In this article you will quickly learn how Windows Server 8 Beta installation differs from that of earlier versions of Windows Server.

Who among the 4sysops readership remembers the Windows NT Server 4.0 installation process? Ah, the good old days. You’ll recall that we began the installation three 1.44-inch floppy startup disks. After bootup we then spent indeterminate time intervals installing undetected device drivers. Finally, with our fingers crossed and with a lot f luck, we might actually proceed to the actual OS installation.

Windows Server 8 Beta Metro UI

Windows Server 2012 Beta Metro UI

It wasn’t until Microsoft released Windows Server 2008 that we received full support for the mouse, enhanced video, and the network interface card all the way through installation; this was thanks to the nifty Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE).

This bit of negative historical background sets the stage for today’s subject. In my opinion, Microsoft has done some amazing work in streamlining the installation of their server operating system over successive product versions. If you haven’t yet downloaded the Windows Server 2012 Beta ISO image yet, then please do yourselves a favor and nab it while it is still available.

In this blog post we will cover the Windows Server 2012 installation process, touching on the high points, the low points, and most importantly the points of departure from Windows Server 2008 R2 installation.

Let’s mount the Windows Server 2012 DVD in a physical or virtual computer and get to work!

NOTE: The Microsoft TechNet Evaluation Center includes all the usual preinstallation details, including Windows Server 8 release notes, system requirements, and marketing copy.

Enhanced Recovery Environment ^

After we boot our target machine from the Windows Server 2012 Beta DVD, let’s begin our tour of Windows Server 2012 Beta installation by clicking Repair your computer in the initial Windows Setup dialog.

Windows 8 Server - Booting into Windows PE

Booting into Windows PE

As you see in the screenshot below, we can click Troubleshoot to “refresh or reset your PC, or use advanced tools.” Let’s click that button to see where the option takes us.

Windows Server 8 - Enhanced recovery tools

Windows Server 2012 Beta enhanced recovery tools

The Advanced options screen gives us access to an elevated command prompt, which is nothing surprising. We also see the System Image Recovery option that exists in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. With only a few mouse clicks, you can load a previously created operating system image from a local or remote location and restore the server as it existed on the system image creation date.

Windows 8 Server - Advanced recovery options

Windows Server 2012 - Advanced recovery options

While the recovery tools as such really haven’t changed over the past couple of editions of Windows Server, the way in which we access them certainly has evolved.

Where is Features on Demand? ^

If you experimented with the Windows Server 2012Developer Preview that Microsoft released in late 2011, you probably noticed an installation option called “Features on Demand.”

The idea behind Features on Demand is that if a server role or feature is not in use on that server, then the installation binaries themselves should not exist on the local file system at all. This is the IT security principle of least service.

With Features on Demand, we not only reduce the attack surface of the server, but we also decrease the disk space usage footprint of the operating system itself.

However, you might be shocked to observe, as I was, that the Features on Demand installation option is not included in the Windows Server 2012 Beta release. As you can see in the following screen capture, we have just two options:

  • Server Core Installation: No GUI, managed either remotely or with PowerShell
  • Server with a GUI: Full installation that includes Windows Explorer and Metro shell interfaces

Windows Server 8 - Selecting an OS install option

Windows Server 2012 - Selecting an OS install option

Quite honestly, I am completely baffled as to where the Features on Demand installation option went. Perhaps it will reappear in a future release. Perhaps its functionality will be integrated into the two existing installation options (both of which we are familiar with from Windows Server 2008 R2).

Regardless, the coolest Windows Server 2012 Beta feature that I’ve seen is the ability to dynamically switch between the Server Core and Server with a GUI installation modes; we will learn how to do that later in this blog post.

No Microsoft accounts ^

If you have played around with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, then you know how strongly Microsoft feels about your logging into Windows with a so-called “Microsoft Account.”

NOTE: Microsoft Accounts were previously known as Windows Live IDs.

The cool thing about Microsoft accounts is that they provide a Windows 8 user with transparent access to Microsoft online services, most notably their SkyDrive cloud storage service.

However, we domain administrators need full control over our security principals. Thus, we are relieved to find no trace of Microsoft Accounts in the Windows Server 2012 Beta logon process. We instead use the familiar, garden variety local Administrator account.

Logging into Windows Server 8

Logging into Windows Server 2012 Beta

Heavy PowerShell integration ^

Upon successful logon, you are presented not with the flashy, touch-centric Metro user interface, but instead with what looks at first like a traditional Windows 7 desktop.

Windows Server 8 Beta Desktop

Windows Server 2012 Beta Desktop

Don’t be fooled—there are much more intense changes to the “traditional” Desktop interface than meet the eye. One significant difference between the Windows Server 2012 Beta and Windows Server 2008 R2 desktops is the absence of a Start menu system. Instead, the button in the lower-left location of the Taskbar is simply a shortcut that launches the Server Manager console.

Microsoft clearly wants us administrators to center all of our server management around the Server Manager PowerShell host application. That’s right—when you issue commands by using the Server Manager control surface, you are actually running Windows PowerShell cmdlets in the background.

We can (and will) cover the ins-and-outs of the new Server Manager in a future 4Sysops blog post.

Windows Server 2012 Metro user interface ^

At this point you might also have thought to yourself, “Cool! There is no Metro interface in Windows Server 2012 Beta!” Not so fast—if you move your mouse to the lower-right corner of the Desktop, expose the Charm bar, and select Start, then you find yourself magically transported to the “you either love it or you hate it” Metro UI.

The Charm bar in Windows Server 8 Beta

The Charm bar in Windows Server 2012 Beta

Windows Server 8 Beta Metro UI

Windows Server 2012 Beta Metro UI

I must admit that I remain confused at Microsoft’s inclusion of the Metro UI in its Windows Server product. However, I must concede the possibility that perhaps one day in the near future we will manage all of our Windows servers from a tablet device. In that case, having a touch-centric UI would be eminently intuitive.

Hot server UI switching ^

As I stated earlier, I believe that hot user interface switching is the coolest new feature in Windows Server 2012Beta. Here is a typical use case: You need to install a Windows Server 2012 box with the Server Core configuration to enhance the system’s security and to comply with IT department policy.

However, you aren’t yet up to speed on PowerShell and instead want to configure the server by using graphical tools. One option (with remote access obviously being another one) is to use the trusty Deployment Image Servicing and Management (Dism) tool to make a temporary switch.

For instance, to switch from a Server with a GUI (full) installation to Server Core, issue the following command from an elevated command prompt:

OS:> dism /online /disable-feature /featurename:ServerCore-FullServer

Conversely, to switch from Server Core to the Server with a GUI installation, issue the following command from an elevated command prompt:

OS:> dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:ServerCore-FullServer
/featurename:Server-Gui-Shell /featurename:Server-Gui-Mgmt

The installation option switching process may take several minutes, after which you will need to reboot:

OS:>shutdown –r -f

Conclusion ^

Today we performed a quick overview of the Windows Server 2012 Beta installation process. Were you impressed with the speed and intuitive nature of the installation? Yes, it is true that we Windows systems administrators have a learning curve ahead of us, not only in terms of navigating Windows Server 2012 UI, but also with respect to managing fleets of Windows 8 desktop systems. However, we became IT professionals in the first place because we love learning, growth, and change, correct?

  1. L3Nix 10 years ago

    Thanks for posting this article. Im downloading the ISO now to check it out myself.

  2. Stephen 10 years ago

    " However, we became IT professionals in the first place because we love learning, growth, and change, correct?"

    So you're telling me it's time to upgrade from Windows for Workgroups? But I just got it working properly with DOS v5.0


  3. Tim Warner 10 years ago

    By all means, Stephen! Isn't the joy of IT getting all of those different parts 'n' pieces to function together properly? 😉 Have a great weekend! -Tim

  4. Robert Neuschul 10 years ago

    For interest, I carried out an in-place upgrade of a clone of a 2008R2 production server earlier this weekend.

    Not only did it complete correctly without a single error, but it also left me with a new boot menu item "Rollback to Previous Version". I've yet to test that rollback, but I will during the course of this week, and then compare the rollback result with the VHD I made before upgrading to W8S.

    It must be said that the upgrade was *very* slow and involved numerous reboots. There were points where the system really did seem to have hung: only the continuing drive noise/lights assured me that anything was still going on. So if you do go this route, have patience.

    Having spent some time testing the new UI [and already being familiar with the principles from the Consumer Desktop Preview] I'd say that Metro adds absolutely nothing to the role of SysAdmin, and possibly detracts from damages or restricts functionality as far as we are concerned. Yes we will all probably eventually learn it sufficiently well to get by, but that's really not the point: it's a functionally bad UI that only has /some/ value on touchscreen and netbook style devices.

    There is no good or valid reason that I can see for this imposition, and this is not simply the voice of alienation and unfamiliarity speaking.

    The *huge* ongoing debates over at the MS blog and at Technet and elsewhere about the imposition of Metro, about removing user choice, is spilling into the server arena as well. If you've run the Server beta then go add your voice to the debate and make sure MS recognises that this was a bad design move.

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