDP tools have a navigation pane on the left side where they list all your RDP connections in a hierarchical structure. The more RDP connections you have, the more useful is this feature.

Tabs: If you have opened multiple RDP connections, you can switch fast between servers by just clicking on the corresponding tab.

Task tray: This allows you to establish an RDP connection to a server by right clicking on the applications symbol in the task tray.

External Window: Some of the tools display the RDP connection only within their user interface. However, sometimes, it can be useful to connect to a TS server in an external window, for example when you are working with multiple monitors.

Window resizing: Only RoyalTS and Terminals have this feature. It means that the desktop scales dynamically whenever you resize its window. So you won’t see scroll bars when you reduce the size of the RDP window, for example.

Centrally store credentials: This feature enables you to store the credentials for multiple RDP connections at a central location.

Credentials for groups: Some of the RDP tools allow you to assign credentials to groups of RDP definitions.

AD Scan: Two tools allow you to scan Active Directory to find your servers. I didn’t try this feature yet.

Custom RDP port: Usually RDP uses TCP port 3389. In some environments, it is necessary to change this, i.e. for security reasons.

Win2K8 features: Windows Server 2008 comes with a couple of new RDP features such as TS Gateway or Network Level Authentication. RD Tabs supports some of them.

ICA: If you have Citrix Metaframe servers to manage, you can use your RDP tool to connect to them.

VNC : VNC is a protocol that is popular in the Linux world. If you have to manage Linux servers, you will like this feature. Some use it for Windows server, too.

VMRC: This protocol is used to connect to a Virtual Server VM.

SSH: The same applies to SSH. If you manage your Linux servers without needing a graphical user interface, then you probably use SSH.

Telnet: I wonder if there are still admins using Telnet. But who knows, maybe security is not an issue in your organization. ;-)

And here is the comparison table:

Features/Tools RD Tabs mRemote RoyalTS
Navigation pane

-

+

+

Tabs

+

+

-

Task tray

-

+

-

Thumbnails

+

-

-

External window

-

-

+

Window resizing

-

-

+

Centrally store credentials

+

+

-

Credentials for groups

-

+

-

AD Scan

-

+

Royal Phone Book

Custom RDP Port

+

+

+

RDP file import

+

-

-

Win2K8 features

+

-

-

ICA

-

-

-

VNC

-

+

-

VMRC

-

-

-

SSH

-

+

-

Telnet

-

+

-

Features/Tools vRD Terminals RD Manager
Navigation pane

+

+

+

Tabs

+

+

-

Task tray

-

+

+

Thumbnails

+

-

-

External window

+

-

+

Window resizing

-

+

-

Centrally store credentials

+

-

-

Credentials for groups

+

-

-

AD Scan

-

-

-

Custom RDP Port

+

+

+ (see comment)

RDP file import

-

+

+

Win2K8 features

-

-

-

ICA

-

+

-

VNC

-

+

+

VMRC

-

+

-

SSH

-

+

-

Telnet

-

+

-

I included all the features that seemed important to me. It is possible that I missed your favorite feature, though. Let me know!

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37 Comments- Leave a Reply

  1. Scott says:

    On the telnet comment, there is still a lot of random network gear that uses telnet. It’s also useful sometimes to try a telnet to a port just to see if it’s connecting or if you need to do some test. I often telnet to SMTP or HTTP servers and play the role of a client to see if things are behaving properly (or to get details of how something is misbehaving).

  2. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    You’re right Scott. I haven’t thought about this use of a telnet client. I didn’t do this for ages since telnet is not so common in the Windows world. I usually use netcat for this purpose. I think I will blog about it in one of my next posts.

  3. KoalaBear says:

    Hi,

    Make that a comparison of seven then :)

    Since 2 weeks I found mRemote, open source. Still a new program, already 3 new versions in those 2 weeks with good addictions and fixes.

    http://mremote.sf.net

    Must say that I didnt test any of the tools mentioned here. I will look further to the comparison tomorrow.

    Kind regards

  4. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    KoalaBear, I tested mRemote. It is in the first table. You are right, it is an interesting newcomer.

  5. chuck says:

    fyi, RD Manager supports custom ports (just append a : and custom port). I think I mentioned in my comment to the last post.

    Also of interest to me was the fact that RD Manager needs no install (might make another good row in your table) – just run from exe (I placed in folder so the config files would be organized but that’s about it). Carry it on your usb stick ;)

    Best regards,
    Chuck

  6. CypherBit says:

    @chuck it might be that you can just extract RD Manager, but it does have these system requirements (not every box has those):

    * Microsoft .Net Framework 2.0
    * Microsoft Remote Desktop Client 6.0
    * RealVNC 4.0
    * Windows XP or better

    @Michael: your personal favorite?

  7. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Chuck, thanks for the tip about the tcp port in RD Manager. I corrected it in the table. And you are right, the fact that RD Manager hasn’t to be installed is an advantage. I might consider this in my next review. However, I also think Chiperbit has a point here. A real standalone app should not require so many prerequisites.

    Chipherbit, I didn’t decide yet which tool I will use in the future. At the moment my favorite is RoyalTS because of its Smart Size Mode. I am often switching between RDP connections. I like it when I can see them all on my desktop and I hate it when I have to scroll in a RDP window.

  8. Alex says:

    How about these features to look into:
    1. Application configuration security – are your credentials safe when using particular app? “Native” Microsoft MSTC.exe client does offer superior credential protection at the moment.
    2. Multi-monitors support – does the app support multiple monitors?
    3. How about the ability to view multiple sessions at the same time, not just one tab at a time?
    4. Scalability – both memory footprint and responsiveness.

    PS. “SmartSizing” is a built-in feature of the latest Microsoft RDP component (some ICA and VNC implementations have it too as part of the engine), so I am surprised it is not implemented by all the apps in this review.

  9. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Indeed interesting feature you mentioned. Thanks! When I update the table I might consider them. What do you mean with “latest Microsoft RDP component”? You mean the Remote Desktop Connection 6.0? And how could you enable smart sizing there?

  10. [...] Na serveru 4sysops udelali srovnani 6 free RDP klientu. Tak pokud nekomu nestaci standartni RDP, tak se muze mrknout http://4sysops.com/archives/comparison-of-six-free-rdp-client-tools/ [...]

  11. Alex says:

    Michael, let me address this:
    ——————————————–
    What do you mean with “latest Microsoft RDP component”? You mean the Remote Desktop Connection 6.0? And how could you enable smart sizing there?
    ——————————————–
    Just checked, and this capability was built-into the Microsoft client since RDP 5 (checked on 5.1.2600.2180).

    There are two incarnations of the Microsoft client – MSTSCAX.DLL and MSRDP.OCX. Older “custom” applications will use the OCX (was common on Windows 2000), most new apps will use the DLL (it is present now on most systems unlike the OCX).

    So, the credit should go to Microsoft including the term “SmartSizing” (no space), however they did not expose it to the end user through MSTSC.EXE, but the functionality could have been easily used from within the Web Browser through VB or Java scripting.

    At this point it is not hard to utilize VB6, .Net, C++ and scripting (how about HTA? ;) to build a client on top of that engine.

    And yes, there are some not-mstsc based clients (!) built by relentless people through wire sniffs, etc. ;)

  12. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Alex, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that there were two different RDP clients from Microsoft. I really wonder then why this SmartSize feature is not available in the default client.

  13. Alex says:

    Michael,
    I never thought about the reasons for omission of SmartScaling before finding your blog. I guess Microsoft was targeting web browser based RDP access where scripting can expose this functionality, otherwise neither MSTSC.exe or Microsoft Remote Desktop MMC snapin made this functionality available to the end user.

  14. Hugh says:

    We use a really simply solution (with none of the nice features that the applications provide) but it works. We simply use the Save As to save the .RDP or .VNC file in a network shared folder and have a shortcut to open that folder. For security we do not save passwords.

    Advantages – simple, no extra software, easy to move copies about
    Disadvantages – no management, no tabs, no SmartSizing, /CONSOLE needs batch file.

    Still, will look at some the applications listed.

  15. KoalaBear says:

    /console doesnt need a batch file.

    Just place IP / DNS + /console after it, it works here. :)

  16. skafoelix says:

    You missed some things in mRemote.
    The task tray was available since one of the very first releases (look in the options)
    AD Scan is also possible since 0.0.6.8.

    Please update the table.

    Thx!

  17. KoalaBear says:

    Hmm, then I was blind when writing me first comment, sorry :)

    Lots of development with mRemote last time.

  18. skafoelix says:

    No problem! =)

    thx!

  19. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    skafoelix, thanks for the hints. I corrected the article.

  20. Rob Chartier says:

    More info about Terminals…

    Thumbnails – not sure exactly what this feature is, but if it is doing screen captures and managing them, Terminals does handle this now.

    Window resizing – Terminals has a “Auto Scale” mode

    You might also want to consider other tools built into the client. Like generic networking and troubleshooting skills (ping, trace route, wmi, nic list, whois, dns, shares, services, time sync, wake on lan, etc..) All of which Terminals has and more!

    Also, storing credentials in a secure manner is of importance (you would think); which Terminals does quite nicely.

    Starting connections via the command line has been something that was asked about quite allot, which Terminals handles.

    Terminal Server Administration (sessions and remote machines)

    Tagging and grouping of connections

    RAS/VPN Dialup Connection – literally allows you to connect to your VPN sessions within the client itself. Handy when you need to VPN quite allot.

    Thanks!

    -Rob

  21. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Rob, thanks for the comment. The features you named are certainly interesting. I will consider some of them next time. I just found the Auto Scale feature and corrected my table. Thumbnails are for displaying miniature windows of all your RDP connections. This allows you to switch between them.

  22. dennyhalim says:

    one thing is important for me.

    which of this apps support automatically establish an ssh tunnel before opening other connections (vnc/rdp/ica) ???

  23. Phil says:

    Does anyone know if it is it possible to run any of these RDP clinets from a USB memory drive?

    Thanks for any help.

    Phil

  24. Alex says:

    iShadow2Go – portable version of iShadow Desktop, runs from USB, no install, no admin rights required (http://www.ishadow.com). The app has all three clients built-in: ICA, RDP and VNC.

    Unlike the traditional USB approach iShadow2Go is packaged as part of the ISO image on the flash drive which cannot be replaced (!) by an unauthorized user or be damaged by viruses.

    A note on the interesting aspect of the built-in screen capture found with iShadow – this is the only screen capture available (including professional screen capture tools) that can capture remote session screens on the client when session is obscured by other applications or have visible scrollbars.

    Example: if you look at a thumbnail generation capabilities from VRD or Terminals, neither can create a “clean” snapshot if the screen is not fully visible.

  25. skafoelix says:

    Hey, as mRemote 1.00 is out, could you please update the article!

    Thx!

  26. Leonardo says:

    hmm, cleared comment box if no user/pw entered…
    Not very nice…

    Condensed comment:
    Nice.
    Would like:
    1 – Auto-dial connectoid prior to RDP/etc connection attempt.
    2 – Single-application startup, a-la “Programs” in RDP client.

    word.

  27. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Leonardo, sorry for the inconvenience, but that’s a WordPress “feature”. Thanks for the new ideas. I might include them in my next feature table.

  28. Rainer says:

    In two week visionapp Remote Desktop 2008
    will come – a great new version of our Tool. You can register for the testversion.
    http://www.visionapp.com/1276.0.html?#c7992

  29. RD Tabs 2.1 was released today, adding QUITE a few of the features missing in the above chart. Check it out. http://www.avianwaves.com/tech/tools/rdtabs/

  30. [...] mRemote is one of my best Cool Tools finds in quite a while.  I first heard about it from this 4sysops post comparing free RDP clients. For a long time, I thought all I needed was the built-in Windows Remote Desktop Client. I was very [...]

  31. [...] see : Comparison of several RDP clients for Windows Share and [...]

  32. tim k says:

    Hey, didn’t see anything about “external applications” in here, aka scripts and exe’s you can launch from within the GUI of the app.

    Example:
    in mRemote, I added an external application with exe name of “compmgmt.msc” and arguments of “compmgmt.msc /computer=\\%Hostname%”

    Then, I can right click on any machine in the GUI and click my external app I just created, and in this case, it will open a computer management MMC window with the machine already configured for managing inside.

    You can reference any executable that has command line options (scripts for rebooting, installing software, modifying registry keys etc…)

    Hyena has this type of functionality built in as well, however mRemote is free.

  33. Jim says:

    Royal TS has an extremely powerful task feature, very similar to mRemotes “external applications”. Also check out the toolbox forums at http://www.code4ward.net where users share smart scripts to integrate with Royal TS’ tasks.

  34. Lomax says:

    Audio Support?

  35. Why did you not review Thinomenon RDC? IMHO, that one is the best option by far, including Windows/Mac/Linux support, seamless windows, printer and much more.

  36. Max says:

    Many of the links are dead now, unfortunately. Thinomenon RDC has free binaries for Ubuntu, but unfortunately no sources – meaning we can’t recompile it for ARM (Raspberry Pi).

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