A few weeks back, I wrote about how you can connect any PCs running any version of Windows 7 or 8 to Windows Server 2012 Essentials without joining the domain. But if you’re running a home version of either client, there’s an even easier way.
I suppose you’ve heard what happens when you assume. When I wrote Windows Server 2012 Essentials: Connect Client PCs without Using a Domain, I was working under the assumption that Essentials 2012, as a domain-based Windows Server set up, would require a business-oriented version of Windows 7 (Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate) or Windows 8 (Pro or Enterprise). Put another way, I assumed that Essentials 2012 was not compatible with home versions of either OS (Windows 7 Starter or Home Premium, or Windows 8 Core).
This assumption was incorrect.
If you do have a business-oriented version of Windows 7 or Windows 8, the Essentials 2012 Connection wizard will connect that machine to the domain and you’ll be signing in as a domain user going forward. If that’s not what you want, the instructions in Windows Server 2012 Essentials: Connect Client PCs without Using a Domain still apply, and you can use them to connect using your normal, local PC account.
If, however, you are running a home version of Windows 7 or Windows 8, there’s no way for the Connection wizard to add a domain account to the machine. So it will instead let you continue using your local PC account instead. There’s just one catch, and I’m guessing this will not be an issue for many of those of you who are looking to use Essentials 2012 as a Windows Home Server replacement: You must sign in with a domain admin account once in order to get the Connector software installed on the PC.
If this is not a problem, here’s how it works. It’s really simple.
As with any other Windows 7- or 8-based PC, simply navigate to the Essentials 2012 server through your web browser by navigating to http://server-name/connect (where of course “server-name” is replaced by the simple name of your server; mine is named micro).
Then, run the Connection wizard as you would normally. You’ll be asked to provide the user name and password for an administrator account on the server in order to continue.
From there, the steps are just like with a domain connection: You provide a computer description, the Connector software (Launchpad, plus the Dashboard RemoteApp) are downloaded and installed, and you’re connected to the server. You’re just not connected to the domain.
From there, the PC works normally. You can run the Dashboard and Launchpad software as needed. Centralized PC backups occur in the background, as expected. The server shared folders and media sharing all work normally. (What you can’t do is implement group policy—that requires a domain—which means you can’t redirect common users folders to the server or automatically ensure that certain security policies are adhered to.)
In short, this is pretty much the Windows Home Server replacement many were expecting. It’s a bit easier to set up with home-based versions of Windows 7 and 8, as I’ve belatedly realized. But using the instructions I provided earlier, you should be able to safely ignore the domain features—if that’s what you want—on business-class versions of Windows 7 and 8 as well. Hey, at least you have the option.
I’m just sorry I didn’t realize this earlier. My mistake.