This article describes how you can turn Windows Server 2008 R2 into a workstation. You may wonder now, why anyone would prefer Windows Server 2008 R2 instead of Windows 7 on their workstation. Although Microsoft doesn’t recommend using Windows Server 2008 R2 as a workstation OS, there are many good reasons to do so:

For me, the biggest advantage is that I can run HyperV on it. There are many virtualization products that run under Windows 7, but none of them runs as smoothly and as seamlessly as HyperV does. With almost any of those products, I ran into stability, performance, or manageability issues.

Besides that, I see configurations where people run Windows 7 and a virtualized Windows Server 2008 R2 on their workstation. Very often, this Server has only a single limited task; e.g., delivering AD services, run SharePoint, etc. If they would use Windows Server 2008 R2 instead of Windows 7, there would be no need to have a virtualization environment at all. The spare resources could be used elsewhere.

It often seems that some people believe that Windows Server 2008 R2 can’t run Desktop applications properly. This isn’t true at all – I haven’t run into any driver issues even with the Laptops I installed Windows Server 2008 R2.

To have a proper Desktop experience, I recommend the following configuration changes:

1. Install “Wireless LAN Service” ^

Windows Server 2008 R2 doesn’t have the WLAN AutoConfig utility installed out of the box. If you want to use WLAN, make sure to add the Feature “Wireless LAN Service” in the “Server Manager”.

2. Logon without pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del ^

This is just a small annoyance, but can be fixed easily: Open "Local Security Policy" under "Administrative Tools". In the editor, expand “Local Policies” and click “Security Options”. In the right pane, search and enable "Interactive logon: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL".

3. Disable “Shutdown Event Tracker” ^

When you shut down Windows Server 2008, you are asked to give a reason for the shutdown. This is quite annoying, so I would recommend disabling it: Open the "Group Policy Editor". In the "Local Computer Policies", browse to "Administrative Templates/Computer Configuration/System", locate the policy "Display Shutdown Event Tracker" and disable it.

4. Grant users the shutdown right ^

Windows Server is preconfigured to disallow users the shutdown of the system. If you work without an administrator account, this is quite uncomfortable. To grant users the shutdown- privilege, you have to follow these steps: Open the "Group Policy Editor". In the "Local Computer Policies", browse to “Computer Configuration/Windows Settings/Security Settings/Local Policies/User Rights Assignment” and add the User to the “Shut down the system” policy. If you want to grant this right to every user, enter “Interactive” in the “Select Users or Group” dialog.

5. Disable “Internet Enhanced Security” ^

This feature is one of the most annoying I know. It is the first – and only – security option I disable right after the installation process has finished, because the Enhanced Security makes the Internet Explorer practically unusable: Open the “Server Manager” and locate “Security Information”. In the menu on the right-hand side, click “Configure IE ESC”. In the window that pops up, select “Off” for either administrators or users, depending on how you want to configure your workstation.

6. Enable Sound ^

Sometimes you want to listen to podcasts or other stuff on your workstation. However, Windows Server doesn’t automatically start the audio service, so you have to configure it: Open the service management console and locate the service "Windows Audio". In the properties dialog, set the "Startup type" to "Automatic". If you don't want to wait for the next reboot, you have to click on "Start" to directly launch the service.

7. Prioritize Applications ^

Windows 2008 R2 Server usually prioritizes background processes. This is not a favorable setting for workstations, because you want your applications to be as responsive as possible. To give applications top priority, you have to follow these steps: Open “Start Menu” and choose “Properties” from the context menu of “Computer”. Click on “Advanced Settings”, and in the freshly opened window, click on the button “Settings” under “Performance”. In the “Advanced Tab”, choose “Program” under “Processor Scheduling”.

8. The Desktop Experience feature ^

If you want a shiny Aero-capable workstation with multimedia support, you have to add the feature “Desktop Experience”. It includes the following Windows 7 components: Windows Media Player, Desktop themes, Video for Windows (AVI support), Windows SideShow, Windows Defender, Disk Cleanup, Sync Center, Sound Recorder, Character Map, and Snipping Tool. There are no themes installed by default, but you can visit Microsoft Windows 7 Theme homepage and download your favorite theme.

Now finish setting up the missing software and start to enjoy your new workstation. It will feel a bit awkward to use Windows Server 2008 R2 at first, but after you get used to it, I assure you that you’ll agree with me that there is no better OS for a workstation than Windows Server 2008 R2.

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15 Comments
  1. Charlie 9 years ago

    I ahve several Windows 2008 R2 servers. Always wanted sound. Windows Audio is started... yet, I still get the red X over the speaker ("no output device") and no sound when I remote "in".

    What am I missing?

    Charlie

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  2. Samsonite 9 years ago

    I am lost is the point of this article to tell us about how you run a server o/s as your workstation ?

    WHY would you want to use o/s? Perhaps you can expand on the why and then I might understand the benefits and reasons.

    I would think that most people virtualise (I use Sun VirtualBox) to Sandbox applications files, registry and IP/NIC settings so not sure how using Win2k8 is any better here than Win7.

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  3. mohsen 9 years ago

    this is really interesting thing but what about power consumption of win 2008 r2 against win 7?I mean for laptop usage.

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  4. oglandit 9 years ago

    I don't want to spend 1000$ for OS of my worlstation.
    Having a virtual system to use as laboratory allows me to use trial version of enterprise OS.

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  5. Pettson 9 years ago

    Are there any convenient way to go from 7 to 2k8 R2?
    Or are it a clean install?

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  6. Jaymz Mynes 9 years ago

    I had the same idea Alexander, to run Windows 2008 R2 on my 16GB, quad core, raided Dell optiplex. Had the perfect plan to run HyperV and everything. Then I tried to install the graphics driver for the 2 ATI cards I am running...Blue Screen Of Death. Turns out you can not use any kind of graphics driver (other than default windows driver) on a HyperV server. Good plan gone terribly wrong...now running vmware workstation 7.1.

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  7. Ash 9 years ago

    @Samsonite, I think this quote should answer your question:

    "For me, the biggest advantage is that I can run HyperV on it. There are many virtualization products that run under Windows 7, but none of them runs as smoothly and as seamlessly as HyperV does."

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  8. SLam 9 years ago

    I think Windows 7 is good enough as a workstation. I have another box with Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and connect via the Hyper-V Manager MMC on Windows 7. Has worked nicely for me thus far.

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  9. Author
    Alexander Weiss 9 years ago

    @Charlie
    This problem could be caused by the default Windows driver. Using the proper driver might be the solution.
    You can also try to uncheck the "Give exclusive mode application priority" option in the advanced tab of the properties dialog of your default sound device.

    @mohsen
    The difference should be negligible, because if you install the Desktop Experience feature the available Power Options are the same as under Windows 7.

    @Pettson
    You can't upgrade from Win 7 to 2k8 R2.

    @Jaymz
    I run Hyper-V with Intel graphics drivers on my laptop and I tested it with Nvidia drivers on a Desktop.

    @Ash
    Exactly. I work a lot with virtualized systems on my local machine and I haven't found a better solution than Windows Server 2008 R2 yet.

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  10. Charlie 9 years ago

    Hmmmm. I am using a virtual 2008R2 on Hyper V. There are no sound devices installed by default (which is why I get the red x over the speaker). I never thought about how to add a sound device in Hyper-V. Any ideas?

    Charlie

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  11. Author
    Alexander Weiß 9 years ago

    Charlie, if you use rdp to connect to your virtualized Windows Server 2008 R2 you can use Remote Audio. As far as I know there is no other way, because Hyper-V does not provide a virtual audio device.

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  12. Charlie 9 years ago

    Alexander,

    Refresh my small brain... remote audio? I started the audio service on the server (still have the red x). When I remote in I have audio set to play on the client.... ain't no audio...I think without an audio device installed on the server ...sound aint gonna happen. . . server boards, I don't think, for the most part don't have the hardware required for sound. Am I wrong?

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  13. Pettson 9 years ago

    I think MS wrote that usb rederection support will be improved in Hyper-V with next sp. In that case a usb audio card may be working. The beta is out and free to try. Anyone got the time and a Hyper-V to sacrifie? 😉

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  14. Author
    Alexander Weiß 9 years ago

    @charlie: It should work without a soundcard. However, I haven't tried it myself yet. Here you can find a short list of steps which you have to follow to enable sound in virtual machines:

    http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/hyper-v-troubleshooting-enabling-audio-over-rdp.aspx

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  15. Charlie 9 years ago

    I wish it was so easy... All my RDP clients are W7 and have always been set to bring audio to the client PC. The issue is with the 2008R2 host. There is no RDP audio driver available under settings-sound devices in the control panel... in fact, there are no audio drivers installed or available. I even made sure all the audio services were running and rebooted the VM host.

    Any ideas on how to install the MS RDP audio driver? I am lost . . . .

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