Is it possible to have headless OS X server run virtual windows over network?

gpspad

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Feb 4, 2014
606
23
I am running a mac mini as a headless OSX server and I have gotten to really like being able to remotely login into that machine and my mac book, while I am working on my iMac. I get multiple computers, all through one monitor.

It got me thinking if it was possible to have a headless mac mini run a windows environment. I know there is ways to do it with macs, but not sure the remote function would still work. I still need to use windows for an old CAD program once in a while, and it would be great to have a mini on the network to run windows, but without the display, separate keyboard, separate mouse, etc....all taking space.

A lot of this mac and OS X server stuff is new to me, so sorry if this is a dumb question.
 

talmy

macrumors 601
Oct 26, 2009
4,715
276
Oregon
It got me thinking if it was possible to have a headless mac mini run a windows environment. I know there is ways to do it with macs, but not sure the remote function would still work. I still need to use windows for an old CAD program once in a while, and it would be great to have a mini on the network to run windows, but without the display, separate keyboard, separate mouse, etc....all taking space.
You could do this by running Windows using BootCamp or within a virtual machine. I did the latter (using Parallels) for years to run Quicken for Windows and be able to access from any other computer. By using a virtual machine the Mac Server functionality will still be there all the time. I only stopped using the virtualized Windows machine when I switched to Quicken for Mac a year ago. I gave the virtual machine a static IP address which was then used as the default address within Remote Desktop.

It's important to note that you must run the Pro edition of Windows and not the Home edition to have the Remote Desktop Server you need. The client you run on you Mac, Microsoft Remote Desktop, is available for free from the Mac App Store.
 

DJLC

macrumors 6502a
Jul 17, 2005
774
154
North Carolina
Yep yep —

In my mind I think of two options:
  1. Run Windows in a VM using Parallels or VMWare Fusion on your existing headless Mac. Windows would just run in a window on there, so you could just remote control the Mac like you have been.
  2. Install Windows natively on a box or in a VM. Be sure you have Pro edition. Right-click Computer / My Computer, Properties, Remote, enable Remote Desktop. On the Mac you want to connect from, install Microsoft Remote Desktop from the Mac App Store (free). Enter the IP of the Windows system and connect directly to Windows.
Option 2 is probably going to give better performance, but option 1 might be easier and still usable.
 

Longer Lane

macrumors member
Oct 30, 2015
44
10
I have been running Windows within Parallels since XP and it works flawlessly on a headless Mac mini. I usually log in using Apple Remote Desktop and then start up Windows within Parallels.

You might need to add a 'fit Headless' to force 1080p resolution.

My $0.02

LL
 

talmy

macrumors 601
Oct 26, 2009
4,715
276
Oregon
I have been running Windows within Parallels since XP and it works flawlessly on a headless Mac mini. I usually log in using Apple Remote Desktop and then start up Windows within Parallels.

You might need to add a 'fit Headless' to force 1080p resolution.

My $0.02

LL
Regarding the fit Headless, that seems to be needed for headless minis at least in recent years (my 2009 mini server didn't need anything like this but my 2012 does), but if the Windows VM is being accessed using Windows Remote Desktop rather than as a window in macOS using ARD or Screen Sharing the mini's display system is completely ignored. As a bonus the performance is faster as Windows Remote Desktop is more efficient.
 

DoFoT9

macrumors P6
Jun 11, 2007
17,512
33
Singapore
I also recommend a Windows virtual machine (VMWare / Parallels / VBox) combined with Windows Remote Desktop (RDP). Note that this will require some port forwarding from your router and/or firewall through to port 3389 of your Windows instance.

Works a treat after that.
 

gpspad

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Feb 4, 2014
606
23
I also recommend a Windows virtual machine (VMWare / Parallels / VBox) combined with Windows Remote Desktop (RDP). Note that this will require some port forwarding from your router and/or firewall through to port 3389 of your Windows instance.
Works a treat after that.
Just so I get this right, I'd have to have the headless mac start parallels and have it run an instance idol windows. Then I'd run a remote desktop into that windows machine?

Couldn't I just use the mac screen sharing function to login into the headless mac and run windows in that window?

All these windows in windows is confusing me.
 

talmy

macrumors 601
Oct 26, 2009
4,715
276
Oregon
Just so I get this right, I'd have to have the headless mac start parallels and have it run an instance idol windows. Then I'd run a remote desktop into that windows machine?

Couldn't I just use the mac screen sharing function to login into the headless mac and run windows in that window?

All these windows in windows is confusing me.
Yes you could. But using Windows Remote Desktop provides a better experience.
Pro Windows Remote Desktop:
  • It's faster because the Windows Remote Desktop protocol is more efficient then VNC that Apple uses.
  • The user sees only the Microsoft Windows screen and not that plus macOS screen.
  • It's much more secure -- the only thing that can break is the Windows virtual machine, which can be easily restored (a single file) from a backup.
Con Windows Remote Desktop:
  • You have to download and install Windows Remote Desktop
  • The Windows version being run must be the "Pro" version, which costs more than the Home version.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: DoFoT9

DoFoT9

macrumors P6
Jun 11, 2007
17,512
33
Singapore
Just so I get this right, I'd have to have the headless mac start parallels and have it run an instance idol windows. Then I'd run a remote desktop into that windows machine?
Yes, that is correct, Windows will run (minimised, if desired) and you can log in remotely through Microsoft Remote Desktop.

Couldn't I just use the mac screen sharing function to login into the headless mac and run windows in that window?
Certainly, however, Apple's Screen Sharing tool is extremely latent when compared to RDP.




Yes you could. But using Windows Remote Desktop provides a better experience.
Pro Windows Remote Desktop:
Con Windows Remote Desktop:
  • The Windows version being run must be the "Pro" version, which costs more than the Home version.
Thanks for the input! Just one thing - each Windows version has Remote Desktop ready to go, no need to install/pay for it :)
 

talmy

macrumors 601
Oct 26, 2009
4,715
276
Oregon
YThanks for the input! Just one thing - each Windows version has Remote Desktop ready to go, no need to install/pay for it :)
Not according to Microsoft's website for Windows 10 (and my experience with XP and 7):
wincom_blob_core_windows_net_documents_Win10CompareTable_FY17_pdf_and_ForkLift.jpg



I also meant to post screenshots showing how much nicer the UI looks using Remote Desktop. WITH REMOTE DESKTOP:
Fullscreen_4_12_17__6_10_PM.jpg

WITHOUT REMOTE DESKTOP:
Fullscreen_4_12_17__6_07_PM.jpg
 

belvdr

macrumors 603
Aug 15, 2005
5,657
1,023
No longer logging into MR
To clarify, every edition of Windows includes the Remote Desktop client. You can even download it for free for macOS.

For the system that runs the Remote Desktop service (i.e. the machine you are connecting to), it must run at least Pro or a server edition.
 

gpspad

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Feb 4, 2014
606
23
Just an update, I finally got around to installing v10 of parraells I got free with my mac book. It took a little figuring out, but running parallels then logging into the mini with the remote windows app is the way to go. It didn't take long to figure that one out.

My only problem now is I need a ssd drive for the mini. The mini has an i7 and 16bg of ram, but things are painful with the native hard drive when I start or stop the windows VM, i just have to wait for a deal on a ssd drive. I figure a 500mb will hold everything for a windows VM and the software I want to run.
 
  • Like
Reactions: derohan

derohan

macrumors member
Jul 28, 2012
70
13
Nice, France
Just an update, I finally got around to installing v10 of parraells I got free with my mac book. It took a little figuring out, but running parallels then logging into the mini with the remote windows app is the way to go. It didn't take long to figure that one out.

My only problem now is I need a ssd drive for the mini. The mini has an i7 and 16bg of ram, but things are painful with the native hard drive when I start or stop the windows VM, i just have to wait for a deal on a ssd drive. I figure a 500mb will hold everything for a windows VM and the software I want to run.
used to have a 2012 i7 quad core - that thing ran circles around the newest dual ones (with SSD) enjoy that thing!
 
Register on MacRumors! This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.