Archive for April, 2017

Windows Server 2016 no longer offers to add or remove GUI Layers

In a surprising move, Microsoft decided to remove a feature, that from a security point of view was perhaps the most useful feature in Windows Server.

Let’s look at the recent history of Windows Server:


Windows Server 2008 (R2)

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 were the first two versions of Windows Server that offered the ability to install the Operating System (OS) as Server Core installations. These optimized installations of Windows Server offered more security (due to a smaller attack surface), less resource use and more agility.

Even though, Windows Server 2008 Server Core headed for a dead end street in some scenarios, some organizations opted to install their Windows Servers as Server Core installs.


Windows Server 2012 (R2)

To allow even greater agility, but also to get the installation ‘just right’ using the Graphical User Interface (GUI), Microsoft offered to add and remove GUI layers in Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. This way, system admins can switch from Full Installations (even with the Desktop Experience feature turned on) to Server Core Installations. We’ve discussed it here, roughly five years ago.

We saw an uptick in the adoption of Server Core due to this opportunity and believe it made the life of admins easier, even though they would not fully benefit as much as they would with a Server Core Installation from the get-go.


Windows Server 2016

Now, in Windows Server 2016, Microsoft no longer offers to add and remove GUI layers.

Admittedly, many of the Server Core benefits have become moot points with Windows Server 2016: The newly added security measures in Windows Server add a lot. This removes most of the urgency of removing the GUI, although you can’t install Internet Explorer from Windows Server 2016…

Also, many of the (graphical) tools we needed in Windows Servers to configure the Windows Server installation just right also have grown up and now offer command-line, if not PowerShell support. There’s less and less need to install Windows Server as a Full Installation to configure it.


I guess time will tell if Microsoft has made a wise decision by removing the ability to add and remove GUI layers…