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Tiles in the Enterprise: Great idea, horrible mistake, or does it even matter?
There has been a small outcry from some corners of the IT pro community over the inclusion of "TIFKAM" (my own personal term for The Interface Formerly Known as Metro) in Windows Server 2012. You know how the argument goes (you might have even expressed the same gripes yourself): "The tile interface is made for tablets and other touch screen devices. It's a horrible idea to put it on the server operating system."
It's certainly true that manipulating big, colorful tiles comes much more naturally to fat fingers than to a keyboard and mouse. Seriously, though, I don't understand the overreaction regarding the new interface, on both Server 2012 and Windows 8. A friend actually told me last week that his sole reason for refusing to even consider an upgrade to Win8 (on an XP machine that he plans to upgrade to Windows 7) is because he hates the Start Screen.
I've been using Windows 8 as my primary OS for a long time, and the final code for a few months. And I have a confession to make: I love Windows 8, but I don't love the Start Screen. But it doesn't matter. When I boot the computer (something I rarely need to do with Win8), I immediately press the Windows Logo + D key combination, which takes me to the desktop. Then I literally never see the Start screen, except when I explicitly choose to bring it up (with the Win Logo key alone). One of the first things I did after installing the RTM was to change all my file associations so that the file types are all associated with so-called legacy (desktop) applications. That means I never get thrown into TIFKAM unexpectedly.
That's the way I work on my main workstation, an i7 powerhouse attached to three extra large (non-touch) monitors. Our "kitchen computer," an HP TouchSmart, is a different story. The tile interface works just great when you can reach out and touch it, and is often faster and more efficient than navigating via keyboard and mouse.
In Server 2012, the Start screen is even less of an issue, since applications run on the desktop unless you've installed an app from the Windows Store on the server, and the Server Manager is really the primary interface. The Server Manager dashboard does have the new-style look, but its design is really a good cross between the traditional mouse-centric one and the more touch-friendly style, and it actually works well either way. I'd guess that at this point, not many folks are springing for touchscreen monitors for their servers – but I expect the price difference between touch and non-touch displays will shrink in the future, and using touch to whisk through the Server Manager screens could be a very efficient way to do it.
On the other hand, one could argue that the graphical interface for the Server OS doesn't really matter much anyway. Microsoft obviously expects most shops to use the Server Core installation option – for obvious performance and security advantages – and do most of their administrative tasks via PowerShell. With PowerShell, it's all about scripting and automation, which can significantly reduce your administrative overhead. And Server Core is now the default installation method.
Of course, if you prefer the GUI, you can still use the Server Manager tool remotely to manage multiple servers. You can even create groups of servers and perform management tasks on the whole group in one fell swoop. You also have quick access to administrative tools such as the Task Scheduler, Resource Manager, etc. through the Tools menu in the new Server Manager.
One challenge can be navigating the Server interface in a VM; you may have to do some things a little differently. For instance, if you don't have a Windows Logo key to get you to and from the desktop, you can use CTRL + ESC to toggle between the two. Getting to the Settings page can be awkward without a touchscreen, since you have to hover in the lower right corner to bring up the Charms bar. But you can use Win Log + I (that's a capital I, not a lower-case L) instead.
Sure, Windows Server 2012 takes a little getting used to, but hey, so did Windows 2000 when we switched from NT. The tile interface might not make a lot of sense on a server without a touch screen, but there's a good chance future datacenters will incorporate touch into administrative tasks, be managed through a command line interface, or both. Meanwhile, the Start screen doesn't have to get in your way; if you want a pure desktop experience, you can have it.
Let us know what you think about Server 2012's new interface.
Quote of the Month - You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. – Winston Churchill.
2. ISA Server 2006 Migration Guide - Order Today!
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3. WindowsNetworking.com Articles of Interest
4. Administrator KB Tip of the Month
Managing Servers in Small Environments
Administrators in small environments that have only a few servers can still take advantage of all the benefits that come from running the Server Core installation even if they don't feel confident working from the command line. They can do this by following these steps:
- Install Windows Server 2012 on the servers using the "Server With A GUI" installation option.
- Perform all initial configuration of the server using the GUI tools available in this installation option.
- Run the Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart Windows PowerShell command to convert the servers' "Server With A GUI" installation to a Server Core installation.
- Install the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) for Microsoft Windows 8 on a client computer, and use these convenient GUI tools for managing the servers.
This procedure makes it easy for such administrators to configure their servers while still allowing them to take advantage of the smaller attack surface, servicing overhead, and disk-space requirements of the Server Core option.
For more great admin tips, check out http://www.windowsnetworking.com/kbase/
5. Windows Networking Tip of the Month
Upgrading Forest and Domain Functional Levels
After upgrading your schema, you might want to raise your forest and domain functional levels. As a best practice, follow these rules of thumb:
- Before changing your forest functional level, take at least one domain controller offline from each domain in your forest.
- Before changing the domain functional level of any domain, take at least one domain controller offline from the domain.
In both cases, you should make sure that the domain controllers you take offline do not hold any flexible single master operations (FSMO) roles in the forest or domains.
Keep the domain controllers offline for 48 to 72 hours after changing functional levels; if no issues are found, you can return the offline domain controllers to service. If issues are discovered, however, you can use your offline domain controllers as the source for rebuilding servers if a rollback to a previous functional level is required.
6. Windows Networking Links of the Month
I hear that things have changed quite a bit in Windows Server 2012. Any tips or tricks that can get me started? Thanks! – Russel.
Yes, things have changed quite a bit from what you're used to in the last few versions of Windows Server. One thing that you'll notice right away is that you now have the Start Screen and tile interface on the server, as we discussed in this month's editorial. Some people have said that this isn't the best thing in the world, but I think you'll find that it doesn't get in the way much, if at all, and that over time you might even find that you like it.
Interface aside, though, there are a number of tasks that are done differently in Server 2012, so you might want to check out the document Common Management Tasks in Windows Server 2012 in the TechNet library.