Q: Is it true Windows Server 2012 allows a server to switch between Server Core and Full Install mode without reinstalling the OS?

A: Yes. With Windows Server 2012 (formerly code-named Windows Server 8), levels of interface and management tools exist on a server, known as configuration levels. At the foundation of all servers are the Server Core components, which are the key OS services.

On top of Server Core, there are layers to add management tool and shell functionality. Server Core has a command-line shell and no real local management. The following layers can be added and removed requiring just a reboot (see screen shot below):

Windows installation levels

  • Minimal Server Interface: This is enabled with the addition of a feature named Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra. It provides MMC, Server Manager, and some control panel applets, but no Explorer or Internet Explorer. This is the largest of all the components.
  • Server with a GUI: This is enabled with the addition of the feature Server-Gui-Shell. It adds Explorer, Internet Explorer, and associated files. It requires Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra as well. This is a traditional Full Server installation.
  • Desktop-Experience: This adds support for Metro applications, Media Player, and premium graphical features.

A common scenario would be to install a server using the Server with a GUI mode, perform all configuration, then remove the interface features and make the installation a Server Core.

If you ever have problems that are proving difficult to troubleshoot, the GUI can always be added back. Remember that with Windows Server 2012 (formerly code-named Windows Server 8), the goal is to manage a server remotely as part of a server group using Server Manager running on a Windows 8 client.

See more answers to FAQs at John Savill's FAQs--on Windows, virtualization, System Center, Windows 8 and Server 2012, and more!

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