Is Microsoft Trying to Kill Windows Server?

The Metro-style UI is a barrier to adoption of Windows Server 2012

I’ve been using first the Window Server 8 then the Windows Server 2012 prereleases for a while now, and the enthusiasm I had with the earlier release has definitely been dampened by the new Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate (RC). I must admit I’ve come away from the RC with very mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m still blown away by many of the new features like Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, the new Resilient File System, Server Message Block (SMB) 3.0, and the new built-in NIC teaming. However, at same time, I can’t believe that Microsoft would saddle Windows Server 2012 with the Metro-style user interface (UI) without providing the traditional Windows desktop-style UI option.

Earlier versions of Windows Server 2012 provided both interfaces. But with the RC, Microsoft dropped the traditional Windows desktop UI in favor of the Metro-style UI. That’s right, Metro on the server. Don’t get me wrong. I think Metro is great on the phone and on the tablet and eventually may be a good choice for the desktop. But it is definitely not a good choice for servers. For the sake of full disclosure I’ll admit I don’t like the Metro-style UI on a desktop that doesn’t support touch either. Personally, I find Metro to be flat, one dimensional, somewhat garish, and even ugly when compared to the more elegant Windows Aero UI. I definitely don’t care for Metro on the server, and I can see from the comments on Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012 forums that I’m not alone in this sentiment. I like Metro on the tablet, and I plan on getting one of the new Surface models. But I don’t think a touch screen belongs on a server, and it doesn’t work well there.

If Microsoft is working at discouraging users from using the GUI, they have certainly found a way to do it. However, they have also put up a huge, unnecessary hurdle for the adoption of Windows Server 2012. Metro is really about enabling touch interface and then hopefully also providing a useable desktop interface. A touch interface just doesn’t make sense on a server. Today’s servers don’t have touch enabled hardware and won’t for years to come. Making Metro available as an optional feature is a win-win solution, but making it the only option certainly is not.

I’m sure Microsoft has reasons for their decision. However, from my perspective there are so many things wrong with this choice that I’m not even sure where to start. First and foremost, Metro does absolutely nothing to facilitate the server management experience. In fact, it gets in the way and isn’t nearly as effective as the old Start button. There’s a definite learning curve. For example, hovering the mouse in the upper right corner to make your menu options appear is not intuitive. Metro also forces way more mousing and clicking than the old Start button. Trying to hit that on a slow RDP link is challenging too.

The main problem that I have with Metro is the lack of visibility. The new Start menu doesn’t show all your programs. You can start programs by trying to type in their name and hope you guess right. If you haven’t used Metro, then you may get the mistaken impression it is unusable. That’s not the case. It is usable. Common tasks are on the Start menu. However, the Start menu is flat and not hierarchical, so it gets super cluttered if you try to add everything you want to it.

I suppose you could say there are other interface options. Microsoft has provided a minimal user interface that you can get by removing the Server Graphical Shell feature. That interface gives you the Server Manager and Windows Command Shell prompt, which seems odd—perhaps even ironic—given Microsoft’s strong encouragement to use PowerShell. You sort of have to wonder about the message here. Microsoft pushes Metro as the superior GUI interface on the graphical shell installation. But on the minimal interface, they give you the old Windows Command Shell, implying this is superior to PowerShell. I just don’t get these choices. But I digress.

I realize the goal is to push IT pros to manage servers with PowerShell. But Microsoft really should face facts. Most people don’t use PowerShell now. Forcing them to use it with an ineffective UI is not the right approach. PowerShell may indeed be the better management option. But most people manage Windows Server using the GUI. Metro should be an optional alternative to the more familiar traditional Windows desktop UI. That approach would have been a win-win solution for Microsoft and its customers. Those users who want Metro could have it, while those who don’t wouldn’t be forced to use it and could be immediately productive with the interface they know. Why burden an otherwise fantastic release with a user interface that’s clearly not designed for a server? OK, Microsoft isn’t trying to kill Windows Server with Metro. But Metro is a stumbling block for the adoption of Windows Server 2012, and it didn’t need to be one.

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