At Microsoft Ignite 2015 in Chicago, Microsoft unveiled the next preview of Windows Server. In the latest version, not only is the GUI not the default, but it also isn’t installed at all without additional post-install steps. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how you can enable the GUI for those applications that still require a graphical user interface in Windows Server 2016.

Kyle Beckman

Kyle Beckman works as a systems administrator in Atlanta, GA supporting Office 365 in higher education. He has 17+ years of systems administration experience.

If you’ve taken the time to install the latest build of Windows Server Technical Preview 2, you may have noticed that the graphical user interface (GUI) is no longer an option in a default install. When you’re prompted to select the operating system you want to install, you have two options.

Windows Server 2016 - Select the operating system you want to install
Windows Server 2016 – Select the operating system you want to install

The first option, Windows Server Technical Preview 2 (the verbiage will most likely be replaced with Windows Server 2016 when the product is eventually released) is the traditional Server Core install that doesn’t include the GUI.

Windows Server 2016 Server Core
Windows Server 2016 Server Core

Just to show you how hardcore and serious Microsoft is, the Control+Alt+Delete logon prompt sits in a command prompt box. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one day go the way of UNIX/Linux and drop the window completely in favor of just straight text.

Control Alt Delete on Windows Server 2016 Server Core
Ctrl+Alt+Delete logon screen on Windows Server 2016 Server Core

The second option, Windows Server Technical Preview 2 (with local admin tools), is the “MinShell” install that contains a minimal GUI that includes Server Manager and the other GUI administration tools, but no traditional desktop.

Windows Server 2016 running MinShell
Windows Server 2016 running MinShell

Install the GUI on Server 2016 “MinShell” ^

If you’re running the MinShell version of Windows Server 2016 that includes Server Manager and the other GUI administrative tools, installing the full GUI is rather easy. At the command prompt that you get when you log in, type powershell and press Enter to run PowerShell. Then, run the following command:

The first part is the Install-WindowsFeature PowerShell cmdlet that tells Windows to install a feature of Windows Server. The second part tells the cmdlet that you want to install the GUI. The last part tells Windows to automatically reboot after installing the feature. The reboot is required to finish the install; just be aware that adding -Restart will force the reboot immediately following the completion of the install.

Install the GUI on Windows Server 2016 MinShell using PowerShell
Install the GUI on Windows Server 2016 “MinShell” using PowerShell

Install the GUI on Server Core ^

If you decided to install Server Core, you have slightly more work to do to get the GUI installed. If you run the PowerShell command we used in the MinShell version of Windows Server 2016, it will fail and you’ll get a pretty big error message with lots of red error text: “Install-WindowsFeature : The request to add or remove features on the specified server failed. Installation of one or more roles, role services, or features failed. The source files could not be found.”

Error installing the GUI on Windows Server 2016 Server Core
Error installing the GUI on Windows Server 2016 Server Core

We can dig a little bit by running this PowerShell command:

This will show us the installable GUI options on the server. As you can see in the screenshot below, the Install State is “Removed.” Because this is a Server Core install, options such as the GUI aren’t cached on the disk for quick install. Instead, we’ll have to access the OS install WIM file to install the GUI.

Looking at GUI options on Windows Server 2016 Server Core
Looking at GUI options on Windows Server 2016 Server Core

In my example, I’m using a Hyper-V VM that has the Windows Server Technical Preview 2 ISO image connected to the DVD drive so I can access the install.wim file. To install the GUI, I run this command:

Install the GUI on Windows Server 2016 Server Core using PowerShell
Install the GUI on Windows Server 2016 Server Core using PowerShell

After a reboot on Windows Server 2016 MinShell or Server Core, you’ll be greeted by the full graphical user interface.

Windows Server 2016 with GUI enabled
Windows Server 2016 with GUI enabled

To install the GUI or not? ^

Most, if not all, organizations still have server-based applications that don’t play well with Server Core and need the full GUI. In many cases, the management tools and agents that we use to manage those servers are the apps that need the GUI. Until more vendors catch up to Microsoft’s philosophy, we’ll still see lots of sysadmins installing the GUI on their servers.

In a perfect world, I’d love to see Microsoft embrace some of the Linux philosophy with respect to GUIs. If the GUI was something that ran only when we needed it, then Windows systems administrators could run the GUI whenever they needed to perform certain administrative functions or use applications that don’t support a pure command-line interface.

That would also allow the GUI to remain in an offline mode when it wasn’t needed, and it could be patched without the need to constantly reboot the system for updates. As it stands today, the non-GUI version of Windows Server just looks like a GUI that’s been stripped of the Start menu/screen, Task Bar, File Explorer, and other useful GUI tools other than a few utilities. As for what the future holds for Windows Server, I don’t think the GUI will ever completely go away, but now is the time to start using and learning PowerShell before you’re left in the dust.

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19 Comments
  1. Mohan 3 years ago

    Hi ,

    Please share me Windows Server 2016 ISO image download path.

    Thanks
    Mohan

    3+

  2. Doug 3 years ago

    I continue to find it ironic how Microsoft used to tout Windows Server as being easier to use because you could do so much with the GUI (e.g., Server 2003/08/08R2) and has backed away from that ever since.
    I like PowerShell, but I absolutely *hate* them forcing it on me as the only option. It's great for scripting, but despite my IT colleagues thinking I have an incredible memory, just using it for every day get-around-the-OS stuff is pretty annoying --and I'm someone who still knows the vast majority of the MS-DOS 5/6 CLI from memory. I continue to feel like Microsoft cares less and less about what the admins who use their products think. At least 2016 hasn't completely removed the GUI, but they really should make the choice to keep it or not part of the beginning OS install.

    3+

    • Author
      Kyle Beckman 3 years ago

      I see where you're coming from, but the ship sailed on this discussion a long time ago. The GUI hasn't gone away; it simply won't be available on the server console moving forward as the default option. We're still somewhat early in the Server 2016 development cycle and Microsoft has promised more has coming... specifically in the way of web-based management tools. If you don't know Get-Command and Get-Help yet, you should starting playing with those now. Those are the PowerShell equivalent of clicking through all the GUI menus. But, if you don't start getting comfortable with PowerShell now, you're going to be left completely behind very soon.

      0

  3. Warren 2 years ago

    I agree completely with the idea that the GUI should be able to start (like I do on Linux with startx) but not consume CPU cycles.

    If I want to deploy Windows Server 2016 on premises, it's probably in a virtualization environment, or it is the host for a virtualization environment.

    Virtualizing a GUI shell and all that crap is a total waste of memory and resources. People who can't learn command line administration need to find new jobs.

    However for a good example of when I will need to have a GUI on a server, take software build automation tasks. I use some development tools that can only be installed using a full Windows GUI, can not be rolled out just by installing some MSIs using some automated command line process, and which must then be configured with a GUI, and must pass through some grotesque activation (anti-piracy) GUI elements. Once I roll a GUI out on a server, I want to be able to turn it off again. Then I can avoid wasting resources, disk, compute, and otherwise, on crap I don't want in the server image.

    Then I can take an image host it on my own Hyper-V Server, and then live-migrate it to other locations as I need it to move.

    1+

  4. GS 2 years ago

    They removed this option in later versions of Windows 2016 preview. No longer it's possible to switch between GUI and core. https://redmondmag.com/articles/2015/08/27/windows-server-2016-preview-3.aspx

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  5. Matthew 2 years ago

    They removed the GUI and allowed you to manage the systems remotely via Server manager or other tools, people should not be directly using RDC to get into servers unless it is for an installation or problem, your introducing human error to take a system down. I see people still RDC into a AD/DC/DNS server to make changes and add accounts, you should be using the RSA tools for things like that as an example not going direct into a server for it.

    2+

  6. Mark 2 years ago

    We're now up to Technical Preview 5 and it remains the case that you can no longer move between the GUI and Server Core in Windows Server 2016. The option you pick at install time is permanent.

    0

    • Author
      Kyle Beckman 2 years ago

      Yep... and the article is a year old. Here's the first sentence of the article, "If you’ve taken the time to install the latest build of Windows Server Technical Preview 2..."

      0

  7. Igal 1 year ago

    I have tried the above commands on TP5 in order to install Gui from shell but it did not work, noticed that the sources directory does not contain a file called 'install.wim'.

    My workaround was to change directory into the mounted DVD image, and running setup.exe which initiated the installation.

    1+

  8. me 1 year ago

    I wish that was the default GUI of Windows 10

    1+

  9. Akin 1 year ago

    How do I uninstall from my computer 2016 server with core interface

    0

  10. hammad 1 year ago

    GUI features are removed from server 2016 and only exchange which will work on 2016 server is exchange 2016 CU3.Exchange 2016 native without any CU by default will not get installed on latest release of server 2016.

    0

  11. Tony 1 year ago

    Don't forget that you can do a lot of management from Server Manager on a remote system that has the GUI installed. You don't need every server in your farm to have a GUI to perform GUI based management.

    0

  12. Muhammed Shafeeque 1 year ago

    Hello everybody,

     

    I am in a situation that, I have installed Microsoft Hyper-V server 2016, there is no option to select core or GUI mode while installation.

    I have downloaded server from this link:

    https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/evaluate-hyper-v-server-2016#evaluation_4343

    After Installation, I tried to convert Core to GUI, I am not able to do this. Please help on this whether it is possible or not in my case.

    0

    • Author
      Kyle Beckman 12 months ago

      Hyper-V Server is the version of Windows that is a stripped down OS for Hyper-V.  There is no GUI option for that version.

      0

  13. Ryan 1 year ago

    I just tried to figure this out after a lot of frustration and found that Microsoft removed the option to switch the GUI on and off after installation in the final build of 2016. Ugh.

    "Unlike some previous releases of Windows Server, you cannot convert between Server Core and Server with Desktop Experience after installation. For example, if you install Server Core and later decide to user Server with Desktop Experience, you should do a fresh installation (and vice versa)."

    This NOTE is at the bottom of the page on the source link.

    Source -> https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server-docs/get-started/windows-server-2016

    0

  14. Linda 10 months ago

    Thanks for all of the information above.   When I installed Server 2016 standard,  All I get is a command prompt.   I thought I was just missing the GUI,  but it appears that I am missing more?   What do I do at that command prompt?  please and than you.

    0

  15. Rob 8 months ago

    If the GUI was something that ran only when we needed it, then Windows systems administrators could run the GUI whenever they needed to perform certain administrative functions or use applications that don’t support a pure command-line interface.

    It's called Windows 3.1 😛

     

    2+

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