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Reversible head transplants coming back to Windows Server 2016

Sysadmins miss Windows Server 2012's GUI-or-no-GUI-and-back-again option

Microsoft says it might bring back Windows Server 2012's option to run with or without a GUI.

Windows Server 2008 and 2012 offered the chance to install a “Core” version of Windows Server shorn of the Windows desktop's graphical user interface. Server 2008 dropped users straight into a command line. Server 2012 offered a a simple set of BIOS-like menus. Windows Nano Server took things even further by dropping users into PowerShell.

The rationale for GUI-free, or “headless”, operations is that it makes for a smaller disk footprint and attack surface, desirable qualities for any server but especially for virtual machines.

Microsoft recognised that headless operations weren't for everyone, or for all tasks. Windows Server 2012 therefore allowed sysadmins to add or remove the Windows GUI so they could set up a server with a full GUI, administer it with the lighter-weight interface and restore the full GUI if they felt the need to do so.

But that on-off feature went away with Windows Server 2016 and some users seem to be missing it, because Microsoft has now decided to revisit the switching option.

“We have frequently been asked why we removed the option to add and remove the Server GUI package to the Windows Server 2016 Server Core install option like you could in Windows Server 2012 R2,” the company says.

The post we've linked to above goes on to say that the reason for the feature's removal was “one of those challenging functional trade-offs that sometimes need to be made during product development.”

“We prioritized consistency with the Windows client desktop over the ability to switch between Server Core and Server with Desktop. Replacing the legacy desktop in Server with the Windows 10 desktop experience resulted in our inability to support the Windows Server 2012 R2 behavior.”

“It was our belief that consistency was the top priority for Remote Desktop customers, IT Professionals accustomed to having a consistent GUI for server management, and application developers building a consistent experience between client and server.”

Whatever the reason, there's enough grouching out there about the feature's removal that Microsoft has decided to do something about it.

Sadly “something” is about all we can say about Microsoft's plans, as the post concludes by saying “We are working on improvements to the remote management experience to make it easier to operate and manage Server Core without the need to switch back and forth.”

When “something” will arrive and what “something” will do is, for now, known only to Microsoft's development team.

Once they decide what “something” is, we'll let you know. ®

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