Use all your monitors for Remote Desktop to Windows 7 PCs or VMs by sidegrading from Professional to Ultimate, getting past Pro's one-monitor restriction
This is admittedly a very niche article, of high value to a select few folks that have this very specific need. That burning desire to get past Windows 7 Professional's dirty little secret. Did you know that Pro has a very annoying and seemingly arbitrary restriction? You can Remote Desktop to Pro, but you will soon discover the hard way that "Use all my monitors for the remote session" simply won't work. Whaaat?
In my particular situation, I have this Windows 7 Pro that needs to stay stuck back on Windows 7. Can't be upgraded to 8.1 or 10. I run it as a VM on my Windows 10 system, using VMware Workstation 12, and use it many hours per week, for my work.
If I use the VMware Workstation console for multi-hour control of this Windows 7 Pro VM, I find the multi-monitor support is very clunky, especially with 3 monitors. Hasn't improved one bit since version 11. After every Windows 10 screen lock/unlock, I have to re-initiate the full screen mode of the VM, then re-initiate the triple monitor configuration. How about the old laptop going to sleep? Yep, you guessed it, redo the monitor arrangement, all over again, several dozen times per day. All my VM's application positions and sizes are messed up, each and every time. Argh. Been putting up with this for years, and it was very annoying.
I say was, because I've fixed it today. That's right, I showed Windows 7 who's boss. I first "convinced" Windows 7 Pro that it was Ultimate by tweaking the registry. A light hack, if you will. This would hide its true identity from itself, tricking the Windows 7 Upgrader in thinking you have Ultimate already. This allowed me to do an in-place re-install of Windows 7, without show-stopper warnings about using the wrong version of Windows upgrade media.
I also got to keep all my applications and customizations this way, with nothing lost but the time it too me to do this "sidegrade." Yeah, all those Windows Updates needed to be redone, so that required a lot of downloads and reboots. Yes, it took hours of background downloads, while I did other stuff. So if you're gonna try this, it's best attempted after a full back up, and after hours. You've been warned.
Now my Remote Desktop Connection now works like it should. Wonderfully fast, smooth video, great audio, it just works. I even made a tray icon for the RDP file, and a keyboard shortcut to launch it.
When I'm in the VM and running fullscreen RDP (aka, Terminal Services), and I need to reboot the VM, no problem! I just press Ctrl+Alt+End. Yes, you can easily choose the reboot icon in an RDP session, even though it's normally blocked from showing in the Start button Power menu selection. More RDP shortcuts and tips here, see also ensuring UDP is enabled, to help ensure you'll get the best RDP 8.0 experience seen here:
Now I smile a bit more, every time I sit down to use this Windows 7 VM. Not because it's old, but because I can get work done faster in it. I kick myself for not fixing this earlier. How exactly did I fix this? Like many of my tips, it's a combination of pulling together information from multiple sources, to solve a problem that I didn't find any single post answering, out on the Googles. Now you don't have to suffer searching like I did!
I cannot provide free support, many things can go wrong with Windows, even when you don't monkey with it. This article assumes an intermediate to advanced level of Windows troubleshooting experience. You are doing this crazy desperate act on your own, and only if you are comfortable doing so. See the rest of the polite disclaimers at bottom left of every TinkerTry page!
You must own the Windows 7 Ultimate DVD or ISO
and have a legitimate license key, to re-activate in case you get prompted to do so.
- backup the Windows 7 Professional system, if it's a VM (Virtual Machine) running under VMware Workstation, you can do a nearly instant backup using Workstation's Snapshot function, same goes for the VMware ESXi hypervisor, if it's a physical machine, consider VEB, it's fast and free)
- in my VM, I had to also uninstall boot drive encryption
- run the registry editor by pressing Win+R, typing regedit, then press the enter key
- edit the two settings shown here, changing from EditionID "Professional" to "Ultimate" and ProductName "Windows 7 Professional" to "Windows 7 Ultimate"
- mount your Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 ISO (don't use non-SP1) or install CD
- run setup.exe from that new driver letter that appeared
- answer the questions, making sure you choose the Upgrade option, as explained here and shown step by step here
- when it's done, enable Remote Desktop as explained here
- test the connection, make sure you can now run your mstsc.exe with the following checkbox on, "Use all of my monitors for the remote session"
- after a few days, if you're satisfied that the upgrade was a success and everything works fine, delete any snapshots, and run Disk Cleanup, then select "Clean up system files" to remove the roll-back (un-install) files that can be quite large
- make sure "System" shows "Activated" - in my case, I had the Ultimate key, was asked for it only once when kicking off the sidegrade, and after it was all done with the upgrade, Windows 7 still showed as activated
- if you haven't already made sure you're using Remote Desktop Connection 8 for Windows 7, do so now, for speedier RDP, over UDP for local LANs
- if your Windows 7 is a VM, and things seem to be working well, you can delete all prior snapshots now, to regain your speed
- do another full system backup
- if you had full drive encryption set before beginning this sidegrade, re-enable encryption, and reboot
- do another backup, this will take a while, as it's really a full drive backup again, future backups will be incremental/fast
- get some work done faster, or go and enjoy life even more
See also at TinkerTry
- Upgrade your VMware Workstation and ESXi VMs to Windows 10 or Windows 2016, despite warnings about VMware SVGA incompatibility
See also related articles/sources
Allow someone to connect to your computer using Remote Desktop Connection
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) 8.0 update for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2
What shortcut keys can I use in Remote Desktop Connection?
Multi-monitor on Windows 7 Professional running RDP
- Downgrade from Windows 7 Ultimate to Professional without reinstall?
Sep 23 2011 by KronoS at StackExchange