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Windows Server 2016 Preview 3 Gets a GUI and Less Flexibility

Microsoft noted today that its Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3 (TP3) release has some installation nuances to note.

The new preview, released earlier this month, brings back a "Server with Desktop Experience" installation option that went missing in the Technical Preview 2 release. However, in adding this graphical user interface (GUI)-based Desktop Experience to TP3, IT pros will lose some of the flexibility they previously had with Windows Server 2012.

Currently with Windows Server 2016 TP3, IT pros have two install options. The first option, which is the "Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3" option in Windows Setup, will install the Server Core version. The second install option gives testers Windows Server 2016 TP3 with the Desktop Experience.

Previously, with Windows Server 2012, it was possible to switch between the GUI version and the non-GUI version after installation. However, that revert capability is just not available with Windows Server 2016 TP3. Here's how Microsoft's announcement described the bad news:

Because of the structural changes required to deliver the Desktop Experience on Server, it will not be possible to convert from Server with Desktop Experience to Server Core. It will also not be possible to convert Server Core up to Server with Desktop Experience.

Microsoft has increasingly emphasized a GUI-less future for its next Windows Server product. Much of this vision was outlined by Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover at recent Microsoft event talks. Microsoft's new Nano Server, a headless deployment option that's 20 times smaller than Server Core, is a key element of Windows Server 2016, which will be more cloud oriented. GUI-less management of Windows Server 2016 will enable Microsoft's DevOps vision for the server. Without a GUI, the scalability and automation needs of organizations will be better met, Microsoft argues.

Apparently, though, that GUI-less message isn't sticking with IT pros. Microsoft added the GUI back with this TP3 release, largely due to customer feedback.

"The feedback was loud and clear that there are customer segments, most notably small and medium businesses, which require both the full graphical shell on their servers, and also a consistent experience with their Windows client desktops," Microsoft's announcement explained.

Installing the Desktop Experience with Windows Server 2016 can bring along some unwanted capabilities, such as inking and Media Foundation, noted Microsoft MVP Allan Hirt. He described running a few PowerShell cmdlets to get rid of them in this SQLHA blog post.

Hirt was grateful for seeing the GUI again in Windows Server 2016, but he claimed it was the "wrong" one. Microsoft should offer three Windows Server 2016 install options, he added, namely Server Core, MinShell and the full UI (omitting the unhelpful extras).

Microsoft isn't exactly anti-GUI with Windows Server 2016. Snover's talks typically referred to a coming Web-based GUI that can be used to manage Windows Server 2016 remotely.

Other Windows Server 2016 management tools include remote PowerShell and Windows Management Instrumentation scripts. Microsoft just decided that it was a bad idea to put the GUI on servers, which Snover called "poison." The GUI just gets in the way of automation, he explained.

But it seems that IT pros in small-to-medium organizations still want the GUI, and Microsoft appears to be responding to that call.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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