Switching between the four GUI layers in Windows Server 2012 with PowerShell one-liners

cake-iconHalf a year ago, I’ve shown you how to switch the Graphical User Interface (GUI) in Windows Server 2012. This information allowed you to convert a Full Installation to a Server Core installation or the Minimal Shell (“MinShell”), then known as ‘Features on Demand’.

In the release of Windows Server 2012, Microsoft has made it super easy to switch the GUI with PowerShell. This was achieved by making the Server Features that compose the Graphical User Interface (GUI) interdependent, effectively layering them like a cake.

The four layers of GUI

The four layers that now have been created compose the following GUI modes:

  • Server Core
    In Server Core, basically, none of the GUI Server Features have been enabled / all of the GUI Server Features have been disabled.
  • Minimal Shell (“MinShell”)
    In the Minimal Shell, previously known as ‘Features on Demand’, the ‘Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure’ feature has been enabled. This feature has no dependencies on the other GUI Features.
  • Full Installation
    In a Full Installation, both the ‘Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure’ and ‘Server Graphical Shell’ feature has been enabled. The latter feature has a dependency on the first feature; If you install the ‘Server Graphical Shell’ feature when in Server Core, the ‘Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure’ will automatically be added.
  • Full Installation with Desktop Experience
    If you enable the ‘Desktop Experience’ feature when in a Full Installation, you add the Windows RunTime, the Windows Store and thus the ability to buy, download and run Apps in the Start Screen. Note, however, that there is no automatic dependency resolution for the Desktop Experience feature. This feature can only be enabled when already in a Full Installation.


Now that we have knowledge of the layers, we can convert Full installations of Windows Server 2012 and MinShell installations of Windows Server 2012 to Server Core with just one line of PowerShell:

Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra -Restart


To convert a Full installation of Windows Server 2012 to MinShell, run the following PowerShell command:

Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –Restart


To go from Server Core to MinShell, all you need to do is install the Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra -Restart


To go from a Server Core installation of Windows Server 2012 or a MinShell installation of Windows Server 2012 to a Full Installation, simply add the Server Graphical Shell with the following command:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –Restart



Switching between Full Installations, MinShell Installations and Server Core Installations on Windows Server 2012 is simple when you know how.

Use these simple one-liners to switch to your hearts content.

Further reading

Windows Server 2012 Installation Options

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