Using Remote Desktop to connect to a Windows Server 2008 R2 session will usually result in an old looking Windows classic theme, even if the client is fully capable of displaying the Aero Glass theme. While it’s not a simple option to enable, it’s still possible to enable full Aero Glass support over Remote Desktop.
Requirements: A Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2 client (the machine you connect from) and a Windows Server 2008 R2/Windows 7 host (the machine you connect to). The host doesn’t need any special hardware requirements, as long as the client supports Aero Glass. Note that you can connect from a Vista client to a Vista host as well, but any other combination is not supported.
1) First, we need to activate the Remote Desktop Services role in the Server Manager utility. To do so, open Server Manager (Start Menu > Administrative Tools > Server Manager) and click Add Roles.
2) At the role selection screen, select the Remote Desktop Services role and click Next.
3) At the Role Services screen, select only the Remote Desktop Session Host service, leaving everything else unchecked, and click Next.
4) At the Authentication Method screen, select Require Network Level Authentication and click Next.
5) Skip through the Licensing Mode and User Groups screen leaving all options by default.
6) Once at the Client Experience screen, you must select all the options (Audio and video playback, Audio recording redirection and Desktop Composition). If the Desktop Composition option is greyed out, continue with the steps below anyway and then follow the instructions at the end of this article after your first reboot to enable Desktop Composition in the Group Policies. This is common on servers connected to a domain.
7) Continue the wizard and complete the installation. You will be asked to restart the machine once completed, do so. Note that after the reboot, you will get a “Remote Desktop licensing mode is not configured” warning popup. Ignore it for now.
8) Now we need to activate some features which are not installed by default in a Windows Server environment. Open Server Manager once again and click Add Features.
9) Select the Desktop Experience and Quality Windows Audio Video Experience features. Continue the wizard installation.
10) Once the new features installed, we need to start a few services. Start Services (type services.msc in your Start Menu) and locate the service Themes. Right-click on it and select Properties.
11) Change the Startup type to Automatic and then click on the Start button below. Wait for the service to start and close the window.
12) Open Server Manager once again and expand the Roles item in the left sidebar, then Remote Desktop Services and click on RD Session Host Configuration. In the main screen, right-click the connection “RDP-Tcp” and select Properties.
13) Navigate to the Client Settings tab. Uncheck the Limit Maximum Color Depth option as well as any options checked in the Redirection list (no checkbox should be selected). Click OK to apply.
14) You can now return to the desktop, right-click and select Personalize.
15) Select the Windows 7 theme under Aero Themes. You should now get the full Aero Glass experience.
16) Now to fix the annoying licensing popup. Open Server Manager and click Remove Roles. On the Server Roles screen, uncheck the Remote Desktop Services role and complete the wizard. Yes, as crazy as it sounds, it will not disable Aero Glass but simply remove the role management panel, which we don’t need.
Note: Before connecting to a remote desktop, make sure to enable Desktop Composition (under Experience tab) in your remote desktop settings as well as 32bit colors (under the Display tab), otherwise you won’t get Aero Glass even if it’s enabled on the host.
Manually activate Desktop Composition: If the option to choose Desktop Composition during the role installation is greyed out, you must manually activate it in the Group Policy. Open gpedit and enable the “Allow desktop composition for remote desktop sessions” policy found under “ComputerConfiguration\AdministrativeTemplates\WindowsComponents\Remote Desktop Services\Remote Desktop Session Host\Remote Session Environment”.
In this guide, I will explain how to install Windows 8 on a VHD (Virtual Hard Disk). This methods lets you have a second (or many more) bootable operating systems without having to dedicate a complete partition for every OS installed (and without affecting your current Windows installation!). A VHD is essentially a complete partition contained within a single file on the disk. Don’t want that OS anymore? Simply delete the .VHD file and you’re done. Quick and simple.
Now where VHD becomes handy is in testing the new developer preview builds of Windows 8. Note that this method will work on future builds of Windows 8 (Beta, RC and final) as well as Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll assume you currently have Windows 7 installed natively on your machine and want to install the Windows 8 Developer Preview on a VHD. Before we start, you should have already burned the installation ISO of Windows 8 to a DVD or made a bootable USB installation media.
A) Create a new empty VHD
A.1) Launch the Computer Management console (found in Control Panel > Administrative Tools).
A.2) Right-click on Disk Management (under Storage) and choose Create VHD. (Note: You might need to click on Disk Management first, then wait for it to load before you can have the contextual menu with the Create VHD option.)
A.3) Enter the location of the .VHD file. I HIGHLY recommend to place this file on the root of any disk. Note that you will need to remember the path of this file for use later in this guide.
A.4) Enter the disk space (80GB is usually good for most uses) and choose the Fixed size format.
A.5) Click OK and wait for the VHD creation to complete (displayed in the window footer). It usually takes about 5-15 minutes to complete.
B) Install Windows 8 on the VHD
B.1) Reboot the computer with the installation disk (or USB drive) inserted and boot from it.
B.2) On the first installation screen, choose the language options, then click Install Now.
B.3) Accept the license agreement and then choose Custom Installation.
B.4) On this screen, a list of available partitions/disks are displayed. But it’s missing the VHD we created earlier. This is because we need to attach it first.
B.5) Press SHIFT + F10, a command prompt window will appear.
B.6) Type the following command: diskpart
B.7) Then type the command (replace win8.vhd with the name of your VHD): select vdisk file=C:\win8.vhd
—> Got an error? This is because the drive letters may not be assigned in the same order as in Windows. Fortunately, the setup lists them starting from letter C and going up. So try the command again but this time using D:\win8.vhd, then E:\win8.vhd, etc. until it works.
B.8) Once you get a successful message, type the command: attach vdisk
B.9) Once your VHD is attached, type exit, then again exit to close the command prompt.
B.10) On the screen, click the Refresh button. After a few seconds, your VHD should now appear in the list.
B.11) Select the VHD and click Next. (Note: A warning might be displayed at the bottom saying Windows can’t install to this drive. Ignore it!)
B.12) Continue to install Windows 8 as usual, following the on-screen instructions.
And you’re done! The whole Windows 8 OS is now contained within a single isolated file on your disk.
During the boot process, you will have the option to choose between your Windows 7 or Windows 8 installation. Simply select the OS you want to use!
In order to boost our development capabilities at work, we recently moved an Hyper-V solution on a VHD host. The host system is a standard Windows Server 2008 R2 system (running from a bootable VHD). We then use Hyper-V to create virtual machines with various configurations for development purposes.
Hyper-V and its basic virtual VGA adapter
The great thing about Hyper-V is that you can boot your VMs and let them run in the background. Should you need to see what’s going on (like a real monitor attached to a physical PC), you can use the built-in “Connect…” feature to see the VM screen. Hyper-V is using a basic VGA adapter to achieve that, which results in a 4:3 low resolution display of the VM. If you’re using that remote screen for development purposes, it’s quite counter-productive and annoying. Which is where the standard Remote Desktop (mstsc.exe) comes handy.
Isn’t that great when your host and VM can’t talk to each other?
The first thing I get while trying to connect to a VM running on my host is a “Not found” error. Sure enough, my VM has network access and so has my host. My colleagues can ping my VMs (and vice-versa) just fine, but impossible to ping the host from the VM or the VM from the host.
Don’t put your VMs on the same network adapter as your host…
Turns out it’s not a good idea to use the same network adapter for Hyper-V and your host. Even though your VMs have completely different and unique MAC and IP address, the packets are still trying to get in and out of the same physical interface which is a no-go. The solution was to use a second PCI-Express gigabit card (or a PCI) to add a second physical network adapter. The host is using the main network adapter while Hyper-V uses the second adapter. Now it all works perfectly.
I’ve seen some complex tutorials about creating local loopbacks adapters with NAT translation in order to use only 1 adapter and frankly, it doesn’t seem work the effort and it might affect performance in the end. So there you go, use 2 physical adapters for Hyper-V.
One of the most irritating bug still present in Windows 7 is explorer not auto-refreshing when creating a new folder or copying/moving/renaming a file. The apparent cause to this problem is when you map network drives in My Computer. Turns out the fix is quite simple (or at least it worked for me):
1) Open My Computer and click Organize > Folder and Search Options
2) Under the View tab, uncheck the Hide protected operating system files (recommended) option.
3) On your desktop, you should now see 1 or more Desktop.ini files. Delete all of them (no, it won’t break your system, they are auto-generated).
4) Reboot your computer. Problem solved!
Note: I still get the bug when copying or moving files from a network drive but anything done locally on the computer seems to work again.
You might want to re-check that setting in Folder and Search Options once you’re done.