Decision Maker

Exaggerated: Reports of the Windows GUI Death

Don Jones clarifies his earlier statements regarding the pending doom of the GUI in Windows Server OSes -- and yes, death is still in the picture.

In my July column, I pronounced the impending doom of the GUI on Windows Server OSes. It caused a bit of a stir: In addition to some pretty flaming e-mails, several folks took the time to post and articulate counterarguments on their own blogs. I fear that some of the differing opinions, however, come from a misunderstanding -- my fault, though it can be tough to squeeze a lot of meaning into a one-page column.

So let me try and clarify: I was referring to what I believe is Microsoft's direction going forward, something I believe I'm seeing validated in the Windows 8 Developer Preview builds. Specifically: I think the GUI will go away on the server. I don't think the GUI will go away entirely, and I don't even think it'll go away for server management. The GUI just won't exist on the server computer.

Think about it this way: When you need to manage Active Directory, don't you just pop open the Users and Computers console on your client computer? When DNS tasks beckon, isn't the console available on your workstation? Those are GUIs. Yet they don't run on the server.

And before you say it, yes, I know that today's Windows servers can't be fully administered from a remote GUI, especially when it comes to server setup and provisioning tasks. I'm pretty sure Microsoft is working really, really hard to fix that.

The main "the-GUI-had-better-not-be-dying" argument I hear typically revolves around, "I don't want to learn command line." Fine. You don't have to. The whole point of Windows PowerShell is that it provides a command-line interface (CLI) for those who want it, and a way to build a GUI atop that same functionality. To developers building an admin GUI, Windows PowerShell is essentially a set of classes that they can call to actually make their GUI work. Exchange Server 2007 and 2010 admins know exactly what I'm talking about: They've got a GUI that's all Windows PowerShell underneath. Don't want to see the Windows PowerShell bits? You don't have to look. Need to automate something, or perform some task that the GUI makes too difficult? You have the option -- but not the requirement -- of dropping down to the shell.

If you have to manage a thousand servers, you might appreciate the power a CLI can offer. If you need to manage a few dozen, you might prefer a GUI. Either way, Microsoft has your back, I think. If you prefer to point-and-click your way through the day, I don't think you'll ever lose that capability in a product called "Windows." It's just that the GUI will run on your client computer, reaching out and telling the server what to do remotely. What's so scary about that? Getting the GUI off the server improves performance markedly (this isn't an assertion I'm making; it's a pretty well-documented fact), and reduces the number of patches (security or otherwise) that need to be written, which improves uptime and lowers overhead.

So, yes, I'm still predicting the death of the GUI... on the server machine. I think the GUI has a long life ahead of it on our client computers. GUIs are easy to learn, easy to operate, and they're definitely more efficient for tasks that you don't perform very often, because they can walk you through whatever steps are necessary. But I truly believe that servers should be servers, not workstations.

Thanks for all of you who commented on the prior column. Now, I'll ask you to do so again: Assuming Microsoft gave you a proper, supported way of remotely doing anything you might need to administer about the server OS... why would you want to do that stuff right on the console?

Notwithstanding, I'm sure there are some legitimate reasons out there for having to log onto the server console and get a GUI there. Let's hear your reasons, and try to make sure Microsoft hears them, so it can factor them into whatever its strategy turns out to be.

I think the GUI will go away on the server. I don't think the GUI will go away entirely, and I don't even think it'll go away for server management. The GUI just won't exist on the server computer.

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.


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