Using Windows Server 2008 as a SUPER workstation OS

Using Windows Server 2008 as a SUPER workstation OS

Windows Server 2008 is the best OS to be released till date from Microsoft's stable. And the moment I got hold of the RTM build I could not resist installing it on my workstation. Due to the nature of my work I always prefer running a Server OS on my main workstation... I have been running Windows 2003 disguised as XP (with all the themes and stuff) all these days.

So here is my tale of how I went about setting up Windows Server 2008 to look and fell like its desktop counterpart Windows Vista.

1. Enable Hardware Virtualization

My workstation is a x64 machine with hardware virtualization capabilities. This means I can run Hyper-V on my machine. Even if your machine's hardware supports virtualization it is most likely not going to be enabled by default. You have to enable it via your BIOS setup.

2. Install the latest Graphics and Audio drivers

Being a server OS Windows 2008 carries with it basic graphics and audio drivers. To utilize the full strength of your hardware ensure you install the latest drivers for both graphics and audio hardware. Only with the proper graphics drivers will you be able to enable the "Aero" experience on Windows 2008.

3. Desktop Experience Feature

The Desktop Experience Feature enables a bunch of stuff that is by default present on a desktop OS. Most importantly it includes Themes, Windows Media player and the Aero related features. You will have to enable it form the Server Manager. The "Turn Windows features on or off" / "Add remove windows components" has all been rolled into the Server Manager now.

Server Manager > Features > Desktop Experience

Installing the Desktop Experience feature does not enable them. You have to manually set them up.

4. Themes

To enable Themes you will basically have to enable the Themes Service. Again being a server OS it is not enabled by default.

Services.MSC > Themes

Set the start up type to Automatic

Enabling the Aero Theme.

For this go to Control Panel > Personalization >Theme and select Windows Aero

5. Search

Search is also disabled by default on Windows 2008. Searching is important for me as I use it a lot to find my emails. To enable search you will have to add the File Services Role via Server Manager.

Server Manager > Roles > File Services > Windows Search

Outlook relies on this search service.

6. Disable Shutdown Event Tracker

Since I am using it as a workstation I do not want to keep a track of all the Shutdowns. The Shutdown Event Tracker is the pop up that you get asking you for a shutdown reason. To disable it

Open mmc.msc

Add the Group Policy snap-in

Under Administrative Templates expand System

Set Display Shutdown Event Tracer to Disabled

7. Audio

For audio you need to enable the Windows Audio service. You do this by setting the startup type to Automatic.

Services.msc > Windows Audio

Ensure you have proper drivers for your audio hardware... for me the default driver was not enabling the headphones ... it started working fine after I got the proper driver.

8. SuperFetch

As a workstation, enabling SupertFetch will give you that additional bit of responsiveness. The SuperFetch services is disabled by default and when you try to enable it you will most likely get an error message "The operating system is not presently configured to run this application"

You will have to make two registry changes to enable this service. I basically copied them over from my Vista machine.

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

EnablePrefetcher DWORD 3

EnableSuperfetch DWORD 3

9. Get a codec pack.

For media hungry buffs download a codec pack. This will ensure you can play all media files.

10. Enable Hyper-V

With Hyper-V you can run virtual machines on your workstation. This is useful if you want to run your tests on older OS versions. Enabling  Hyper-V is easy

Server Manager > Roles > Hyper-V

Remember you need a Hyper-V enabled Windows 2008 licence and also your hardware has to support virtualization.

Also If you are using an existing VHD it may ask you to re-Activate Windows as it detected hardware changes.

One good thing about Windows Server 2008 is that it no longer asks for the i386 folder like Windows 2003 while you enable features.

Using Windows Server 2008 as a SUPER workstation OS ... Cont'd

[Update 2012] Windows 8 is the Super workstation OS I had been waiting for

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  • I currently run Win2K3 as my workstation. besides the virtualization and all the fancy desktop/themes, what are the advantages of updating 2k3 to 2008 server (as workstation)? any performance gain? my machine is quite old, still an Athlon XP 2100 with 1GB so i might have some problems updating. any hint? thanks much

  • robert plkant - thanks for the hash recommendation! I like it a lot.

    mvoloch - lots of stuff under the covers - performance, reliability, security, etc.  Here is a very comprehensive document on the differences:

    Plus, Google on Windows Server 2008 and check out some of the architecture discussions.  It is way more robust and performs better.

  • robert plant - thanks for the hash recommendation! I like it a lot.

    mvoloch - lots of stuff under the covers - performance, reliability, security, etc.  Here is a very comprehensive document on the differences:

    Plus, Google on Windows Server 2008 and check out some of the architecture discussions.  It is way more robust and performs better.

  • Switching development OS to Server 2008

  • I can't believe the know-it-alls that say Vista is the same as Win2K8 still ... man remember, you never know everything and you just have to do your homework and not assume what the vendor tells you is gospel... they are different, Google for Randall Kennedy and Infoworld... i don't think they've figured out why yet but yeah missing DRM is the best guess

  • Any other suggestions for good antivirus/antispyware for W2K8?

  • Spyware: I am using a combination of Windows Defender (installed by default and I turned it back on) and Spybot Search & Destroy.  SB works fine under WS 2008 x64.

    AV: I do not have a final yet.  I am loading Microsoft Forefront as we speak, as it has done pretty well in the tests at Virus Bulletin (  You can try ClamWin, the open source AV, it works on x64 WS 2008 from what I have read. Have note tried it though.

  • for AV ClamWin works fine (32 and 64bit) for firewall zonealarm free edition works only on 32bit,

    check this link for a full rundown of other av products for 2008

  • Ah, yes...Microsoft Forefront.  I had completely forgotton that it was included in MSDN. It appears to have improved significantly in recent months, so I'll give it a try.

    As I understand it, ClamWin doesn't provide real-time scanning....Anyone worried about waiting to get infected before you scan and find an infection?


  • I  tried Forefont on x64, the first thing I saw was a warning on incompatibility issues, despite it saying it ran on x64.  So I stopped.

    Next I ran ClamWin, which worked fine, but it's VERY slow. So I uninstalled. I got to thinking I am not sure how robust ClamWin really is, when even the big boys let a *few* things through in the AV tests. ClamWin doesn't submit to testing that I saw.

    I am running the 60 day version of Avast Server Edition, and it runs well. I have always liked Avast, and for the small amount of money I think it's worth it for peace of mind.

    For firewall I am running Vista Firewall Control (Google it) on top of the installed Firewall. Free and it is AWESOME!  Works very well, passed the GRC test with flying colors, and makes the OS firewall very nice with a good GUI on top of it (that runs in your tray).

  • @mvoloch

    Driver model.... 2003 = XP in terms of how drivers are handled.

    In 2008, I have had video drivers crash a few times, the screen went blank, driver got reloaded, problem solved...

    XP and 2003 in that case = BSOD

  • One other new feature, the Windows Server backup (you have to turn it on in Features if I recall, if not Roles), is way better than ntbackup.  From what I can tell it wants to grab a disk drive completely and manage it for backup, so you don't even see it in Explorer.  But because it owns the drive, it manages the backups, deletes oldest when necessary, etc.  The status reporting is awesome!

    I just bought one of the cheap USB external drives and used that. It is FAST. I backed up about 30 GB (full computer backup), and it took about 25 minutes on my machine (a new fast one, but a USB disk? that's amazing IMHO).  So now I do a full backup every night, and it keeps and manages them all!  

    This is way better than the backup in Vista, although that one is pretty good and much better than NTBACKUP also.

  • Now that I'm working full time on SharePoint I wanted to move my environment to be more in line with

  • If anyone wants to see MCE on Windows 2008, you could vote here for it:

  • If anyone happens to have an FTP site to download the sidbar gadgets directory for Vista 64 I would appreciate it.


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