Windows Server 2008 is a great workstation operating system too

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Windows Server 2008 logoIt took me months to convince my manager that I need a new laptop. Then it took me a few more to convince the IT department of the specification I needed (and to prise it out of their hands) but today I finally got my hands on it. It’s nothing special – I’d like a ThinkPad but, as my employer owns one half of Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, it is a Lifebook S7210 – and it’s not a bad machine either (especially as this one has 4GB of RAM in it). Why do I need that? Because I’m the technology lead for Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V in our Microsoft Practice – and I want to “dogfood” the technology.

The thing is, that Windows Server 2008 is not really a client operating system. Except it can be… Windows Server 2008 has a lot in common with Windows Vista and with a few tweaks, I had got it working just as as I want it. A Windows desktop on steroids really:

  1. Step 1 is a notebook PC with hardware assisted virtualisation capabilities, No eXecute (NX)/eXecute Disable (XD) protection, and a 64-bit capable CPU. My Lifebook S7210 has all of those things, so on to step 2…
  2. Next, I needed an operating system – Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition would do the trick (after all I only have a single CPU and won’t be clustering laptops!), but the licensing model for Windows Server and virtualisation lends itself to using Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Edition (64-bit).
  3. Windows Server 2008 is not a supported operating system for this hardware but Windows Vista is. Installing x64 drivers for Windows Vista got my graphics and WiFi up and running but I still need to find drivers for some of the other components (like the built in card-reader).
  4. Next, installing the server roles that I want to use – Hyper-V for starters. Just make sure that the BIOS support for Intel-VT or AMD-V and NX/XD is enabled first.
  5. With the operating system installed, it’s time to get to work turning on some of the client features that are missing from a server operating system (thanks to Vijayshinva Karnure for his original post and subsequent follow-up, as well as this post from Stuart Maxwell):
    • Turn off the Internet Explorer enhanced security configuration (ESC) – it’s fine for servers that shouldn’t be browsing the Internet anyway, but for a workstation it just gets in the way (and encourages bad practice by putting lots of sites into the trusted zone).
    • Install the Desktop Experience feature – providing many of the Windows Vista capabilities that are not there by default in Windows Server 2008.
    • Set the Themes service to start automatically – and start it.
    • Ditto for the Windows Audio service.
    • Install the Windows Search service (part of the File Services role) – Outlook will use this for indexing e-mail.
    • Edit the local security policy to set Display Shutdown Event Tracker to Disabled
    • Enable Windows Aero in the appearance settings (may require a reboot, and possibly re-installation of video drivers).
    • In Control Panel, System, Advanced System Settings, Performance Options, set the required visual effects – I found that if I let Windows adjust for best appearance, it reverted to the Windows Vista Basic colour scheme but if I selected a custom configuration with all effects selected except Animate Controls and Elements inside Windows, I could keep Aero, complete with Flip 3D.
      Windows Aero Flip-3D
    • Also in the advanced system settings, set the processor scheduling to favour programs.
    • Enable Superfetch. Starting the Superfetch service will fail until some registry changes are made:

      Windows could not start the Superfetch service on computername.
      Error 197: The operating system is not presently configured to run this application.

      The solution is to create two new registry keys, after which the service should start successfully:

      Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

      [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters]

    • Edit the power settings to allow hard disks to spin down after 20 minutes when running on mains power (and 5 when on battery power).
  6. Finally, install browser plug-ins (Flash, Silverlight, etc.) and application software (e.g. Microsoft Office).

Windows Server 2008 running as a workstation

I still need to configure our corporate anti-virus solution and VPN software (I may have some problems there as it has a dependency on a firewall product that does not work with Vista SP1 or, I imagine, Windows Server 2008). Why we insist on it with the firewall built into Windows I still don’t know but my VPN connection won’t work without it. I also need to work out if I can get hibernation to work on Windows Server 2008. Once that’s done, I should have a fully functional Windows Workstation 2008, with built-in hypervisor-based virtualisation. Sweet.

20 thoughts on “Windows Server 2008 is a great workstation operating system too

  1. How do you get Outlook to connect to Exchange on WS 2008? I’m setting up a workstation, only I can’t use a mail applet in control panel to set up Exchange connectivity, because there is none!

  2. I take that back – make sure you set up an exchange connection first, otherwise, I don’t see how to get in to the mail setup outside of outlook on WS 2008

  3. That sounds good to me. However, I do believe the Server version is built for machine that runs for 365 days a year in data centers and it could have some problem with some software or drivers.

    After around 5 months of using Windows server 2008 as your workstation, have you found anything that you can’t do while comparing to the old school XP or Vista?

  4. Yes, Windows Server is designed to run as a server, but Windows XP/Vista can run 24×7 too – and will do quite happily if you manage them like you would a server (i.e. turn off non-essential services, don’t install untested software, and don’t use them for everyday access to applications/browsing).

    As for drivers: Windows Server 2003 uses the same drivers as XP; Windows Server 2008 uses the same drivers as Vista. It’s that simple. The only driver issues I’ve had have been the same as I would have struggled with for 64-bit Vista, although on a modern PC from a well-known OEM (i.e. without any esoteric components) you would hope that won’t be an issue either!

    So no, after 5 months using Windows Server 2008 as my everyday OS, I’ve had no real issues at all…

  5. Just switched from running XP to running Server 2008 configured as a workstation. I am very impressed so far. Got an even better feeling about it than when I swiched from WinME/98 to Win2000.
    Only problem I have now is that I cant get 2008 to see my unbranded all-in-one card reader. The chipset is a NeoDio ND3260-LA. Cant find a suitable driver anywhere. I know some people are having issues with cardreaders on 2008. I will purchase a replacment if someone can direct me one that works.

  6. Update from my previous comment:
    The card reader works ok now with 2008. Took it apart to find out what chipset the cardreader used and tried it again after reasembly and it works fine with. Strange thing is that it always worked ok with XP even when I switched back to test it after it failed to work with 2008. I can only put it down to an intermittent fault with the card reader that has righted itself after me disturbing it by removing the case.
    Server 2008 Rocks! I just cannot find fault with it at all.

  7. Come on guys, just install Gentoo Linux and forget all about windows stuff :)….just kidding…indeed Server 2008 is an excellent product but I still believe Server Software should be used for their intended scope and not as client workstations.

    Mark, excellent job though for providing us different angles of viewing technology.

  8. I’m running Server 2008 on my studio 17 from Dell. The OS is blazing fast. NO BS OS, unlike Vista. I can control what is loaded. There are a few unknown drivers, but everything I need works including wireless and bluetooth. I will need an AntiVirus suite though. Never thought a server OS would be so quick to load and shutdown.

  9. @netjim66 – thanks for your comment but I have to take issue with your “No BS OS. Unlike Vista” comment. Come on – it’s the same kernel (as Vista SP1) and the same drivers – just wrapped up with server components and services rather than client-focused ones (and you can can control which parts of Vista are loaded – albeit not in the role-based manner that you can with Server 2008).

    I’m running Server 2008 for some very specific reasons – namely that I need to demonstrate Hyper-V. At this stage in the game, for most people, 64-bit Vista is more than adequate (have you actually tried it?).

    As for AV – just use whatever you would have done on Vista…

  10. Yea you are right about Vista. I guess I really meant all the bloated apps that came with my out of the box build from Dell. I suppose I should load just Vista and build from there.
    At work we are spinning up some virtual solutions. We’re looking at Hyper-V and VMWare Ace, or possibly VDI for some .NET developers, web developers, etc. I haven’t tried 64-bit Vista, but have used 64-bit Server 2008 (for the Hyper-V). I love it though…

  11. Ah… OEM-supplied crapware ;-) I always build from DVD (or my own images) so I forget about that little issue!

    Glad you’re enjoying WS08. I’m looking forward to R2 now!

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