Windows Server 2012, and now Windows Server 2012 R2, have added a huge variety of capabilities to the Windows Server operating system. In my opinion it's a must-have upgrade. But like the first time I encountered the Windows 2000 Server interface after years of working with Windows NT, the new UI can be pretty disorienting. We got pretty efficient at maneuvering through the Windows 2000-style interface; but where did everything go now? (I've already given my opinion about the decision to use the touch-centric Modern <cough, Metro> interface, on a server.) Experience with Windows 8 helps a little, but the tasks you perform as a server admin are very different from the actions you take as a client.
Here's my "Where'd it go?" list of how to run administrative tasks in Windows Server 2012 and R2, based on where they were in Windows Server 2008 and earlier. I haven't included every possible command; I figure once you know how to quickly get down the main roads of the UI, the side streets will be a snap. For each, I've given several methods, generally with the fastest way first—it's all about the speed, no? Tip: Using keyboard shortcuts is usually the fastest, and it gives you extra nerd points when your colleagues are looking over your shoulder. (Speaking of fast, if you want to quickly find something in this article, just do a Ctl+F on your browser to trigger the "find on page" feature and enter the term you're looking for.)
Since most of the time you'll be accessing a server console through Remote Desktop, it's important to set your RDP session to send keyboard commands while windowed (not just full screen) for these commands to work. See "An Essential First Step" in my article "Getting Around in Windows Server 2012, Part 1" for details on how to configure this.
I'm sure it will be no surprise to seasoned server administrators that many of these UI sequences use keyboard shortcuts instead of the modern interface. They do make extensive use of the Windows key ("winkey" in my shorthand). Surprisingly, the new search ability from the Start screen makes some commands faster in Windows Server 2012 and R2 than its predecessors.
Words or control sequences on the keyboard are highlighted. For example, Winkey, cmd means to hit the Windows key and enter "cmd"; it also implies that you press Enter at the end of each sequence—if you can't figure out when to press Enter, you probably shouldn't be reading this article.
Essential tasks are the ones you always seem to head straight to when you log on to a server console, whether it's digging around on the server with Explorer or running a command-line diagnostic in a command prompt.
- Winkey+C, select Start
- Winkey . . . and just start typing! This will trigger Search in the upper right corner, and real-time results will appear below it.
- Winkey+R may be better for complex run commands, and it will run with admin privileges.
- Winkey+X, r (Run)
- Winkey+X, a (i.e., Command Prompt (Admin)). You could use Winkey+X, c to launch command prompt with normal privileges, but most admins won't want to take the trouble.
- Winkey, cmd
If you don't already have it pasted to the Start screen or to the taskbar, you should.
- Winkey+X, e (File Explorer—note the name change)
- Winkey, explorer.exe (You might have to type the ".exe" to differentiate between File Explorer and Internet Explorer.)
Network adapter settings
These include IP addresses and DNS client settings.
- Winkey+X, w (Network Connections)
- Winkey, powershell (This works the same from a command prompt, although you won't get the pretty blue. Or select it from the Start screen.)
Whole System commands do just that: they affect the entire server.
- Alt+F4 with focus on the desktop, select action
- Ctl+Alt+Del, select Power button in the lower right corner
- Winkey+C, Settings, Power
- From an RDP session: Ctl+Alt+End, Enter
- At the physical console: Ctl+Alt+Del, Enter (same as it's always been)
- Winkey, click on account name in upper right corner, select Lock
- Right-click on time in the system tray, select Adjust Date/Time
- Winkey, timedate.cpl WinKey+P, Set the Time and Date
- Winkey+X, o (Power Options)
- Note that you likely won't find the power icon in the system tray on a server.
- Winkey+X, t (Task Manager)
- Ctl+Alt+Del, select Task Manager
- Winkey, taskmgr
Control Panel Tasks
Control Panel applets control the configuration and reporting on the server, including what applications are installed on it.
Launching Control Panel itself
- Winkey+X, p (Control Panel)
- Winkey, Control
- From command prompt or Powershell, control.exe
- Winkey+X, g (Computer Management)
- Winkey+X, m (Device Manager)
- Winkey, devmgmt.msc
- Winkey+X, k (Disk Management)
- Winkey, diskmgmt.msc
- Winkey+X, v (Event Viewer)
- Winkey, eventvwr
These commands include domain join, computer name, description, startup/recovery, environment variables, Remote Desktop configuration, and activation.
- Winkey+X, y (System)
Programs and Features (including Windows features)
- Winkey+X, f (Programs and Features)
- Winkey, appwiz.cpl
- You can also add or remove Windows features from this dialog; it will launch Server Manager and the Add/Remove Features wizard.
- Winkey, firewall.cpl (You must type the ".cpl"; otherwise, you'll get Firewall with Advanced Security.)
- Winkey+X, y (System), select Windows Update
- From command prompt or Powershell, control/name microsoft.windowsupdate
In contrast to Control Panel utilities, practically all of the administrative tools you'll ever use on a Windows Server 2012/R2 server are in the Tools Menu of Server Manager. Microsoft has been strongly pushing the use of Server Manager, so it's become very full-featured. If you don't see an administrative tool you're looking for in this list, look in Server Manager's Tools menu. Here's how to launch many of the popular ones, not available from the Power User (Winkey+X) menu, from a command prompt, or through Powershell. Note: Not all of these tools may be installed on your system.
- Group Policy Management: gpmc.msc
- Server Manager: servermanager
- Services: services.msc
- Windows Firewall with Advanced Security: wf
- Active Directory Users & Computers: dsa.msc
- Active Directory Administrative Center: dsac.exe
- Active Directory Domains and Trusts: domain.msc
- Active Directory Sites and Services: dssite.msc
- Certificate Authority: certsrv.msc
- DNS Management: dnsmgmt.msc
- DHCP Management: dhcpmgmt.msc
- Windows Server Backup: wbadmin
Interestingly, most of the programs listed as accessories are essential, and the following apps are nearly as important.
- Winkey, select the internet Explorer Icon (on the Start screen by default)
- Winkey, iexplore
Remote Desktop Connection
- Winkey, mstsc
Windows Powershell ISE
- Winkey, powershell_ise
These include miscellaneous system utilities.
- Winkey, dfrgui
- Right-click on a drive letter in File Explorer, Properties, Tools, Optimize and Defragment.
- Get to Task Manager, choose the Performance tab, and select Open Resource Monitor at the bottom.
- Winkey, resmon
- Winkey, tasks
In Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier operating systems, you could drop an application or a shortcut into the Startup folder and it would execute at logon time. That very visible option is gone in Windows Server 2012 and R2, but you can still get to it here.
- Winkey, shell:startup or shell:common startup (to start up for all users)
- You could also use the Sysinternals tool Autoruns.
Printers have gotten much harder to find in the Windows Server 2012 and R2 UI. It's a real difficulty on the client end.
- Winkey+X, p (Control Panel), Hardware/View Devices and Printers
If you aren't going directly to the adapter settings (shown earlier in Essential Tasks), you'll want to use the Network and Sharing Center.
Network and Sharing Center
- Right-click on network icon in system tray (same as before).
- Adapter settings are identical to legacy UI from here.
As you can see from the list, you can get a lot done quickly by becoming familiar with the Power Users menu (Winkey+X); if you memorize the two-letter keyboard shortcuts associated with this menu you'll be able to launch apps so quickly your coworkers will think it's magic. In addition, memorizing many of the command-line executables for the tools will get you to most of them quickly; just hit the Windows key and start to type. This is only fitting; Microsoft wants us all to use PowerShell for everything, so starting the GUI tools by command line seems like a good first step.
Do you have any other good tips for working with the "modern" UI?