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Might Your Next Workstation Run Server 2008?

Usually I really hate when techie journalists take their personal experiences and extrapolate a national trend from them, but this time I think I may be safe going out on this particular limb.  What limb, you say?  This one:  I suspect Windows Server 2008, Standard Edition may end up being the world's newest Windows desktop OS of choice, at least for high-end users.  In fact, I suspect that with a bit of rebranding, Microsoft might ameliorate its Vista problems.

By the time Server 2008 shipped, I had worked with it quite a bit. I couldn't help noticing that, despite the fact that its innards were about a 98 percent match with Vista SP1's internal pieces, Server 2008 was a whole lot snappier than its desktop OS sibling, due no doubt to the lack of the Aero Glass interface.  If, however, you really, really want Aero Glass on your server, you can get it back ? ensure that you've got a Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver for your server, go to the System applet and click the "Advanced" tab, click "Performance Options" and then the "Visual Effects" tab and choose "Adjust for best performance," enable the "Desktop Experience" feature, make the "Themes" service auto-start and start it up, change your theme to "Windows Vista," then go to "Windows Color and Appearance" and choose "Windows Aero" and tada, you've got "Aero Server"!  (Actually that's not as crazy as it initially sounds – to my knowledge, the only way to offer Windows 2008 Server Terminal Services clients a Vista-like desktop is to make that terminal server "glassy".)

What really got me thinking about a "2008 desktop" was Server's new virtual machine manager, "Hyper-V".  I can't live without OS virtualization and have been a big fan of VMware Workstation, but Hyper-V unleashes the power of the "VT" chip that my laptop is built around, so I seem to sometimes get better performance out of my virtual machines (VMs) with Hyper-V than even VMware Workstation could provide.  (I'd make a few timing measurements to back that up, but Microsoft has taken to forbidding people from publishing benchmarks on its software.  Perhaps the Hummer guys should just claim that they get 54 miles per gallon on in-city driving, and then require an "owner license" that forbids Hummer owners from publishing mileage benchmarks.  No, on second thought, I take that back – no sense in giving 'em any ideas.) 

In any case, I've been dual-booting my laptop between Vista and Server 2008, and my "2008 workstation" has treated me fairly well so far.  Oddly enough, Performance Monitor reports that when booted up and running no applications, my Aero Glass-equipped system uses about 750MB memory.  I say that it's odd because, in comparison, Vista Ultimate uses 1080MB in that situation – heck, that gives me enough RAM to run an extra Microsoft Virtual Server 2003.  (Oh, darn … was that a benchmark number I just reported?  I hope not.)  I suspect that some desktop applications might refuse to install because it's "Windows NT Server 6.0" rather than "Windows NT Workstation 6.0," but I'd imagine that a bit of messing with the Compatibility tab of those applications' setup.exe/install.exe programs might fix that.  The biggest stumbling block that I've run into so far is that Hyper-V systems can't support standby and hibernate modes of power management.  Suboptimal, but I'm willing to live with it.  (Power management in general has always given VMware Workstation heartburn anyway.)

So Microsoft … how about it?  Instead of frantically trying to shift the conversation away from the marketing disaster of Vista to the far-off, pie-in-the-sky Windows 7, why not just add Hyper-V to Server 2008 Web Edition and call it Windows Server 2008, Desktop Edition?  From what I've seen, it'd be sleeker and faster than Vista, even on Aero Glass.  Put in a few restrictions: it can't become a domain controller (DC); no more than, say, five connections on Terminal Services; and max out the simultaneous file server connections at 10 as you've done for years with the workstation product.  Leave in Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption and – killer feature! – Windows PowerShell, and price it like Windows Vista Ultimate.  Replace Task Manager with  Sysinternals' Process Explorer (with a one-click / Group Policy option to return to the antediluvian Task Manager), and at that point I suspect that a good number of those "opinion leader" types that marketeers like so much might be talking about Windows on the desktop again, smiling this time.

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