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HOW TO: Go from Minimal Interface to CORE in Server 2012

In my last article, I spoke about a new cool feature of Windows Server 2012. The ability to go from a server GUI to Server CORE (or vice versa) without having to re-install the Operating System! You may ask yourself, “Why would I care about that?” To be blunt, Server CORE is very similar to the way most Linux distributions are now working… no Graphic User Interface. Most web servers are running this way in world today with some distribution of Linux with an Apache Web Server. It decreases the attack surface area, has less code to run the OS and takes a lot less CPU or memory resources to run. This means that older machines can stay in production longer. Another good case might be you have to ship a domain controller to a branch office where there is no IT staff or a secure place to lock down the server. So now you can send them a Read Only Domain Controller (RODC) that is also running as Server Core. Both of those roles/features were introduced with Windows Server 2008.

In Server 2012, you can flip back and forth much easier and without having to re-install the OS. This is really helpful. Think about this scenario, I am told at the last-minute to ship a server that is already running a GUI version of Windows Server 2012 to a branch office, where our current policy is to ship Server CORE. In Windows 2008 or R2, that meant a new install of the OS, whereas in Server 2012 that is a few PowerShell commands and I am done! J

I have been reading William R. Stanek’s book Windows Server 2012 Pocket Consultant. I highly recommend it. (Hint hint)

Today, I am going to talk about Minimal Interface, which is a new GUI mode in Server 2012. TechNet has a really good article on this topic as well, located here. I want to be clear, that this article will not be a step by step, like yesterday, but it will give you all the commands to go in any direction with any feature.  With that being said, let’s get started.

What does a minimal interface look like? It looks a lot like Server CORE, but with Server Manager and MMC snap in support (as seen below):

What does the GUI look like? This is my full GUI installation before doing any commands

What does Server CORE look like? This is my CORE installation before doing any commands

PowerShell commands:

To convert a full GUI mode to a minimal interface:

Uninstall-WindowsFeature server-gui-shell -restart

TIP: To see what will happen before it takes action use the –Whatif (See below)

TIP#2: Add-WindowsFeature is an alias of Install-WindowsFeature and Remove-WindowsFeature is an alias of Uninstall-WindowsFeature. You can use Add instead of Install and Remove over Uninstall.

This command did not run, but you should not always trust what you hear, since someone could be lying to you. (Lord forbid a mistake happens as well) To verify it did not complete in the GUI, open Server Manager, then Dashboard, then Add roles and features, click next (4 times) and then on Features drill down to User Interfaces and Infrastructure

When you do execute the command, you will see a status bar, just like when you apply a Windows Update patch:

To convert a minimal interface to full GUI mode:

Install-WindowsFeature server-gui-shell –restart

As you can see it did not add the Desktop Experience:

To add it type Install-WindowsFeature desktop-experience –restart and hit enter

To convert a minimal interface to full GUI mode with the Desktop Experience:

Install-WindowsFeature server-gui-shell, desktop-experience –restart

Converting to Server Core Installations

To convert a minimal interface or full GUI mode to Server CORE:

Uninstall-WindowsFeature server-gui-mgmt-infra –restart (Full)

Uninstall-WindowsFeature server- gui-shell –restart (Minimal)

To convert a Server CORE to minimal interface or full GUI mode:

Install-WindowsFeature server-gui-mgmt-infra –restart (Full)

Install-WindowsFeature server-gui-shell –restart (Minimal)

Here is an example, open PowerShell in server CORE by typing powershell and hit enter

To go to a Server 2012 Minimal Interface, type in the command Install-WindowsFeature server-gui-shell –restart and hit enter

You will see a progress bar as it starts to add the feature and then it will restart

In closing, I want to say that I am really impressed with Windows Server 2012 and more importantly with PowerShell 3.0. It very simple and has straight forward commands. I am really glad to see these new features and I believe that Server 2012 Minimal Interface will allow people to get away from the GUI, while still using the tools that have gotten used to using over the years with many different versions of Windows. This is great and I am glad to see that we are moving more towards command line tools and relying less on the GUI tools. This is great, because it has a significant smaller attack surface area and the reason is that there are less components installed, which also means there are fewer services listening to allow an intruder into your environment. It will take some time getting use to this new direction, but it is the right direction that we should have taken years ago.

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