How to launch a program automatically when logging into Remote Desktop Server

Automatically launching a program or application upon login to a Remote Desktop Session.  See below for methods to use the “start program at login” policy which can be configured per user.  Another method to limit specific programs to a user is via RemoteApp.  We have several other posts regarding RemoteApp and how to set it up and its limitations (i.e. RemoteApp setup is easier in 2008R2 (works in Workgroup mode) than 2012R2 but RDweb requires ActiveX (so IE only) and it doesn’t work for MAC users, while use of RemoteApp in 2012R2 requires joining to a Domain).

1) USING ENVIRONMENT TAB OF EACH USER’S PROPERTIES ON SERVER:  If you want a program to automatically start when a user logs on to the RDP server instead of showing a full desktop session, you can configure this in the Environment tab of the Properties window for each particular user. 

 User_Properties_Environments

After you have made the changes, you should test that it works properly for your users by logging into the server using the accounts you changed/created including testing it with simultaneous sessions and to verify the sessions close properly when the application is closed.

We highly recommend enabling policy to log off disconnected sessions:

  • Enable policy to log off disconnected sessions immediately or within a few minutes so you don’t have a blank screen if users don’t properly exist a program.  Existing the program (instead of clicking X in upper right corner of program) will properly log off the session but enabling this policy will ensure that an improper disconnected session is automatically logged off.  See block post here for instructions on how to enable this policy on both 2012R2 and 2008R2 http://www.riptidehosting.com/blog/how-to-set-time-limit-for-disconnected-sessions-windows-server-2012r2/

2) USING PROGRAMS TAB ON REMOTE DESKTOP CLIENT – Another method is to use the programs tab on your local remote desktop client prior to logging in to the server.  On the programs tab, you can enter the path for program to start upon login.  You can also create a RDP shortcut with this information saved on to your desktop.  We have a video on our website on creating RDP shortcuts – https://youtu.be/iLKSMcIrfqE .  A disadvantage to this method versus the first method above is that each user can edit the shortcut and change the settings.  Your IT person can create these shortcuts and provide them to each user.  

If you use this method on Windows 2008R2, you may have to change settings in RemoteApp under RDP Settings Change and allow access to unlisted programs.

3) USING GROUP POLICY – Another method to configure this is to configure programs to automatically start in the RD Session Host Configuration settings and in Group Policy, although then the logon settings could be applied universally to all users, including the Administrator (which means Administrator may not be able to access the desktop, start button, etc.) whereas the method above allows configuration by User.  You could also create a separate group policy that would be applicable for a specific group, such as non-administrators, so the group policy change wouldn’t affect all users. 

4)  REMOTEAPP – Another method is to configure the RemoteApp feature in Remote Desktop Services (RDS).  In 2008R2, this feature works great (either the RemoteApp distributable file or RD Web) for PC users but not for MAC usersIn 2012R2, the RemoteApp features requires the Active Directory / Domain Controller service to be install on the server before RemoteApp can be used