Most Servers can be easily setup with Core, but lets face it, the GUI is a lot easier. Especially when it comes to configuring NICs and setting up things such as binding order, Jumbo Frames, etc. for a Hyper-V configuration. Starting with Windows 8, we will have the option to turn on and off the GUI.
Starting with the server installation, we now have only two options with Windows Server 8 beta – “Server Core Installation” and “Server with a GUI”; here I have selected a Server Core installation.
Server Core only installs the command prompt and PowerShell / Windows.NET. After changing the password and logon, I have my Core Installation with only a Command Window in display.
The sconfig utility is still present, simply type sconfig from the command window.
Sconfig is pretty limited in what you can do. Things such as joining the server to a domain, renaming, activation, etc. can be done with sconfig. There is also and option for Restore Graphical User Interface (GUI). Personally I think this is misleading. Unless you started out first with the GUI installation or have at some point turned on the GUI, you cannot use this option from sconfig on a new Server Core installation.
However; all is not lost! From a Server Core installation in Windows 8 Beta, you can enable the GUI from PowerShell pretty easily. Here is how you do it:
First open PowerShell from the Command Window by typing “PowerShell”.
Then we need to create a folder to mount the Windows Imaging File (WIM). Type mkdir C:\Mountdir or what ever you want to use for the mount point folder.
Next, determine the index number for a Server with a GUI image by typing Dism /get-wiminfo /wimfile:d:\sources\install.wim where d:\ is the location of my installation media.
From here, I see that the Index numbers that can be used are 2 for SERVERSTANDARD or 4 for SERVERDATACENTER. Since there is no GUI in SERVERSTANDARDCORE or SERVERDATACENTERCORE, Index numbers 1 and 3 will not work to make the switch.
Next, type the following command to mount either Index Number 2 or 4 from PowerShell:
Dism /mount-wim /WimFile:d:\sources\install.wim /Index:4 /MountDir:C:\mountdir /readonly
Once the wim file has been mounted, we then type the following from PowerShell:
Install-WindowFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell –Restart –Source C:\Mountdir\Windows\winsxs
This PS command installs the “Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure” and the “Server Graphical Shell” features.
After a few minutes, the server will restart and we now have the GUI interface to use. The Graphical Management tools and Infrastructure and Server Graphical Shell options add the following: Server Manager, the MMC, Control Panel and applets, Windows Explorer, the Taskbar and Notification area, IE10, and Built-in help.
To switch back to Server Core from the GUI, select Manage > Remove Roles and Features.
Clear the options for Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure, as well as Server Graphical Shell.
After the server restarts, we are back to our Core Installation.
Now at this point, if we need to go back to the GUI, we can use sconfig. From the command prompt, type sconfig and select option 12.
After the server reboots, we have the GUI back.
At this point, I am not sure if this is a bug in the Beta or not; I’m leaning towards Bug. When you use sconfig to get back to the GUI, then from the GUI you want to go back to Core; if you go into the Remove Roles and Features Wizard, you get an error that the Client cannot connect to the destination specified in the request; huh??
To get back to Server Core, you first have to go back into Add Roles and Features Wizard and add the Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure and Server Graphical Shell feature. Then without rebooting the server, you can select the Remove Roles and Features Wizard to remove the Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure and Server Graphical Shell to get back to Server Core.
Another option for Administrators who want just the basic management features from within Server Core is a mode called “Minimal Server Interface”. With the Minimal Server Interface option, you can have Server Manager, MMC, and some Control Panel applets. Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, the desktop and Start screens are not installed. To enable Minimal Server Interface, only install “Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure”. Do not install the “Server Graphical Shell”.
This can be setup from Server Core; after mounting the WIM, used this command instead:
Install-WindowFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart –Source C:\Mountdir\Windows\winsxs
Or from a Full Install, remove only the Graphical Shell feature.
Finally, if you want the Full Desktop Experience including Metro, add the feature Desktop Experience. The Desktop Experience feature adds Themes, Metro-style Start screen, Metro-style apps and Windows Media player.
Being able to switch between Core and a Full install should help considerably with Server Core installations. Now we can setup and configure our server under a full installation, or starting with Core and switching to a Full installation. Then for production, run the server under Core by simply removing the Graphical Shell or Shell and the Management Tools and Infrastructure depending on your needs.