RDP for Mac stands for “Remote Desktop Protocol for Mac” and is used to control or view a PC or Mac remotely. Microsoft RDP for Mac is the most well known client and Microsoft recently updated it for Mountain Lion and Mavericks but it still lacks the functionality of the Windows version. However there are many excellent RDP for Mac alternatives. Here are the best RDP clients for Mac, including free RDP Mac alternatives, reviewed starting with Microsoft’s own RDP Mac client. You can download a free trial for most of them by clicking on the titles.
The best RDP for Mac clients
Microsoft RDP for Mac is now called Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac (confusingly also known as RDC for Mac or Remote Desktop for Mac). Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac is a Microsoft tool which allows you to connect your Mac to PC Windows machines and other devices.
Microsoft released the latest version of Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 on 17th October 2013. Previous to that, there was no official RDP for Mac Mountain Lion or for Mac Lion and the last version, Remote Desktop Connection for Mac 2.1.1, does not officially work with Lion or above although some users claim it does work but not very well. With the release of Remote Desktop 8.0 however, there is now an official RDP for Mac Mountain Lion and Lion.
The release of Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 coincided at the same time that iTap for Mac was discontinued and the similarities in the new 8.0 version suggest Microsoft may well have bought them. Microsoft RDP for Mac 2.1.1 is still available but officially only supports up to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.
Remote Desktop 8.0 is the first update to Microsoft’s Remote Desktop client in two years and allows Mac users to access virtual desktops on Windows, Windows RT, Windows 8, iOS, OS X and Android. The Mac version also includes support for printing to Mac configured printers, support for multiple monitors/projectors for presentations. The Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 free download is only available via the Mac App Store.
Microsoft RDP for Mac 8.0 is generally an improvement on version 2.1.1 although still falls short of the Windows version. The connection speed is the most notable improvement on the last version and both full-screen and multi-monitor support were long overdue. Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 also supports high quality audio and video streaming and connections feature greater NLA quality encryption.
There are some basic features missing from the Mac version however which many users will find frustrating. For starters, there’s no way to import connections from the old version of Microsoft RDP for Mac meaning you have to go through the time consuming process of re-setting up all of your connections again. There’s also no way to manage or even see how many multiple connections you’ve got going on at one time. Also, simple features such as Font Smoothing, Wallpaper options and Full-Screen drag are missing. Unlike the Windows version too, the Mac version does not support more secure methods of login such as via smart cards, PIV and CAC cards etc.
How to use RDP 2.1.1 for Mac?
Officially you must have Snow Leopard 10.5.8 or lower to use Remote Desktop for Mac. However, Remote Desktop Client 1.0.3 for Mac is still available to download and works on older PPC Macs. Remember that if you have Office for Mac 2011 installed, you already have Remote Desktop Connection for Mac 2.1 as it is included in the suite.
To connect Remote Desktop Connection to PC, you need network access and permission to connect to the computer. The PC must also be running Terminal Services or Remote Desktop Services. Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection for Mac does not yet work with Windows 8 but works with everything else from Windows 7 to Windows 2003.
Using it is extremely simple. Just run the installer:
There are several preferences and controls in Remote Desktop Connection once you’ve established a connection. You can save your Windows login information:
CoRD for Mac (Free)
CoRD is a very popular free and simple Remote Desktop client for Mac.
The quickest way to connect to a Windows PC using CoRD for Mac is to type the IP address or host name of the computer you want to connect to into the Quick Connect toolbar item and press enter (Shift-Enter will connect to the console).
Although CoRD for Mac isn’t regularly updated, it has been recently updated to support Retina Macs so that icons look great when connected to Windows. Many people find that CoRD not only works faster than Microsoft’s Remote Desktop for Mac but is also quicker. The downside is that it does sometimes crash but not enough to be a real pain. Please note however that CoRD only supports:
Windows XP Pro
Windows Vista (only in Low Security mode)
Windows 7 (only in Low Security mode)
Windows Server 2000, 2003, and 2008 (only in Low Security mode)
Windows XP is supported but you must configure it first to allow remote desktop connections by using this Microsoft guide.
There is no official support for Windows 8.
iTap for Mac ($20)
IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of 8th October 2013, iTap for Mac is discontinued. Some users have switched to the new Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 which was released around the same time iTap closed (see above).
iTap, full name iTap Mobile RDP, is a relatively new RDP for Mac client. iTap is powerful solution that’s aimed mainly as business users and costs $24.99 from the Mac App Store or €20 direct from the developer.
Some users that have recently switched think it’s definitely worth the cost too and you can try it for yourself with a 14-day free trial. The trial is fully functional but will disconnect after 10 minutes.
It lacks some of the features of Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac and CoRD but it displays much better than Microsoft’s RDP on Retina Macs and is generally very stable and fast.
iTap uses its own full screen mode though – it goes straight into full screen as soon as you establish a connection whereas it would be preferable if it was integrated with Mountain Lion’s full screen mode. One other slight problem with iTap Remote Desktop for Mac is that it doesn’t re-establish a connection if you suspend or sleep your Mac. In some cases, you may have to Force Quit iTap in order to reestablish a connection. Finally, managing several different connections at once can be tricky – there’s no easy way to organize several screens open at the same time. However, considering iTap is a very new app, these bugs should be ironed out and it is a very promising RDP for Mac app.
2X for Mac (Free)
2X for Mac, full name 2X Client for RDP/Remote Desktop, is a free RDP for Mac client that’s used by some major corporate customers such as Airbus, McKesson and WD-40.
2X Client for Mac is free from the Mac App Store although if you’re running Leopard OS X 10.5, you can download 2X Client for Leopard for free from the developer site. 2X for Mac has a modern interface and is generally very fast and stable. However, you can’t change default connections and you can’t duplicate a connection which is annoying if you work with multiple connections. However, for those that have experienced stability issues with CoRD, iTap or Microsoft RDP for Mac, it’s definitely worth trying.
Jump Desktop ($29.99)
Jump Desktop is probably the slickest, and the opinion of some, the best RDP client for Mac out there. Unlike the other options, Jump Desktop for Mac also supports iPad, iPhone, iPod and even Android.
Jump Desktop is fast, very stable, allows you to share files to the remote machine and it’s superb at managing several connections at once. It’s also one of the few Remote Desktop clients for Mac that officially supports connections to Windows 8.
TeamViewer (free for private use, $59 for commercial use)
TeamViewer is more of a screen sharing tool popular with gamers and those that need to perform maintenance on a remote computer. However, it can be used as an RDP client for Mac. Teamviewer is extremely easy to use and ideal for those that want to give remote technical help to friends or family.
Beyond this list of RDP clients for Mac, there are a few other more expensive high-end corporate Remote Desktop for Mac solutions such as Ericom Blaze for Mac. Ericom is partnered with Microsoft, Oracle and IBM but I couldn’t even install the trial client due as OS X says the Ericom Blaze for Mac trial download file is damaged. The best I’ve tried to far is definitely Jump Desktop – it’s easily the slickest and easiest to use.
If you have any suggestions for other RDP for Mac software that should be included in this list, or have any experiences to share with them, let us know in the comments below.