Windows phone fans who wish to use Continuum for phones to run desktop applications today can do so via a remote desktop app. But there are a few other options, including some that will ship as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary update in mid-2016.
If you’re not familiar with Continuum for phones, check out Windows 10 Mobile Tip: Use Your Phone with an HDTV Display. Using just your compatible phone and a wired or wireless connection, you can connect to a screen and then use your phone’s screen as a virtual keyboard and trackpad. Or, connect (via Bluetooth or a dock) to a full-sized PC keyboard and mouse. And, with a dock, to USB storage too.
The one major limitation of Continuum for phones is that it only works with compatible UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps like Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and of course most of the apps that come bundled with Windows 10 Mobile, like Mail, Calendar, and Edge. So when you display your Start screen as a Start menu on the big screen, non-compatible apps will be dimmed to indicate they won’t work. (You can still run those apps directly on the phone, of course.)
One of the apps that is compatible with Continuum for phones is Remote Desktop Preview. (And you need the Preview version, the normal Remote Desktop app currently only works on the phone’s screen.) This is basically the UWP version of the classic Remote Desktop Connection app that has shipped with Windows for years. And you can use it to remotely connect to a Windows Pro or Enterprise PC, or to a Windows Server.
To test how well this works, I used my Lumia 950 in tandem with the Microsoft Display Dock, aMicrosoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 5000, a Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, and the 27-inch Samsung HDTV I use with my Xbox One. Then I used Remote Desktop App preview—on the big screen—to connect to my home desktop PC, the Intel NUC I’ve been using for the past month or so.
Performance was excellent, and for the most part, it looked and worked exactly like my real PC. But Remote Desktop requires your PC to have its own Internet-accessible IP address if you’re going to use it, well, remotely, an unlikely scenario for most typical users. Unless of course you’re going to use it around the house, in which case most people would probably just use the PC directly.
Remote Desktop—and third party solutions like those from Citrix—are really aimed at large businesses, especially those that have massive datacenters with virtualized servers, PCs, and applications. So for now, at least, using Remote Desktop will be most applicable to businesses.
But I’m curious about how or if Microsoft might make this technology more broadly available in the future, first to smaller businesses. And then to even consumers.
Consider a service like like Azure RemoteApp, which provides access to individual virtualized desktop (Win32) applications instead of full desktop environments. On a Windows PC desktop today, these remote apps appear alongside normal (local) desktop applications. But Azure RemoteAPp is coming to Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum for phones, too, with the Anniversary Update. And it will work just as it does on the Windows desktop, letting you run desktop/Win32 applications—remotely—from your Windows phone and Continuum-connected display. (There’s a Citrix web client for Edge coming to Windows 10 Mobile as well.) You use Remote Desktop (Preview) just as you do for remote PCs.
That’s exciting stuff. And it’s not hard to imagine a future in which we basically rent legacy desktop applications as we need them, and run them remotely from a Windows 10 Mobile handset.