Ruminations of idle rants and ramblings of a code monkey

Windows Server 2008 R2 as a Desktop OS

Before anyone gets started lecturing me that it’s a server OS and not meant to be used as a desktop, let me say this: Yes, I know. That’s nice. But I can use it as a desktop OS for work, demo, etc. etc. etc. So I’m doing it … partly because I can (the ultimate Geek reason) and, more importantly (or is this the excuse?) because it’s better for me to use it like that for my job. Now that I think of it, that second one is a wonderful “reason” to do all sorts of geeky things with my machines.

But … it’s required some amount of addition configuration to get Server 2008 R2 to look like the Windows 7 client UI … something that I’ve really, truly become totally addicted to. So I figured that I’d share all of that with y’all. Most of it is about the eye-candy but the Wireless LAN stuff was … well, let’s just say that it wasn’t optional.

Wireless LAN: This was the first one that I needed to add and it drove me nuts. It reminded me of the frustration that I experienced getting the sound working on Windows Server 2003 when I installed the RC (it was off by default). Put simply, wireless doesn’t work … at all .. unless this feature is added (look in Server Manager … Features). However, unlike the sound services in Windows Server 2003, it didn’t take me some 5 hours to figure this out. Once you do that, make sure that the service “WLAN AutoConfig” is set for automatic startup.

Sound: Since I mentioned this above, I wanted to note it separately. Sounds are completely disabled by default on Windows Server … all versions since Windows Server 2003. This makes complete and total sense … you won’t (typically) be playing music in Windows Media from you server box. Unless you are using it as your desktop OS. So go into “Services” and enable the “Windows Audio” service.

Eye Candy: A catch-all for all of the “pretty stuff” in Win7, including  Aero Glass and the nifty window previews from the task bar. To get started in this, go back to Server Manager … Features and add “Desktop Experience”. If you have a TabletPC, you’ll also want to add the “Ink and Handwriting Services”. But you aren’t done yet … there are some services that, regardless of the features that you add, you need to enable or make sure are enabled. They are “Desktop Window Manager Session Manager”, “Tablet PC Input Service” (for Tablet users) and “Themes”. Without Themes, btw, you won’t get the option for Windows Aero, regardless of what you do. Even with that, you don’t get all of the themes that ship natively with Windows 7. I’m sure that you can put them on there if you want to, but that hasn’t been something that, honestly, I’ve bothered with looking up and/or figuring out.

Additional Settings: Once you have everything installed, there are some things that still don’t work. But they will. Again, the biggest thing that I was looking for was the thumbnail previews in the task bar. I have to be honest here … there is a lot of cool stuff in Windows 7. Some of it is just cool and some features really make my life easier. But the preview in the taskbar is the single biggest productivity feature feature for how I work. It’s common for me to have multiple windows for the same app open. It’s common for me to have zillions of open tabs in IE. It’s a normal course of day-to-day computing for me to be working on demos, etc. on my primary/personal desktop while having RDP sessions open to my work laptops. Preview enables me to more efficiently and easily move between all of the open windows and even just “check” to see what’s happening on an RDP session. It’s moving quickly from a “nice to have” to a “need to have”. But … even if you do all of the above, it is not enabled in WinSvr 2K8 R2. You need to go to My Computer … Right-click .. properties. Select the “Advanced” tab. Under “Performance”, select “Adjust for best appearance” and it’ll appear. While I’m sure that there is an individual settings that does it (perhaps “Enable Aero Peek” and “Enable desktop composition”), I went with the “nuclear option”.

There is one final thing that is not currently exactly how I want it … that’s the taskbar thumbnail previews over RDP. As I mentioned above, I typically work across three machines via RDP. I do have this enabled and working just fine on one laptop – after I went into the RDP settings and set the “Experience” setting to ”LAN” but that isn’t doing the trick on my server machine. I will be digging around to find it when I have time to do so but I’m also open to tips and/or suggestions from y’all. Assuming that I find the answer,  I’ll post it here. If one of y’all provides me with the answer, I’ll certainly give due credit.