Want to run Windows on your Raspberry Pi?
It’s unlikely to happen any time soon, but that doesn’t make it completely impossible. With a Windows computer configured as a server, you can create a virtual desktop session and access it using your Raspberry Pi.
This is known as a thin client and the Raspberry Pi is perfect for the job. Here’s how to access Windows Remote Desktop using the Raspberry Pi thin client.
What is a thin client?
Optimized for remote access to a central server that hosts virtual desktops, the thin client is a low-spec machine. It can be an old PC or a modern device with minimal hardware.
While the standard desktop does all the work of running the operating system and software, the thin client relies on the server for the heavy lifting. The whole elevator, really.
There’s a good chance you’ve been using a thin client without realizing it. If you’ve ever worked with computers that connect to a Citrix server, then you’ve used a thin client (or a standard desktop that acts as a thin client). You may also have used a thin client PC at your local library or college.
You have noticed that a session on the remote server’s virtual desktop saves your settings and files between logins. It is also a useful tool for hotdesking.
This project demonstrates how a Raspberry Pi can take the place of this «low spec machine» and run as a thin client with a Windows PC as a server.
Raspberry Pi Windows Thin Client: What You Need
To create a Raspberry Pi thin client that you can use to regularly access and run applications on your Windows PC, we’ll show you how to install and use WTWare.
To get started, make sure you have the following:
- Raspberry Pi 2 or later (we used Raspberry Pi 3B+ for best results)
- Formatted, blank microSD card
- Windows computer
- Monitor, keyboard and mouse for your Raspberry Pi
- Reliable power supply
- Computer running Windows 10 Pro (or earlier that supports Terminal Services) or Windows Server 2016
You will also need the WTWare software, which you must download from winterminal.com. This is a trial copy (the full version will cost you $40), and so the words «Trial copy» will appear on the sides of the screen.
Learn more about WTware
WTWare is a thin client operating system for the Raspberry Pi. Once installed, you will be able to use Windows Terminal Server when desktop applications are running in a persistent session.
Optimized for network booting, WTWare supports booting from local media for Raspberry Pi and works with regular RDP servers. WTWare also offers support for local hardware such as printers and smart card authenticators.
The key to this (and to any thin client/server setup) is storing user data on a Windows server. Settings, programs and saved data are stored on the server and can be accessed in subsequent sessions.
WTWare can be configured to boot your Raspberry Pi from a microSD card or over the network, thanks to Raspberry Pi Pre-Boot Environment (PXE) support.
Installing WTWare on Windows and Raspberry Pi
Once the WTWare installer has downloaded, double-click it to install on Windows. After that, insert your Raspberry Pi microSD card into your Windows computer. This should have been formatted already using the SD Card Formatter from the SD Foundation.