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:
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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.
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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.