I visit a lot of clients and work work with a lot of different admins and one the recurring themes for many of these admins is having multiple – three plus usually – RDP sessions open at one time. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, the problem comes when trying to find the correct window on the task bar. I often sit back patiently waiting for the person to click through all of their open sessions until they find the right one – OK, I’m not always that patient 🙂 More time usually gets wasted cycling through all of the open sessions than actually working in them.
Another issue that working with multiple RDP sessions brings up is screen real-estate. If you maximize the RDP session to get the biggest session to work on, you lose access to the start menu and task bar. Now if you need to switch to Outlook or IE or launch another app then you have to resize the full-screen RDP session. Also, it’s easy to forget that you’re in an RDP session and accidentally shutdown or restart the production server that you’re working on – admit it, we’ve all done it at least once.
The answer to the above is to get a second monitor (which doesn’t address the first problem above) or to not maximize your RDP sessions. The problem with not maximizing your RDP sessions is that the special key combos – like Windows+E – which I use constantly, are not passed on to the remote system.
There are other issues too, but I’ll cut the discussion short on those because you should be on board with me by now 🙂
Enter a handful of multi-session RDP clients. Microsoft included an MMC based one in Windows 2000, but it was less than elegant and really didn’t improve on much. The third-party batch include an open-source one, Terminals, which works pretty well. It has it’s annoyances but does address all of the above problems (and more). It is tabbed based, stores credentials securely, organizes and tags connection settings, and is free.
My current choice however is VisionApp Remote Desktop 2009 or vRD for short. vRD is a commercial app but a free version is available – the only significant limitation is the ability to only open three remote sessions at a time. vRD does everything Terminals does but is cleaner and just seems to work better. It has a few “upscale” features also like storing credentials (securely of course) separate from the connections so that they can be shared and the navigation pane collapses when you start a new session among other things. A new version is on the horizon also.
There are at least one or two others is the game also, although the ones that I know are not free in any way – one used to be but has been converted to a shareware package.
As an enabler for any admin, using either Terminals or (stepping up to) vRD is a great move that I encourage everyone to take advantage of.