Is Windows 2012 Remote Desktop Session Host better than Citrix XenApp?

Is Windows 2012 Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) better than Citrix XenApp? Citrix XenApp 6.5 is a market-leading product. Citrix XenApp may well be the first product businesses consider when deploying applications or desktops from a centralised service. Windows 2012 is very new. Windows 2012 RDSH, as a new service, doesn’t have the same number of partners or administrators with detailed experience.

Still, it’s a very good question.

It’s a very good question because Microsoft has worked hard to ensure that RDSH is a solution viable not only for large enterprises, but small and medium scale businesses and not-for-profit organizations, as well. Windows 2012 RDSH builds on a mature technology, a technology that is the most-deployed centralized desktop virtualization solution.

Yet, are you going to end up reading this article and get to an “it depends” answer?  Let’s see.

At Citrix Synergy in Barcelona, a number of partners were reporting that their customers were asking this very good question. Was it because people had read our article on Microsoft Windows 2012 RDSH vs Citrix XenApp – PV to get its own Murderball?


Many Terminal Services/RDS users maintain their Citrix XenApp Subscriptions Advantage payments. Many don’t. As organisations move beyond their existing solutions, or as new customers and new projects come on-line, there is an opportunity to consider alternatives, especially as minimising costs is an important consideration.

Is Windows 2012 Remote Desktop Session Host better than Citrix XenApp is a question more and more users are going to ask.

Key components of that question will be:

  • What doesn’t Windows 2012 RDSH do for my business? There have been a number of improvements in terms of configuration and management. Still, organisations are looking to embrace support for application and data access beyond the traditional network. There is a desire to support complimentary devices such as smartphones and tablets or delivery mechanisms such as HTML5 enabled browsers. What happens when I have applications that are Mac or Linux based?
  • Is RDP good enough? The latest Microsoft RDP protocol version has had a number of enhancements to improve performance over the WAN. But do all your devices support this version? What end devices can you not use? How does your peripheral support work?
  • How much does Citrix XenApp cost me? License renewal costs can always seem like a big number. Yet, there are a number of additional services and functions that Citrix adds to the core service in Windows 2008R2: tools to assist help desk users determine issues with user experience; tools to improve the application/desktop experience for tablet/smartphone users; services to assist with printing.
  • What alternatives are there? There are more players in this market than Citrix and Microsoft.

To help, we’ve updated our Presentation Virtualisation Solutions white-paper.  The white paper has been updated and considers Presentation Virtualisation solutions from the following vendors:

  • Aqua Connect Terminal Server
  • Citrix’s XenApp 6.5
  • Dell (Quest’s) vWorkspace
  • Ericom’s PowerTerm WebConnect RemoteView
  • Geniut’s ThinWorx
  • GraphOn’s Go-Global
  • Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Session Host
  • Propalms’ TSE
  • Systancia’s AppliDis Fusion
  • Ulteo Open Virtual Desktop v3
  • 2x, ApplicationServerXG

Is Windows 2012 Remote Desktop Session Host better than Citrix XenApp? I think a number of organisations will find that with Windows 2012 RDSH, there is less need for any third party tool. That’s not necessarily because of “better”; rather, the features available may be “good enough”. Still, third party vendors continue to add features to the core Microsoft offering and, of course, provide a platform to support and manage Microsoft Terminal Service/RDS offerings prior to Windows 2012.

Ah“, you may say, “Have I got all the way here and still ended up with an ‘it depends’?”.

You are best suited to understand your environment and business needs, and the Presentation Virtualisation Solutions white-paper is intended as a resource to help you fit the solutions to your context.

So in the main, yes, yes you did.

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8 Comments on "Is Windows 2012 Remote Desktop Session Host better than Citrix XenApp?"

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Simon Bramfitt
I don’t think that there is anyone, even the Microsoft product managers, who would say that RDSH is better than XenApp, but you have rightly identified that the question is not whether or not it is better but whether it is good enough. There are very few situations that a product as mature and comprehensive as XenApp is cannot readily address. From a features and functionality perspective it has today no equal. However, it is expensive, and not every organization needs a solution that delivers the breadth of features that it offers. This is a challenge for Citrix, and an… Read more »
Andrew Wood
True, there are a lot of Citrix partners, citrix have a very mature product there is a lot of expertise available. The question was how do I deliver my applications/data remotely, to any device – and the answer was “Citrix”. There were increasingly alternatives: but Citrix was the main player – in part due to its very good partner network. Now, existing embedded customers aren’t going to change, and citrix innovation happens all the time. Yet, with the inclusion (dilution?) of VDI, with XenDesktop with flexcast’s licensing proliferation an increasing viewpoint is “*RDSH* is the option in terms of licensing,… Read more »

Since over more than a decade the same questions when an new microsoft OS comes to market.
And over more than a decade the same answer: CITRIX 😉

Andrew Wood

early doors (esp post winframe) I’d agree. Since 2007/8 tho’ I think the automatic choice has been getting harder..

I have been deploying and maintaining Citrix servers since Winframe. I like it but I am averse to their support model and to their tendency to occasionally just say “we’re going to start doing things this way and we’re not too concerned with our customers pain points”.. My company is deploying some Windows 8 and surface RT devices (I know.. it is what it is) and so now we get hit with new Citrix requirements like upgrading to Xenapp 6.5, Access Gateway Enterprise and Store Front and a preview version of a whole new client. Not that its a terrible… Read more »

Our company is moving to a single MS Server 2012 from 2003 with Citrix 4.5 (25 users). I have yet been able to justify the additonal expense beyond 2012 RDHS for Citirx. For this small deployment can anyone point out justifications?


Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. But I would recommend use of remote support tools like logmein, R-HUB remote support servers, gosupport now etc. for remotely accessing computers from anywhere anytime.