Windows Remote Desktop for Mac: How It Works

If you have to use Mac and Windows PC frequently, you don’t need to switch computers to be able to use both. You can use Windows Remote Desktop for macOS, to allow you to use both machines at the same time.

Windows Remote Desktop for Mac uses Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol, built into Windows 10, to display the Windows desktop on your macOS desktop. You can run Windows apps, change settings, and share files and folders between your Mac and your Windows device.

Install Windows Remote Desktop for Mac

There are two versions of Windows Remote Desktop for Mac, and which one you should use depends on your current version of macOS. In most cases, you should install Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 10.

If that doesn’t work, try the older Microsoft Remote Desktop app for Mac 8, although version 8 is scheduled to be removed from the Mac App Store soon.

  • To install it, open the App Store. You can find it in Launchpad, located in the Dock at the bottom of the screen, or by searching for it in the Spotlight Search tool at the top right of the screen.
App Store icon highlighted in Launchpad
  • In the App Store, click the search bar on the left menu and type Microsoft Remote Desktop. Once you’ve located it in the search results, click Pick to install it.
Microsoft Remote Desktop in the App Store
  • The Pick button will turn green Setting button. Click that, then approve the installation by providing your Apple ID password. Second click Pick to continue.
The window requires login
  • Once installed, click Open or locate the app in Launchers.

You may need to approve some additional permissions once you have opened the Microsoft Remote Desktop application. Approve and accept these, and then you can start using it.

Add remote desktop connection

After opening Remote Desktop for Mac, you’ll be able to add a new remote desktop connection.

  • Click More desktops in the middle of the window. Alternatively, click plus button in the top menu, then click Add PC or Add workspace.
The Add PC and Add Desktop buttons are highlighted in Microsoft Remote Desktop
  • Fill in Add PC form with relevant information for your remote Windows PC. To use standard RDP settings, start by adding your Windows PC’s IP address to Computer name text box. Provide a name that is easy to remember in Friendly name box. Click add after the settings are confirmed.
Add PC window with PC name and User Account highlighted
  • Your connection will appear, saved and ready to connect in the main Remote Desktop for Mac window. Double-click the entry to initiate your connection. At this point, you will be asked to provide a username and password for your Windows PC. Provide them, then click Continue connection.
Enter your User Accounts window
  • If it’s your first connection, you may need to accept the security warning. Make sure that you only agree to this if you are connecting to a server you trust. If you do, click Continue to ignore the message and make the connection.
Security warning window with Continue ticked

After a few seconds, the remote desktop connection to your Windows PC will complete and launch in full-screen mode, ready for you to use.

Configure Remote Desktop Connection

Other configuration options are available, including the ability to change the connection quality and redirect local devices connected to your Mac to your remote Windows PC.

  • To edit a saved connection, hover over your server and click pencil button. Alternatively, right click on the saved connection and click Edit.
Edit button in right-click menu
  • If you have a Mac with a Retina display, you’ll want to optimize the resolution of your remote connection. inside Display click to turn on Optimized for Retina display check box. You can also customize the color quality of the magnetic connection Color quality drop-down menu. You can set the overall resolution of the magnetic connection Resolution drop-down menu. Click Save complete.
Optimized for Retina displays, checkmarks and other display settings
  • inside Audio equipments , you can choose which local devices you want to be accessible on your remote Windows PC. Click to check any of the checkboxes listed. You can also choose to play local or remote audio from Make sound drop-down menu. As before, click Save complete.
Devices & Sound tab with remote sound settings options

Share files & folders between Mac and Windows

It is also possible to share files and folders between your local Mac computer and your remote Windows PC.

  • To do that, right click on your saved server and click Editthen click Folder navigation. Click Directory redirects check box, then click plus button at the bottom of the window.
Folder Redirection Checkbox and "+" in the Folder window
  • Select the folders you want to share in the Finder window, then click Open to add them to your list. If you want to make them read-only, click the checkbox next to each directory entry below Just read pillar. Click Save when you’re done adding the folders you want to share.
Read-only checkbox in Folder tab

Your shared Mac folders will then appear as network drives, listed as Drives and folders are redirectedinside This PC of Windows File Explorer after you make the connection.

Share Remote Desktop on Mac Computer

If you have multiple Mac computers and you want to share the same configuration file for your Windows remote computer, you can save the file and place it in iCloud storage for you to access.

This requires each Mac computer to use the same Apple ID for iCloud storage.

  • To export your remote desktop configuration, right-click your saved connection in the Microsoft Remote Desktop application, and then click Export.
Right click on the selected menu Export
  • Exporting the RDP configuration file will remove any saved passwords that the Microsoft Remote Desktop application will warn you about. Accept this warning by clicking Browse.
Browse button in the Export window
  • In the Finder window, click iCloud Drive in the menu on the left. Save your connection file by clicking Export.
Export button in iCloud Drive window
  • On another Mac, open Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac, click Setting icon in the top menu bar, then click Import from RDP file.
Import from RDP file in Settings menu
  • In the Finder window that appears, click iCloud Drive in the menu on the left. Find and select your saved RDP file then click Import.
RDP file and import button highlighted in iCloud Drive

Once you’ve imported your saved RDP file, you’ll be able to connect to your remote Windows server like before.

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