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Parallels Desktop had a great feature "Coherence mode" that displays windows, of the VM, in the macOS UI as if they're part of macOS making the experience much better.

I have a powerful Windows (Pro, non-server) machine to which I connect from macOS using Microsoft's Remote Desktop app. This Windows PC is, due to it's i9 CPU and 32GB memory, a better choice than using a (Parallels) VM.

What I'm looking for is a remote desktop app that mimics the Coherence mode of Parallels Desktop.

The protocol it uses isn't important for me (RDP, VNC, etc) as long as it works.

Is something like this available? I couldn't find that (yet).

NB: Free or paid doesn't matter, although when paid I'm not want to pay more than $100 per year.

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When using "plain RDP" it is not possible to achieve something similar to Coherence mode. The reason for that is that the Windows host sends a whole desktop to the remote client without any kind of specification as to where one application or window starts and another ends. I.e. it is desktop centric, and not window or application centric.

If your Windows computer happens to be running Windows Server (probably not that likely for a home user), then you can enable Remote Desktop Services (previously known as Terminal Services) and enable single-application sharing. That allows you to use RDP to connect to a single application instead of the whole desktop. It only works for one application though, and does not automatically separate a number of applications automatically like Coherence mode.

If you are a programmer (or even a hobby programmer), you can take a look at this project that shows how a Coherence-mode-like feature can be added to RDP. Essentially they add a component to the Windows server that augments the RDP protocol with information about the position and size of each application window - allowing the client to "cut out" each window and display it in separate native window frames. The whole desktop is still transferred though, and it comes with a bunch of limitations (note that the project does not include a client for Mac, you'll have to build that yourself).

If you look outside the realm of RDP, then a few alternatives exists in the VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure market). This is systems such as the quite common Citrix.

However, a less well known system comes very close to offering something similar to Coherency-mode in Parallels Desktop - not surprisingly it is an offering from the same company, namely Parallels Remote Application Server. Again it is a system that must be installed on the Windows server, and then a special (non-RDP) client is run on the Mac (freely available from the Mac App Store) in order to connect to the applications. The product is marketed at business users primarily, so it is usually not a good fit for home users. The license pricing currently starts at approx. 1.500 EUR per year for a 15-user license (the minimum license size).

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  • Thanks for your detailed response. I'm removed "RDP" from my question as the used protocol isn't important for me.
    – John V
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 14:00
  • @John_ The answer from me is the same as I already answered for both RDP and non-RDP.
    – jksoegaard
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 14:31
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This is possible using standard RDP. There are many tutorials on how to set this up on a Windows Server, but it is actually possible to do it on Windows 10 Professional, Education and Enterprise versions as well.

All you have to do is open up regedit on the Windows machine, then navigate to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\TSAppAllowList

Double click on fDisabledAllowList and set its value from 0 to 1.

Now, open up your existing RDP file using Apple's default TextEdit. If you do not have an RDP file, open up the Microsoft Remote Desktop app and right click on the PC and select "Export".

Next we are going to modify and add a few lines inside this RDP file.

  1. Modify remoteapplicationmode:i:0 to remoteapplicationmode:i:1
  2. Add remoteapplicationprogram:s:<path to .exe>, for example remoteapplicationprogram:s:C:\Windows\System32\notepad.exe
  3. Add disableremoteappcapscheck:i:1
  4. Add alternate shell:s:rdpinit.exe

Save the file and it should work!

To open more applications, you can create multiple RDP files and open those. The modified RDP files can also be added again to the Microsoft Remote Desktop app by going to "Connections" -> "Import from RDP file..." in the menu bar.

Once you have multiple windows open, you can access them from the menu bar icon: Icon

Example

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  • This is not really the same as Coherence mode as you can only run 1 application over a connection. I already detailed this option in my answer from last year - this is known by Microsoft as "single-application sharing". If you can live with only one application per connection, it is doable - but it is very impractical if you have a normal "Windows desktop user"-mindset of opening various applications during a day.
    – jksoegaard
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 20:51
  • @jksoegaard This is not true. If you have more RDP files for different RemoteApps, and you open another one while a connection is already active, it will launch the application directly and instantly in the active RDP session (it also won't ask you to enter credentials again) See https://serverfault.com/questions/882049/rdp-remote-apps-can-they-share-a-single-session. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 22:40
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    Sure, they’re multiplexed in the same session - but it still “feels” wrong.. you cannot just double click a file and expect a new window to pop up like you can in Coherence mode
    – jksoegaard
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 23:43

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