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It's Official: The Windows Server GUI Is (Slowly) On the Way Out

I've written about it before, and I'm here to do it again -- but it's still worth a read. However, before I dive in, I want to remind y'all that I'm just the bearer of the news. While I personally think this is a good direction for Microsoft, much of that stems from my own IT background. Based on the comments in previous articles, some of you disagree -- and you should make that opinion heard at Microsoft, where it'll matter. In case there's any confusion, I don't work for the company.

You'll want to go here and read a short article from the Windows Server team. Go on, read that. I'll wait.

The points to take away:

  • The full GUI experience on the Windows Server OS is now optional. Software meant to run on a server should not assume a GUI will be there, nor should it take for granted any of the many other dependencies that the full server OS has traditionally included. My analysis on this: It's Microsoft's shot across the bow. You'll see a stronger position on this sometime in the future -- maybe a few years off, but sometime. They want server apps to assume they're running on what we used to call "Server Core."

  • The recommended way to run the Server OS is without the GUI. Didja see that? No, you don't have to think it's a good idea -- I'm not pushing acceptance. I'm pointing out what's happening. These are the facts on the ground.

  • Microsoft has taken a (what I think is a very good) middle-ground step by introducing a "minimal GUI" mode in the server OS. That means you can have your GUI tools on the Server OS, as well as on your client computer, provided those GUI tools play by a few basic rules and don't assume too many dependencies (like the presence of IE). They'll have the full .NET Framework at their disposal, for example, which should help -- especially if they're tools based on the MMC architecture. So this gets you a "lighter" version of the Windows Server OS, but still lets you manage right on the console.

    My opinion, for what it's worth: Anyone who thinks "minimal GUI" mode is anything more than a holding measure is crazy. To me, this clearly says Microsoft is trying to get us off the console for good. They know we're not ready to give it up completely, so this is them trying to wean us off. Maybe I'm wrong on this -- it's happened before -- but it sure seems that way when I look at the big picture.

  • Notwithstanding the "minimal GUI" mode, Microsoft is recommending to software developers to not assume a GUI will be present. The full, rich GUI experience happens on the client. Not allowed connect to your servers from your client computer? The suggestion appears to be "rethink your architecture."

Again, folks, I'm not advocating the news -- I'm just reporting it and offering some interpretation. I'm well aware that many, many, many admins out there aren't looking forward to a GUI-less server operating system from Microsoft. I've heard and read many cogent and thought-out arguments against it. I'm sure Microsoft has too. They're proceeding anyway. We have two choices: adapt or die. I'm sure the NetWare folks felt exactly this way when they saw their first Windows NT 3.51 server. My point is that Microsoft is going in this direction, despite the fact that they surely know there will be disagreement. They're obviously taking baby steps -- take this "Minimal GUI" thing as a clue. We can either be prepared to manage our servers in the brave new world, get different jobs or get promoted out of harm's way.

Don't think Windows Server without a GUI is a good idea? I'm not judging you, and I'm not saying you're wrong. Think Microsoft is stupid for heading in this direction? Time will tell -- we'll wait and see, since that's all we can do. For myself, I'm going to make sure my job is secure by making sure I know how to operate in the world that's coming. It's like taxes: I don't have to like them, I just have to figure out what numbers to write into the little boxes.

(I'll admit that I'm personally biased to like the direction Microsoft is headed on this. I come from an IT background where going in the datacenter was practically verboten; I spent more time trying to make sure I could remotely do everything, without an RDC connection, then actually doing anything. But the environment I cam from was a minority back then, and it's probably a minority now. Although I'm glad it prepared me for what appears to be coming.)

My opinion is that Microsoft is pointed toward a world of "headless servers:" Minimal functionality from the console, rich management from a client computer. This is a step in that direction, and it's intended to put us, and software vendors, on notice. Me, I'm going to take the hint. I hope y'all do as well. Windows Server "8" is a chance to start getting on board with what Windows will become -- it's not throwing us directly into the fire, but I think we have to take the opportunity to start adapting to this new direction.

Posted by Don Jones on 01/12/2012 at 1:14 PM


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