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My Unofficial Tips for Remoting into a Windows 8 Machine from Windows 7 (plus: Microsoft Account tips)

Pete Brown - 05 March 2012

My Lenovo W520 laptop is running the Windows 8 consumer preview. When at home, I don't use my laptop as my primary workstation -- I have my 6 core 4.2ghz, 2x30" beast for the majority of my work. However, I do often need to do some things on my laptop, especially given that it is currently the only Windows 8 machine in my office.


The way I work on the laptop is to remote into it from my main desktop. Many others will presumably do the same, since you can only code for Windows 8 Metro on Windows 8 Metro, and many of us are not yet ready to convert our main machines to the beta. This post includes some tips I've learned to use when working with Windows 8 over Remote Desktop.

IMPORTANT: For the Consumer Preview/Beta, I highly recommend that you install Win8 using the option to do a fresh install and pave over your machine. There are some developer-specific issues with the Win7-Win8 Consumer Preview upgrade process, one of which is the inability to get a required developer key for metro app building. There are reports of this on Connect and in various forums.

First, before we get into remoting specifics, a note on your Microsoft Account.

Pick one Live ID and Stick With It

Like the Windows Phone, Windows 8 makes use of your Microsoft Account for integration with features and services. You also get really cool things like roaming profiles.

Not so much a remoting tip as just a general usage tip. The operating systems for phone, tablet, and desktop are relying more heavily on Microsoft Accounts (Windows Live IDs or Passport accounts for old dudes like me).

You don't have to use a Microsoft Account for your login, but you'll want to to be able to take advantage of roaming profiles and many other cool features, so a Microsoft Account is really the way to go.

I have two different Microsoft Accounts that I use for everything:

Account 1 Account 2
Xbox MSDN Subscription
Zune Pass Some event registrations
Windows Phone Mesh, but I haven't used that in ages
Other random stuff Other random unimportant stuff

I don't use the social networking aspects of Windows Live, instead focusing most of my efforts on Twitter and Facebook, so no worries there. I'm also not (yet) an active Skydrive user - my photos tend to be on Flickr. Happily, Windows 8 knows about those and offers some really good integration points, especially with Flickr and Facebook.

Combining two accounts is nearly impossible, and linking them just doesn't bring it for most uses. So, I decided to just phase one of them out. From talking to others, this is the usual solution.

In this case, I'll phase out account 2, as MSDN's subscription system makes it really easy to pick which account I'm using when I download stuff, but the integration in Windows and Zune make it difficult (maybe impossible) to log in with one and then use another for a specific app. Plus, I don't want to lose my Zune pass downloaded files or all those awesome Xbox achievements.

Switching your Microsoft Account

Once you pick your ID, you may need to change from one Microsoft Account to another, or from the local account to a Microsoft Account. The latter is required if you performed an upgrade install and want to turn the migrated local machine account into a Microsoft Account.

One thing that is great is that Windows 8 makes it really easy to change the Live ID/Microsoft Account associated with your account. Switching between a local account and Live ID preserves settings as you would hope. That's pretty significant considering what's going on behind the scenes.

To change between two different Live IDs and preserve the same settings, you'll need (at least in the Consumer Preview) to first switch to a local account and then switch to a different Microsoft Account. It's just a matter of clicking a button on the Your account screen.

One easy way to get to this screen is by clicking your photo at the top of the Start screen and then selecting "change picture". Once in the PC settings, select "users". This is what you'll see:


Click the "Switch to a Microsoft Account" button or "Switch to a local account" button as appropriate. After switching, you'll want to reboot. It's not required, but I found that not all apps properly pick up the new credentials until you do. Luckily, this is a one-time thing and rebooting (especially if you have an SSD) is fast.

Remote Login Using a Microsoft Account

Now, back to the main purpose of this post: working with a Win8 box remotely.

First, when prompted for credentials, you're likely used to entering <machine name>/<user name> or <domain name>/<user name>. But how does that work with a Microsoft Account? It's pretty simple, just use MicrosoftAccount for the domain, and the account email address for the rest of the name. So, something like MicrosoftAccount\somedude@hotmail.com is what you'll want.

Remember, if you log in as a local user instead, you may not have access to a bunch of nice things including your roaming profile.

The Windows Key is More Important Now

So many of the keyboard shortcuts require the Windows key. To make life a bit easier, set up remote desktop to pass all the Windows key combinations on to the remote machine. By default, those are processed by the local machine even when the remote desktop app has focus (if running in a windowed mode, like I do)


Be sure to save your settings via the General tab.

Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts

Without access to touch, mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts are going to be your friend. This thread on the Windows 8 IT forums has some great information on keyboard and mouse shortcuts. In addition, remember that the screen corners are your friend. Bottom left to get back to Start, bottom and top right for the charms and top left to switch between running apps. It's a little trickier to hit them when running remote desktop in a window, but it's not impossible. You may find yourself leaning on the keyboard shortcuts for that reason.

Liven up the Experience.

Windows 8 is, despite being very simple, a visually rich operating system. If you haven't already, now is a good time to beef up those remote settings to the max. The animations will still be a little choppy coming across the network, but it's better than nothing for sure.


You can try out the different options to see what they bring. At the very least, however, make sure you turn on Font Smoothing: many apps (Visual Studio 11 included) are barely usable without it.

Set your Screen Resolution

The base resolution for Windows 8 Metro is 1366x768. This wide screen resolution lets you get the full metro experience, including pinning apps. You can go as low as 1024x768 (but you lose snapping), but no lower. You can certainly go larger (the 1440x900 stock resolution is decent), but you may want your remote resolution to be the same as this minimum size in order to get the same experience as a device. Changing to that resolution is not as simple as just picking a setting in the dialog, however.


Notice how none of the stock resolutions match up with this, and you can't change them. To get around this, save the connection information as a .rdp file and then open it with notepad. Once open, set the desktopwidth and desktopheight values to 1368 and 768 respectively. Notice how I had to make the width two pixels wider than the actual value. 1366 isn't a value that RDP likes, so you need to bump it up to the next highest or else it ends up at 1364. (presumably a multiple of four, it appears). If you don't have at least 1366 in usable width, the snap feature will not work. It took me a while to figure out what broke snap, but those two pixels were everything.

screen mode id:i:1
use multimon:i:0
session bpp:i:32

Since you're manually editing the file, do this last, as you'll want to change a few other remote desktop settings first. Here's the screen with snap, all over remote desktop.


A Final Note

Some apps do run a little…strangely over Remote Desktop. For example, the preview version of the Solitaire crashes over remote desktop. I'm not sure what causes it, but if you see an app fail to start, be sure to check it out on the actual machine before assuming it's broken. Of course, this includes your own developed applications. It's a good beta er.. Consumer Preview, but being a beta, you're going to have oddness from time to time :)

posted by Pete Brown on Monday, March 5, 2012
filed under:        

14 comments for “My Unofficial Tips for Remoting into a Windows 8 Machine from Windows 7 (plus: Microsoft Account tips)”

  1. Zubairsays:
    Hi Pete,

    Nice post, a offtopic question have you had any luck installing Nvidia Quadro 1000M graphics driver on your W520? (assuming if thats same as mine) I need to use the Vga-out to get my external monitor working but Nvidia drivers are not up to date.

  2. Petesays:

    Two issues:

    1. To make the external video work on the W520 (for presentations and whatnot), you had to go into the BIOS and disable the on-board graphics and the automatic switching between them. Huge fubar on Lenovo's part, IMHO. You'll lose some battery life by doing this. Jon Galloway and I both had to do this to get our 520s to work doing presentations.

    2. Install the latest Win7 nVidia driver *from Lenovo*. It was from November-ish and installed perfectly on Win8.

  3. Petesays:
    That last post was for Zubair, not Kevin, as I'm sure you'll figure out :)


    Live Mesh: I just stopped needing it. I used to have to switch between laptop and desktop a lot more than I do now. Now, it's just presentations and when I travel. Before, it was several times a week with lots of project files and documents.

  4. Matthewsays:
    As well as the Windows Key is there anyway to make RDC capture the mouse? I have 2 large monitors and those corner mouse hotspots are seriously annoying when your mouse pointer isn't stopped by the screen edge on a physical machine.
  5. Petesays:

    I'm in the same situation (two 30" displays), and I run in windowed mode in any case.

    As best as I can tell, no. I remember when remoting tools used to do that, and I hated it (you had to hold control or something to get the mouse out of the window). I can see its use here, though.

    The screen edge I have to use the most is the left, so I'd recommend having your remote session on the left-most monitor to minimize the hotspot problems. If you want to make it so you can get to one of the remaining right-most corners, go into the display setup and vertically offset the monitor just a little so the mouse will get trapped in that corner.

  6. Adamsays:
    Have you considered installing Win8 to a native VHD. It's very easy, clean and doesn't take too long to get setup and installed. That way there's no fiddling with partitions and you can remove the VHD when you no longer want it.
  7. Petesays:

    Yes, that works well for a lot of folks. The only snag we run into is machines that need to connect to MS corp have to have bitlocker enabled on *all* drives. Bitlocker and VHD aren't compatible.

    You can sometimes get around it, though :D

  8. Pixelsays:
    Do you have any advice for setting the resolution in 8? I have it installed on my laptop and desktop. When I remote into the desktop it uses the native laptop resolution and wrecks window sizes. I'd like to pan around so I can leave everything as it was. The new settings are so different from 7's though... can we still save a .rdp?
  9. SRsays:
    I cannot seem to RDP into my W8 box using my hotmail id (MicrosoftAccount\abc@hotmail.com). It connects, and immediately disconnects. Anyone else seen this behavior? (I can login to the box using a local userid though).
  10. Jyrki Arpiainensays:
    In my case, microsoftaccount\myemail@hotmail.com works but i have to edit username manually everytime after connection is made to remote machine, before it let's in.

    I am taking connections from Srv2008-R2 (should be same as Win7 as every body here probably knows) to Win8 .

    Win8 is joined to domain and i use it's FQDN as computer name.
    As user name i have used all the possible options i can imagine. Like I have tried to add username both from the MSTSC window and edited .rdp file with txt editor.

    Some other thread suggested that it is necessary to add "enablecredsspsupport:i:0" to the .rdp file in txt editor, i tried it but it didn't fix this thing, just altered its behaviour.
    With this line added, connection let me in to Win8 screen but didn't let me do anything after that.

    What i have noticed is that if i take connection to Win8 machine with Microsoft account by adding myemail@hotmail.com as username it is actually same as adding microsoftaccount\myemail@hotmail.com to that .rdp file with notepad.
    So it doesn't need to add that microsoftaccount\ before email address when using RDP window, which is just like it's should be, natural way.

    BUT, after connecting with it to Win8 it let's me to the screen where it gives error , "The username of password is incorrect. Try again" I guess most of you have seen this message.

    After clicking OK it shows username as " \myemail@hotmail.com" so that there is big space before myemail@hotmail.com. I checked how many spaces by adding one more space to it, and noticed that it was just one empty "letter" but much wider than normal space.
    And if i remove those extra marks (space and slash) away in front of that email and give password again, it lets me login to that computer.

    So somehow this logon process messes the user name part. I guess that MS will fix this eventually, this feels like quite obvious bug...

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