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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.

To do this, download and run SD Card Formatter. Select the microSD card (it should be detected automatically) under » Select card» then make sure , what is selected» Quick Format» .

Also, check the box CHS format size settings . When you’ve done that, click » Format» and wait for the process to complete.

Format your Raspberry Pi's microSD card

Then launch WTWare Configurator from the start menu by selecting bootable SD card for menu item Raspberry Pi . Make sure the correct drive letter for the SD card is selected, then click » Further» .

WTWare Configurator for Raspberry Pi

On the next screen, select the thin client type, which should be Raspberry Pi. Two options are available:

Local download: thin client operating system files are being loaded from SD card.

Network download: this configures the SD card for network boot on the Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3. There is also an option to set up single boot from the SD card to program the Raspberry Pi 3 to boot later without it.

Select your network connection in WTWare

The easiest option at this stage is to use local download . Once you’re familiar with the setup, move on to network booting.

Configure your thin client’s network settings

Click the button Further», to go to the «Network» tab and select the IP address assigned by the DHCP server, or specify a static IP address for the Raspberry Pi. If you plan to use Wi-Fi, check the box Work on WiFi .

Advance again by clicking Next then select your preferred configuration. The default option here is for the first run. Click again Further then check the box Save settings to file config.txt . This means that you can change your thin client configuration later. You must use this screen to set your preferred screen resolution.

Last click » Further» will allow you to install password to enter the terminal settings menu . Once this is done, click » Write», to start the installation.

Write down WTWare configuration for Raspberry Pi

Click » Yes», to accept the warning and wait for the data to be written to the SD.

Setting Up Your Raspberry Pi Thin Client

Once the image has been written to your microSD card, it is safe to remove the media and insert it into the powered off Raspberry Pi. Turning on the power will boot up the Raspberry Pi on the terminal management screen.

Here, use the option network media, to choose between WiFi Wireless and Ethernet, then set the appropriate credentials. You will need the network SSID and password.

If a configuration files configured to receive correctly, you can go to options » Connect to setup» . Here, set the wireless network again and confirm that the configuration file is installed. If not, return to the Configurator, select the correct terminal by MAC address (as shown in the terminal management screen) and click Create an empty separate configuration file .

Create WTWare configuration

From now on, just log into an RDP virtual desktop session and start using Windows and all installed apps on your Raspberry Pi.

Note that any existing Windows account can be signed in this way; If you are using the same account that is currently logged into Windows, you will be logged out. If you need new accounts, create them on a Windows computer.

This is the best way to run Windows on Raspberry Pi

Many operating systems are available for the Raspberry Pi, but Windows is not one of them. This is the best way to get current Windows functionality on your Raspberry Pi other than connecting via VNC or RDP.

Looking to improve the performance of your Raspberry Pi but not interested in setting it up as a thin client? It might be more productive than you think. This is what happened when I used Raspberry Pi as my main PC for a week

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