Remote Desktop Services vs Citrix – What’s the Difference? (Pros & Cons)

Companies today are increasingly opting for virtualization. However, many get thwarted about the host of options available for virtualization. In this article, we will address and compare the most famous virtualization desktop solutions, the old in the game Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and the new tech Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp.

This will help you understand which virtual desktop solution will suit you the best in your VDI remote working environment.

What is Remote Desktop Services?

remote desktop services vs citrix

Remote Desktop Services, formerly known as Terminal Services, is a series of technologies developed by Microsoft for offering thin client solutions.

RDS enables users to connect to virtual desktops or server hosted applications. Since this is a thin client approach, the user’s session is always hosted and processed on the server and never on the local computer.

What is Citrix?

citrix vs rds

Citrix system is a US based corporation that works on visualization technologies. The system offers virtualization services through its virtual desktops (XenDesktop) and virtual applications (XenApp).

Citrix XenDesktop provides many similar features to Microsoft RDS, allowing users to access their desktop or software anywhere. Citrix has built a central management platform that allows network monitoring and scaling simpler than before and ensures a better user experience.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) vs Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp

rds vs citrix

There has been a long standing debate (literally) for decades in the IT world on RDS vs Citrix and which is better. It is an odd consideration because Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop requires Remote Desktop Services to function. This is after the recent embrace of hosted virtual desktops by the IT industry, unlike in the past when the situation was different. However, there are still requirement linkages for many use cases.


Remote Desktop Services allows the usage of one programme at a time. It does not require the use of many applications, as a typical tablet or desktop does. There are also restrictions on what software you can run first. RDS definitely works for remote users, but the access is only for a single application instead of the full desktop. Most of the time, you need to disable a lot of Windows features just for the RDS to start working.

The Remote Desktop Services is better suited for application virtualization, rather than full desktop virtualization.

Whereas Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp offers a compatible experience across every unit. It has a similar look and feels to a traditional desktop when you load the device. You can interact with as many applications as you want and wherever you are from.

In the usability criteria of Remote Desktop Services vs Citrix, Citrix provides better usability.

  • Remote Desktop Services is resource intensive
  • Remote Desktop Services relies on third party client software on many devices
  • Citrix has an optimized experience delivery


With Remote Desktop Services, you can communicate directly with the application, ensuring that you share the limited number of available resources. When more users log on to the RDS, the output drops, resulting in regular go slows and likely crashes.

Remote Desktop Services does not scale well. All users share a finite amount of resources on a single Remote Desktop Protocol server. So, the more users are online, the more disruptive the experience gets.

In the case of Citrix, the device provides a buffer between the user and the server. This buffer raises the server pressure by compressing the transit data and allowing more users to be online simultaneously and works better for slower connections. Citrix users interact with the HDX protocol on top of the RDS. It provides a seamless and smooth experience across all devices.

In short, Citrix XenDesktop performs better than Remote Desktop Services.

  • Citrix scales better than Remote Desktop Services
  • Remote Desktop users have finite desktop resources
  • Citrix does a better job at compressing data transfers
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Remote Desktop Services require a reliable connection to the internet. The performance of RDS depends on it. If the connection is unreliable, then the supposed users are at the risk of being thrown out without warning or a chance to save their job.

Citrix also needs a reliable internet connection to work. However, patchy connections are much better dealt with here. It has a function called “Session Reliability,” which keeps every session open despite any internet issues that may crop up in the background. Thus, allowing users to save any job they have in an open status.


As stated earlier, when users use Remote Desktop Services, they communicate directly with the servers. Hence, no one can sign in till the job is done. If the server exceeds capacity, a user could be forcefully exited from the application. A new server would be needed, spooled, installed, and modified to work accordingly to increase the capacity. This is an expensive process and equally time consuming.

With Citrix, every job that you do is money consuming. However, based on what job you have in hand at a specific time, resources can be scaled up or down month on month or week by week.


The Remote Desktop Services operator must be very skilled. Without essential reserve assistance to be provided in a task failure, the results could be severe.

On the other hand, Citrix desktop and Citrix virtual apps have a splendid management interface that precisely controls both desktops and apps. Users can hold their devices irrespective of it being handheld devices or a PC.

Underlying Protocols

Remote Desktop Services uses Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol naturally. The only thing that you would need for remote control is a PC. RDP does provide a high level of flexibility.

While Citrix uses its own protocol HDX that minimizes bandwidth requirements, enabling you to use Citrix virtual apps and desktops for machines with slower internet connections.


When it comes to pricing, Remote Desktop Services is a shining star. It is very cost effective, especially for small use cases, like someone who just needs a VPS and a simple remote desktop. RDS has free versions for both personal and business uses.

Whereas Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop is expensive and does not have a free version, even for personal use.

RDS vs Citrix At A Glance

rds vs citrix differences

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) - Pros and Cons

The story’s long and short is that businesses looking to offer a broad spectrum of options for delivering applications to users have a big decision to make. Remote Desktop Services offer a singular approach in delivering services on a Windows Server operating system.

RDS is excellent for user density. With it, you can squeeze together a lot of user sessions into a single server. At least you tend to get more than you get with virtual machines and VDI.

However, it is “options in delivery” that is the determining factor for most. Delivering the applications your users need in the way they need often requires more than just Remote Desktop Service and Remote Desktop Protocol. Some applications do not work on server OSs. Others do not play as desired when users collocate on a single machine. There are other factors driven by non technical requirements that mandate logical separation among user instances.

Citrix XenDesktop/XenApps - Pros and Cons

For a lot of reasons, Citrix XenDesktop/XenApps is often the right approach for IT business today. Yes, It surely is more expensive, and yes, XenDesktop is not a very simple application to install, yet Citrix is very popular. Even Citrix’s gazillion moving parts are sometimes unreasonably complex to troubleshoot when things go wrong.

All said, these problems are just a price for the numerous options that Citrix offers. A fully realized Citrix XenDesktop setting offers a series of possibilities on how an application gets hosted and what it gives its users to consume.

Though we know that complexity is not a virtue, however, complexity will enable a business to create and interrelate server machine catalogs and desktops with all manner of delivery groups that contain the applications that users demand.

The Bottom Line

The conversations about Remote Desktop Services and Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp are never really far apart since the technologies are very similar. There has never been a dispute between RDS and Citrix, you may say. Due to the powerful and long lasting relationship between the two firms, both are viewed as each other’s representation.

Remote Desktop Services is a Microsoft developed service that is native to Windows. So it is only natural that it performs natively to Windows. Both Citrix and Remote Desktop Services use their home developed protocols as the base of their visualization services. Though, Citrix’s HDX is a better performer than Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol on many levels.

Both methods are excellent alternatives as long as you grasp and adapt the right tool for the right situation. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services will be the right option for you if you want to remotely publish or distribute applications with low graphical specifications and have ample bandwidth.

From the end user perspective, Citrix XenDesktop provides very similar features to Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services. However, it is more lightweight, easier to manage, and operates faster than RDS.

Now that the difference between Remote Desktop Services and Citrix XenDesktop and Citrix XenApp has been explained, it is up to you which one you need or want to use.

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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