Many of the applications that won’t run on newer versions of Windows that require Windows XP will work on Windows Server 2003. Thus, moving those applications to Windows Server 2003 is an option after Microsoft ends support for Windows XP.

If you’re working on upgrading or replacing an application that only runs on XP, running that application on Windows Server 2003 is a good way to keep your app on a supported operating system until you have a version that runs on Windows 7+. Just be aware that this isn’t a permanent fix; extended support for Windows Server 2003 ends on July 14, 2015.

Run it on a virtual machine

It feels like we’ve been here before. If we’re only talking about a handful of users, running your Windows Server 2003 instance on a virtual machine, on a per-user basis, may be an option. As I stated in a previous article, Windows 8+ Pro and Enterprise include Client Hyper-V at no extra cost. If you’re still running Windows 7, depending on your needs, VMware Workstation or Oracle Virtual Box could possibly fit the bill (especially if you need to attach to a hardware port). I’m not a software licensing expert; consult with your Microsoft or software licensing vendor to make sure you’re in compliance with the terms of your license agreement.

Install Terminal Services

After getting Windows Server 2003 up and running, we’ll need to install the Terminal Services (called Remote Desktop Services in newer Windows Server versions). In Manage Your Server, click the “Add or remove a role” option.

Add or remove a role

Add or remove a role

Click Next to bypass the Preliminary Steps and get to the Server Role screen. Click the Terminal Server role, and then click Next.

Terminal Server role

Terminal Server role

Click Next on the Summary of Selections screen, and click OK on the notice that the server will be rebooted. Now, just sit back and wait for the install to finish and reboot.

Summary of Selections Applying Selections

Summary of Selections

After a reboot, your Terminal Server should be ready to use.

This Server is Now a Terminal Server

This Server is Now a Terminal Server

If you don’t already have a licensing server, you’ll need to go to Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel and click Add/Remove Windows Components. Check the Terminal Server Licensing option, click Next, and then choose whether the license server should be available to your entire enterprise or just to the domain/workgroup. Click Next; the install will finish. There’s additional guidance on Technet for activating your licensing server and adding licenses.

Terminal Server Licensing

Terminal Server Licensing

If you’ve never managed a Terminal/RDS server before, you’ll also want to consider overriding the default session settings. You can do this in Start > Administrative Tools > Terminal Services Configuration. Once the console opens, go to Connections and double-click the RDP-TCP connection. On the Sessions tab, check “Override user settings” and change the settings. I like to make sure that users don’t lose data by having the times too low, but I also like to ensure that sessions don’t hang open for days, eating up system resources.

Override user settings

Override user settings

Install your application

To install the application, you’ll first need to put the Terminal Server in install mode. You can do this by running the command change user /install at a command prompt. Install your application and then run change user /execute to put the server back in execute mode.

Terminal Server install mode

Terminal Server install mode

Give end users access

All that’s left is to add end users (or groups) to the local Remote Desktop Users group. Once you’ve done that, you can either circulate the name of the server (for more advanced users) or generate an .RDP file that can either be emailed or stored on a network share for easy access. Unfortunately, Server 2003/2003 R2 doesn’t support the RemoteApp functionality that requires users to access a full desktop instead of just the one app they need. However, this approach should still give you a way to keep your legacy app up and running for another year while you get it upgraded to a version that will work on the latest Windows versions.

In the next post of our Windows XP end of life series you'll read how to install Windows XP legacy applications on Windows 8.


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