As Microsoft Internet explorer is loosing its position on the market, we have to look in to other browsers and there compatibility with features we use in the Enterprise environment. One of them is the remote desktop services (formerly known as terminal services). Since Windows Server 2008 RTM the Microsoft Terminal Services has been extended with new features. One of these new features is called Remote Desktop Web Access, which provides a web interface where the user can access his or her applications.
First the basics: The Remote Desktop Web Access provide a web interface where you can get access to your Remote Desktop applications after being successfully authenticated.
In order to use the Remote Desktop Web Access Interface your browser must be able to use ActiveX controls. And that is where the most other browsers have a problem. Well the browsers do not have a problem, it is only that ActiveX is a closed standard used by Microsoft alone.
I have tested 4 browsers:
1) Internet Explorer (8.0)
2) Mozilla FireFox (3.6.3)
3) Opera (10.53)
4) Google Chrome (5.0.375.55)
We will look into each browser and look if it is able to use ActiveX controls and if it can be managed by group policies. Why look into group policies you might ask, well as a remote desktop administrator you cannot live without them (if you want to handle it propperly).
We do not really test Internet Explorer because there is no need to. Remember this browser is built by Microsoft, so totally relies on ActiveX and is fully manageable by GPO's. We will use Internet Explorer as are reference and see if the other bowsers can provide a equally look and feel as Internet Explorer when using the Remote Desktop Web Access.
Well this is really my personal favorite at the moment. At first we just fire up the browser and see if we could use the Remote Desktop Web Access interface. When browsing to the server hosting the Remote Desktop Web Access role, we nicely get our website which kindly reminds us to login. The look and the feel is what we expect and are used to see in Internet Explorer. After providing our credentials we are redirected to the page that should display the published applications.
As you see in the picture the website is what we are used to get when using Internet Explorer, but no applications are shown. Aven after refreshing the browser the applications are not shown. Now we know that the Remote Desktop Web interface requires ActiveX, so we look if FireFox support ActiveX in any way. The support pages of Mozilla are pretty clear whether or not they support ActiveX.
ActiveX is a Microsoft technology that is used to add functionality to Windows programs.
ActiveX "controls" are often used to enable Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to view and use multimedia content embedded in web pages (for example, Flash applications). They are also used to add new functions to the browser (for example, toolbars).
Firefox does not support ActiveX technology for multiple reasons.
But often there are some mystified way to make certain things work although they are not supported by the vendor. We look around and found that it could be possible through certain add-ons for FireFox. The two we tested where:
1) IE View
2) Open in IE
Mediawrap looked the most promising as according to the addon explanation, the addon allowed to translate ActiveX controls to Firefox compatible controls. Although the addon is still available you cannot install it in FireFox version 3.6.X as it isn't compatible. The other two options are not very seamless as they allow a link to be opened in Internet Explorer from the FireFox Browser. So redirecting an HTML link from FireFox to Internet Explorer. This is not helpfull as we would need a page that would refference a link to are Remote Desktop Web Access, that we would choose to open with Internet Explorer. If that where the case we would use Internet Explorer in the first case and not try to open FireFox first.
A major setback as we could not find ActiveX Support in FireFox. Now what about Group Policies? Can Mozilla Firefox be managed by policies?
Yes it can! A company called FrontMotion provided a custom ADM file to manage FireFox through Group Policy. you can find the ADM file here: http://www.frontmotion.com/Firefox/fmfirefox.htm
It are still ADM files, so not yet available to the newer ADMX standard. But you could probably migate the ADM file using AMDX Migrator from Microsoft.
The fact that Mozilla FireFox is managable through GPO's does provide a big plus to it being adopted in more and more larger Enterprises.