The Myth Of The Windows Server 2012 Interface

Windows Server: The Windows 8 interface redesign is controversial, so it's not surprising that some people are complaining about its appearance on Windows Server 2012 as well. There are arguments for and against that interface, but in a server context, those criticisms almost entirely miss the mark for a more fundamental reason.

I was chatting with a geek friend prior to heading up to TechEd Australia 2012 this week, and mentioned that Windows Server 2012 was going to be a major focus. "No-one's going to like that much, because it has the new Windows interface," he commented. I've heard similar remarks from other journalists as well, pushing the idea that there's no way experienced server administrators are going to be happy with the 'modern', touch-screen centric look.

My big issue with this argument isn't whether or not server administrators (or anyone else) will like the interface. It's that there's a mistaken assumption that every single element of Windows Server 2012 has seen the UI upgraded. That simply isn't the case.

Yes, the Start screen has been updated with the new look, and the basic Server Manager interface also takes on the new style. But as soon as you dive any deeper, you'll end up doing one of two things:

  • Changing properties in a traditional Windows-style interface;
  • Hitting the command line to enter a command or run a script.

The latter is particularly important. A recurring theme through this event has been the usefulness of PowerShell for automating server administration tasks. It's a theme our guest bloggers have touched on several times. In an administrator context, those features (and others like improvements to Hyper-V) matter far more than whether there have been changes to the first screen you see.

It's also worth remembering that the new elements aren't compulsory. If you choose a Server Core installation, you'll have nothing but a command line to work with. The choice is yours.

No doubt those parts of the Windows Server 2012 interface which have been modernised will attract comment, favourable or otherwise. But to assume that there's no other way of interacting with the software is just plain ignorant.

Visit Gizmodo's TechEd 2012 Newsroom for all the news from the show.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman is attending TechEd 2012 as a guest of Microsoft.



    The biggest trouble is all those stupid "hot corners" do perform basic functionality. Hot corners are really stupid when you've got your RDP session windowed, like most people do.

    There needs to be a way to enable a "clickable" interface. Sure powershell is good, but it doesn't relay information as well as a GUI.

      The new RDP has shortcuts to all these features.

    I can see how you would keep a uniformed GUI for Windows 8 and a Windows 2012 Terminal Server, but other than that the GUI is a disgrace. My server is not a tablet. It never will be. Given, almost all the servers I support will only have the core installation, but for the couple that will be running a GUI this is horriffic.
    I don't see the point you are making in this article. Nobody has assumed that there is no other way of interacting with the software, you are completely detached from what is going on. You attempt to defend this disgraceful GUI, but make no points as to why it is a good thing, all you say is that PS is great.
    Yes PS is great, yes it is far more relevant now than it has been outside Exchange management, but to assume that PS is the only way to interact with the software is just ignorant.

      Really? Did we read the same article? Because what I read was an unflattering assumption made through ignorance of the reality of the new Windows UI. Why would anyone assume that something that is tablet friendly cannot also be mouse/keyboard friendly? Perhaps you can explain to us exactly how the new UI is less friendly for mouse and keyboard than the traditional one. I, for one, would really appreciate the insight, as my experience is that it is better and worse in equal measure. i.e. About the same in the end.

        So, even by your own admission, we're being forced to learn a new interface for no real gain? Change for the sake of change.
        MS could have avoided this whole sh*tstorm by making the Windows 8 UI an optional instead of compulsory... What if they had taken this approach instead: "hey guys, we've added in a bunch of support and cool features for tablets so you can administer your servers with a just few touches while you're on the go, and still have the full featured experience you're familiar with when you're back at your desk. And for those that love the touch interface, you can enable this on your desktops as well!"
        IMO, this would generate excitement about the product - users would be looking forward to trying out the new features comfortable in the knowledge that they could: a) play with it and learn it at their leisure (instead of having the all the changes thrust upon them at once), and b) if they didn't like the changes, simply go back to what they knew and liked.
        That's the problem with MS these days - too much telling, not enough selling.

    Although, I will defend the new 'Server Manager', it does seem like an improvement, to bad I'll never use it.

    Get with the times, update your skills if you are still stuck in the NT4 world. Seriously sick of IT Pros complaining about changes Microsoft makes because they are too lazy to keep up. Stop classicifying Windows Interface and complaining about the new Start Screen in Windows 8, it is like when the new Start Menu, and Themes were introduced way back in Windows XP and everyone classicifyied everything. Design changes happen for a reason, stop dumbing down users in SOE because you as an admin are dumb. You should not assume your users are too dumb to know how to use Windows with its design changes... C'mon Engineers, stop dumbing down the Windows Experience!

    Anyone tried using the new 'formerly known as metro' interface over RDP on a slow link?

    It is horrible, and slow. Rather than the old start menu where the screen only had to refresh the bottom left of the screen, the entire screen must be refreshed, which not only chews up precious bandwidth on a slow 56k connection that some corporate customer sites have in Australia, but it also takes a long time to do the refresh.

    I am all for Powershell administration (I love Powershell), it is powerful, and with access to the entire .Net API, there is very little it cannot do. But sometimes things need to be done in a GUI, in those situations the modern *cough* start screen on a server, or anything that is not touch screen for that matter, is simply out of place.

    Using things like Citrix or Terminal Services on Server 2012 is going to be a nightmare, especially if your workstation fleet is Windows 7. Citrix and Terminal Server solutions are used more and more, especially as more companies move to BYOD, and are excellent over small bandwidth connections because of the way it renders the screen refreshes (it only refreshes the part of the screen that needs to be refreshed). There is a big difference between sending a refresh of the bottom left when the start menu is clicked, and the entire screen.

    Microsoft should be giving their customers a choice, modern start screen or classic start menu, rather than pissing off their customers. At least Apple did this right in OSX, they have the iOS style application launcher, but you are not forced to use it.

    So, you will never use Windows Server on a touch screen?. Really? I reckon nearly everyone of you will end up buying a windows tablet and then use it for RDP to administer various servers. I think your will soon then appreciated your shortcuts nicely accessible on the 2012 Start Screen. Again, if you don't like it, ignore it.

    I've been using WIndows Server 2012 in its various stages of life for some time now.

    The initial problems with the UI passed within a day. The concerns people have are from fear of having to learn something new. Have any of you tried Server 2012? All of the Administrative Tools are still there, as we all know and [hate to] love. Spend more than 15 minutes with 2012 and you'll find yourself more or less confortable.

    Personally, I like 2012's interface. To me, it presents the future of server technology. Focused tools for specific needs, clean interface, etc.

    The server booting in 12 seconds is also amazing.

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