ClearType in Remote Desktop

ClearType in Remote Desktop

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One of the many new features Vista brings to Remote Desktop is ClearType support. Turn it on, you may be surprised at how much nicer the screen looks with fonts rendered in ClearType.  (If you’re not sure what ClearType is and why you should care, you may want to check out ClearType information for a better explanation than I can give.)

To turn it on, simply start up ‘Remote Desktop Connection,’ click the Options button and go over the to the ‘Experience’ tab. There along with such stalwarts as ‘Menu and window animation’ you’ll see two new checkboxes, one for ‘Font smoothing’ and one for ‘Desktop composition.’ Select ‘Font smoothing’ and TS to a Vista machine. We’ll talk about the ‘Desktop composition’ item at another time.) This only works when you connect to a computer running Vista or Longhorn Server. The client OS can be Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, or Vista but you must be running the updated ‘Remote Desktop Client’ in order to get the checkbox.

First, let’s get some questions out of the way. First of all, why did we call it ‘Font smoothing’ rather than ‘ClearType?’ The reason has to do with what these checkboxes actually mean. When any of the ‘experience tab’ checkboxes are selected, it doesn’t actually mean that any of the effects are turned on when you connect, rather they are not turned off.

In other words these checkboxes effectively mean ‘If possible, follow the settings the user would get if they were logging in locally.’ If a user doesn’t like ClearType and turned it off on their desktop, it wouldn’t get turned on automatically just because that user was coming in remotely with the ‘Font smoothing’ checkbox selected. One aspect of this approach is that if a someone uses standard font smoothing when they work locally, then that is what they will get remotely. Hence we decided to be strictly accurate and label the checkbox ‘Allow font smoothing.’

One reason we enabled ClearType with remote desktop is that with the advent of Windows Vista and Office 12, ClearType suddenly became much more important. For one thing, LCD monitors were becoming the standard. Also, ClearType was now the default in Vista. In fact, both the IE team and the Office team felt ClearType was important enough that they both over-ride the default on XP and render using ClearType even if it’s turned off by the system. If you really don’t like it, you can still turn it off, but a default install of IE 7 or Office 12 on XP will render in ClearType.

One corollary of this move to ClearType is that new fonts are being designed specifically with ClearType in mind. It’s a time-consuming process to create and tune new fonts and special emphasis has been given to the ClearType scenario over black and white rendering. The net effect is that the new fonts in Vista and Office 12 look particularly good when rendered with ClearType but they don’t look so nice when you don’t use ClearType. For more information about the new fonts, you may want to take a look at Jensen Harris' blog.

Now for a little history; back in the days of Windows XP the Terminal Services team had to decide what to do about ClearType. Back then ClearType was a new technology that wasn’t on by default. It wasn’t clear at the time how important this would be for Terminal Services scenarios but it was clear that remoting ClearType would consume more bandwidth. We simply decided to disable ClearType for remote sessions.

Fast-forward to 2006. As Vista took shape it was obvious that ClearType was becoming more important. All we really needed to do to enable ClearType is to remove the check in Windows. GDI will automatically render the characters as bitmaps and the bitmaps will work perfectly fine with RDP. The only problem with this approach is that our normal font rendering path is extremely efficient. Simply falling back to bitmaps could have a significant bandwidth hit. Because of this concern we didn’t want it on by default in the TS client. There are still a lot of slow links out there and we don’t want to make a simple upgrade consume additional bandwidth.

How bad is the performance hit? Depending on the scenario, the increase in bytes sent over the wire can be quite significant. In the final analysis it all comes down to what the user feels is an acceptable tradeoff.  From my own experience I connect to my desktop at work over a cable modem using Terminal Services Gateway every morning and I always turn on ClearType. I type about sixty words a minute and the performance is fine.
On the other hand, if you are an administrator of a server that’s sitting behind a slow WAN link, then the end-user tradeoff isn’t the important factor. Since that same line is shared by multiple services and multiple users, you care more about aggregate bandwidth usage of the server.  For this scenario we are planning on making the server side configurable with group policy.

In any case, try this out with your RC1 builds and let us know what you think.

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  • Please add 8 and 2 and type the answer here:
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  • Cool, where can I download the updated "Remote Desktop Client" software that can be installed on Windows XP (so I can access a Vista machine remotely and have it look good)
  • AFAIK this is not available for download yet.  My guess is that you'll probably need to wait until Vista gets RTM.
  • Thanks - I tested the version that comes with Vista RC1 by copying mstsc.exe, mstscax.dll, en-us\mstsc.exe.mui and en-us\mstscax.dll.mui to my Windows XP machine.  It worked very well.
  • The Terminal Services Client (Remote Desktop Connection 6.0) software is now available for use on Windows® XP with Service Pack 2. To use any new Terminal Services features introduced in Microsoft Windows® Vista and Microsoft Windows Server® Code Name "Longhorn" on this platform, download and run the installer package specific to your operating system language. You need to have access to MS Connect site mentioned below. General availability of the client is scheduled shortly after Windows Vista RTM.

    For operating system languages for which localized version installer packages are not available for this release, it is recommended to run the English package.

    Note that Remote Assistance on Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 will not function after installation of this software. This issue will be fixed in the next release.
  • Wow! Now this is something I've been wishing for, for a long time now. I have two flat panel monitors

  • So, where is the Remote Desktop Connection 6.0 for XP ? The MS connect link given above gives a page not found.

    Will this be released now that Vista is RTM ?

  • Wonderful! Will you have the plan that enable clear type in XP's Terminal Service, not just in Vista?

  • is there a property to enable both desktop composition and the ClearType font smoothing in the rdp activex control?  If so what is it?

  • I too need the names of properties in rdp activex to enable/disable desktop composition and font smoothing.

  • You can set the new experience options with the IMsRdpClientAdvancedSettings::put_PerformanceFlags, method. The flags for desktop composition and font smoothing are:




  • Thanks Carl. I will try.

  • I really don't understand why MS is so happy about ClearType.

    First, it renders portrait-mode screen really ugly. I wonder about MS's own programmer but where I work, LCD rotated in portrait-mode is usual.

    And on VGA connected cheap LCD or poor old laptop display, ClearType renders the screen barely readable.

    Instead of having a SINGLE point of control, which is fine, I now have to change it at 3 places.

    Why on hell did you decide to override the system default in IE7 and Office? I don't care that it is enabled by default, but only at ONE place.

  • Can anyone tell me how to enable the Remote Desktop Web Connection in Windows Vista?

  • Do all the versions of vista allow you to use the Remote Desktop client

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