I think you’ll agree that manually jumping in and out of RDP and Terminal sessions all day long is a pain.
As a Network Engineer, I am often connected to multiple remote servers and pieces of networking equipment throughout the day.
There are days where I know I’ve connected and disconnected to multiple devices dozens of times. Without a remote desktop connection manager that would mean typing in the IP or host name and my credentials several dozen times a day.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great options out there for a quality, easy to use remote desktop connection managers. Some even support SSH, Telnet, and other common connection protocols so you can manage everything through one application.
Unfortunately, the fact that there are plenty of great options means it may be hard for you to the find the right one.
This is why I decided to try out each of the top 10 recommended RDP connection managers and post my thoughts below.
I installed each one on a Windows Server 2016 box and tested all the available connection features so I could post a legitimate review of each one and hopefully help you narrow your options.
mRemoteNG is a FOSS product (that is Free Open Source Software) for tabbed connection management of multiple connection protocols including RDP, SSH, Telnet, HTTP, HTTPS, VNC, and ICA.
The install for this client is a single small executable. It takes less than a few seconds from beginning to end to install.
I like the clean and intuitive UI. Connections are organized in a folder tree structure on the left and connection windows are displayed on the right (you can also undock the connection windows for native RDP like full-screen). When multiple connections are open they are tabbed across the top for easy switching back and forth.
I also like that I can include descriptions and other data for each connection that is displayed in the lower left corner when a connection is highlighted (so I know what I’m connecting to when the name isn’t obvious, especially when working on a new network).
All connection information is stored in a simple XML file that you can store anywhere and makes for easy export to another machine or sharing with your team.
Credential information can be store encrypted using any of several encryption engines including AES, Twofish, and Serpent.
There are plenty of logging options including for SSH and Telnet sessions so you have a history of commands entered.
Honestly, the only thing I don’t like is that you can’t customize hotkeys for sending commands like ctrl+alt+del through to the connected machine. You have to resort to the traditional RDP hotkey combinations like ctrl+alt+end.
Edit: Another thing I’ve discovered that I don’t like is there isn’t an eloquent way of creating shortcuts to external apps like ASDM on a per connection basis. mRemoteNG requires app arguments to be on a per app basis, not connection basis. So to have an ASDM shortcut (which launches java webstart with an argument for the asdm address of the ASA) for each ASA you have a to have an external app for each ASA rather than just having one external app and then defining the asdm address argument under the connection config. Devolutions RDM, below, does not have this limitation. They have coded an addin that allows easy creation of ASDM connections. For a team that manages a lot of ASAs, this definitely tips things in favor of Devolutions.
Of the FOSS options, this one is my favorite.
Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager
This one caught me by surprise. Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager offers both a free and paid enterprise license. The free license does require that you register the product after 30 days, but it remains free.
The enterprise license gives you access to advanced features like more sophisticated password management, password inheritance, and two factor authentication options.
Devolutions RDM takes the best of RoyalTS and mRemoteNG and crams them together in an acceptable package. It has tons of connection options (RDP, Apple Remote Desktop, FTP, SSH, Telnet, FTP, VNC, TeamViewer, Wayk Now, and so on) and supports all sorts of macros and hotkey customizations. You can also install free plugins developed by the Devolutions teams to extend functionality for connecting to things like ASDM on your ASAs. This is HUGE for teams that manage lots of firewalls an other devices that have extended features outside of RDP and SSH.
There is also a sudo asset management system built in where for each connection you can save just about any kind of information you would have on that asset including make, model, address, purchase date, location, etc… For a small shop that could be a convenient feature.
Another thing I really liked was all the import options it had, including one for mRemote (now mRemoteNG and compatible) so if you’re already using a tool but want something a little more robust then you’ll have no trouble switching (other than having to reconfigure the credentials which don’t get imported from the mRemoteNG configuration database).
UI navigation is simple with the connection folder tree on the left, open connections on the right, and tabs of multiple open connections on the top.
Unfortunately, this one also borrows heavily from the Microsoft Office UI (or fortunately if you like that).
I really liked using this product. I liked it enough to import my production mRemoteNG connection file and start using it full time to see how it compares to using mRemoteNG full time.
Royal TS is a “freemium” product from Royal Applications for Windows (they also have Royal TSX for MacOS). It’s free to use and download under a shareware license but some features are stripped and limitations imposed including:
- You cannot have more than 10 connections per application instance.
- You cannot have more than 10 credentials per application instance.
- You can open only one document per application instance.
If you need those features, it’s going to set you back about $50 for a single user. They also have site and global licenses available. There is also an option for a server install that you can use to centrally store credentials and connection information.
That said, for an individual, the free version without the server install should suffice.
On the upside Royal TS supports a plethora of connections from RDP, Telnet, SSH, VNC, and Web to things like SFTP, VMware, and TeamViewer. There are tons of options you can dig into as well for things like logging, customization of folder icons, and hotkeys.
On the downsize the initial configuration is a little confusing since Royal uses the term Document for the database or master folder that your connections and settings are saved in. It requires that you create a new document before you can create new connections but doesn’t tell you that until you try and create one in the default Application document folder.
As for the UI, it’s almost an exact copy of Microsoft Office circa 2013. If you know how to navigate office then you’ll know where most things are in this application. Unfortunately, you cannot change the UI or color scheme, so if you’re not a fan of the Office layout or Orange then this one is out.
The overall function of the software is similar to mRemoteNG and others where the connection tree is on the left and the remote connection is displayed to the right with tabs along the top for switching between open connections.
Dameware Mini Remote Control
Dameware, a paid product w/ free trial from SolarWinds, is really more of an interactive remote support product but it can be used as just a RDP or VNC connection manager. It’s available either standalone or as part of the Essential IT Tools Bundle (worth checking out).
The neat thing about Dameware is that should you desire to use the interactive remote support functionality you can install the connection agent on the target machine remotely and switch from RDP to interactive with chat.
This means you can start out using as a RDP connection manager for your infrastructure machines and then can expand to using it as a helpdesk tool or connection to non-windows assets such as Linux and Apple MacOS computers.
The downside to this product is that the UI is a little dated looking. It’s doesn’t have that crisp web 3.0 flat appearance. The UI also separates the connection tree from the connections window and doesn’t support tabbed organization of connections. Each window is independent. It is moderately intuitive to navigate, though.
If you’re looking for a connection manager that can extend to a remote support tool this is worth trialing.
Terminals is another free open source software option. You’ll have to download it from the github page as it’s community supported.
It’s a simple install and lightweight application with a focus on simple management of a variety of connections such as RDP, SSH, Telnet, VNC, HTTP, HTTPS, etc…
I liked that the application allowed for setting a master password before opening it. This is a nice feature if you’re storing credentials inside the application.
The UI was easy and intuitive to navigate. It’s the familiar tree on the left with connection on the right and tabs on the top like mRemoteNG, Devolutions, and RoyalTS.
One thing that confused me at first was that Terminals refers to connections as favorites so to add a new connection you must add a new favorite. It’s not a problem, just od language compared to most other applications. I also had to run the application as admin on a Windows Server 2016 box otherwise I received an error.
There is also a shortcut bar that launches macros for opening common server management tools if you’re doing more sys admin type work.
It’s a pretty simple application but for what it does it does well.
MobaXterm is a popular connection manager in the Linux world for managing terminal sessions but it also makes a good remote desktop connection manager. It’s a freemium product that limits the free version to 12 concurrent sessions, 2 SSH tunnels, 4 macros, and imposes a 360 second connection limit for tftp, nfs, and cron.
I like that it has a clean, intuitive, and familiar interface with the tree on the left, connection on the right, and multiple open connections in Chrome-esque tabs across the top.
Like Terminals, MobaXterm changes the terminology for connections and calls them sessions so you create new sessions when you want to create a new connection shortcut in the connection, erm session, tree.
MobaXterm supports a ton of different session types from RDP, VNC, SSH, and Telnet, to Rlogin, XDMCP, FTP, SFTP, Serial, and many others. It also has a neat feature that lets you run connections in split screen and enter the same command in all the windows which is handy for entering commands on many different servers or pieces of networking equipment.
For those that work in secure environments MobaXterm also supports tunneling through SSH and SSH Gateways (jump hosts) natively.
RDCman, sometimes called Remote Desktop Connection Manager, has been around for a long time. It’s a free Microsoft tool I’m pretty sure is abandonware since it hasn’t been updated since 2014. The latest version is 2.7.
That said, it does still work quite well for managing RDP connections and is quite simple to use. The interface is very minimal. It tiles your connections to the right of the connection tree and it only takes a simple double click to launch a connection.
I don’t like that it doesn’t have a field for descriptions or any other unique data for each connection. All you get is the display name of your server or workstation. You also cannot customize the UI in any way.
What I do like is that you can customize hotkeys for things sending ctrl+alt+del combinations to the remote machine. It also supports connecting to the console session of virtual machines and using certificates to secure credentials.
If you want something simple and from Microsoft themselves this is it. Just keep in mind it probably won’t ever be updated.
MultiDesk is pretty much just a skin over RDP that adds tabbed connections. When you open the options, everything looks exactly like MSTSC.
There are multiple versions, free and donation. The donations option is just further updated. The free option is several updates behind but did still work on Server 2016 (where I ran it from).
MultiDesk is also just an executable. You don’t have to install anything, making this one of the few portable options.
There isn’t much else to say. Like I said, it’s basically just a skin for MSTSC with the addition of tabbed connections.
RD Tabs is another free and simple tool for strictly managing RDP sessions like MultiDesk.
Where RD Tabs is different from MultiDesk is that you can set a master password for encrypting the stored credentials and has a powershell script manager.
You can also easily format sessions in a split screen view.
One of the things I didn’t like was that the favorites list (connection/session list) is a separate window. You also cannot enter any descriptions or additional information for your connections.
If you want as simple and stripped down as you can get for a tabbed RDP manager then this is it.
EasyConnect is an interesting FOSS option. Rather than being skinned like a traditional Windows or Microsoft Application it’s skinned identical to Google Chrome.
Your connections are saved as bookmarks in a bookmarks tab and new connections open in new tabs.
EasyConnect supports RDP, VNC, SSH, and remote PowerShell.
This is a very no-frills option like RD Tabs or MultiDesk.
Of the 10 remote desktop connections managers that I reviewed mRemoteNG and Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager are the two I prefer in the FOSS and Freemium camps. They are both simple to install and use and support a variety of connections.
If I needed something that could serve as both a pure RDP connection manager and remote support tool I would see value in Dameware but I wouldn’t ever pay for it for just a RDP manager, not when there are so many good FOSS options for that.
If I used Linux more or found myself in terminal or shell connections more I would probably gravitate more toward MobaXterm, especially with the multi-command feature (which is a sweet feature for things like managing several proxy servers and needing to make the same change across all of them).
For now, I’m going to continue to roll with mRemoteNG and Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager to see if either is more appealing over the long term. I’ll report back if anything changes.
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