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Questions About Server Core

Learn what it is and how you work with it

Executive Summary:
Windows Server 2008 includes a stripped-down version of the Microsoft operating system (OS) called Server Core. Server Core uses a command-line user interface (UI) rather than a graphical UI. Server Core can run applications and services that don't require advanced graphics.

One of the biggest features to look forward to with the release of Windows Server 2008 (formerly code-named Longhorn) is a new version of Windows called Server Core, developed in response to customers asking for Linux-like headless operation. You might be wondering what Server Core is and what it can do for you, so here are answers to some of the most frequently asked Server Core questions.

10. What is Server Core? Server Core is a stripped-down version of Windows 2008 that provides essential network infrastructure capabilities but does away with all nonessential graphical functions such as the Windows shell, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook Express, and the .NET CLR.

9. Is Server Core licensed the same as Windows 2008? Yes. Although Server Core has a smaller feature set than the full version of Windows 2008, Microsoft offers Server Core as an installation option. Therefore, the Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter editions of Server Core have the same licensing as their respective versions of Windows 2008.

8. How do I install Server Core? During the Windows 2008 installation process, you'll be prompted to install either the full version of Windows 2008 or Server Core. For example, if you're installing Windows 2008 Enterprise Edition, you'd select Windows Server 2008 SERVERENTERPRISECORE to install Server Core.

7. Can I upgrade from Windows Server 2003 to Server Core? No, all installations of Server Core must be clean installs. Because Server Core is an all-new version of the Windows Server OS, there isn't an upgrade path from any existing versions of Windows Server. However, Windows 2008 R2 should include an upgrade path from Server Core to Server Core R2.

6. How do I manage Server Core? Your primary tool for managing a Server Core installation is the command line. Server Core uses a very minimal shell that contains only a blue background and a command window. Note that you need to be familiar with the Windows shell commands to manage Server Core locally. If you prefer to use graphical tools, you can manage Server Core remotely using Microsoft Management Console from another Windows Server system.

5. If Server Core isn't graphical, how do I perform the initial system setup? Windows 2008 displays an Initial Configuration Wizard following the setup that lets you configure several essential system settings. Server Core, because it isn't graphical, doesn't include the wizard. However, Microsoft provides a Windows Script Host script named scregedit.wsf in the c:\windows\system32 directory that you can use to perform most of the initial system configuration tasks.

4. Can Server Core run applications? Yes, Server Core can run applications and services. However, Server Core includes only very basic graphical capabilities, so programs that depend on advanced graphics, such as Microsoft .NET Framework applications, won't run. Most system services and batch files work fine.

3. Can Server Core run Windows PowerShell? No, because Server Core doesn't support the .NET Framework, which is a prerequisite for PowerShell. You can't run any applications that depend on the .NET Framework on Server Core. This includes Microsoft IIS 7.0 ASP.NET applications, Microsoft SQL Server 2005, and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

2. How do you view and change Server Core roles? Because Server Core doesn't have a GUI, you can't use Server Manager to add or remove roles and features from a Server Core installation. Instead, Microsoft provides two new command-line tools that are found only in Sever Core: Oclist, which lists all the available Server Core roles and shows their current status, and Ocsetup, which is used to add and remove roles from Server Core.

1. Is Server Core compatible with the new Windows Server Virtualization? Yes. In fact, combining Server Core with Windows Server Virtualization is one of its best uses. You can install Server Core in the managing or parent partition of a Windows Server Virtualization system to create a bare-metal–style virtualization platform. Then, guest OSs can be installed in the child partitions.
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