Windows Server 8 – Switching Between Core and GUI

The situation I envision occurring most frequently is configuring Windows Server 8 with the full GUI because it’s obviously a lot easier to configure/manage the installation of applications, etc… with a UI than with PowerShell and other command line utilities.

After the install is complete and the server is ready for production – let’s remove the GUI, management tools (this of course doesn’t mean that this server cannot be remotely managed) and other components that we no longer need and don’t want the hassle of having to patch or update things like Internet Explorer, for example. 

These examples give you an idea of how you can choose the installation option that might be most appropriate for your deployment needs:

  • Server Core installations require approximately 4 GB less space than a Server with a GUI installation. By using Server Core installations on virtual machines, you can achieve a significant space savings by not having to store the GUI files on the virtual machine’s disk.
  • Servers often have comparatively large amounts of memory and complex disk arrays, both of which can take a significant amount of time to initialize at startup. Because Server Core installations minimize the number of restarts required for updates, the frequency at which disk arrays and memory must be re-initialized is reduced.
  • Certain server applications have dependencies on certain Windows services, libraries, applications, and files that are not available in Server Core installations, but the administrator wants to take advantage of the reduced need for updating typical of Server Core installations. The Minimal Server Interface offers additional compatibility while still maintaining a reduced system footprint (though to a lesser extent than a Server Core installation).
  • Features on Demand can be used to reduce the footprint for your virtual machine deployments by removing roles and features that will never be deployed in your virtual machines. Depending on the roles and features used in your virtual machines, it is possible to reduce the size by over 1 GB.
  • There’s a lot more info here:

So, the first step in the full GUI implementation is to simply use SERVER MANAGER > REMOVE ROLES AND FEATURES to get here.

You have 2 options. 

When you remove Server Graphical Shell, you are removing IE, Explorer (including the Metro style start screen), and the Desktop – about 300 MB* of binaries. You are left with a command line system plus Server Manager and support for most GUI management tools (e.g. MMC and related snap-ins) and server roles. Exchange is not currently supported in this state.

When you remove Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure you are removing about 4 GB* of dependencies including most UI framework, MMC, and more. Exchange is not currently supported in this state. You are left with a command line only system (including .NET, WPF, and PowerShell, and support for most server roles plus SQL Server 2012)

* The features can be reinstalled so the disk space is not actually freed unless you use the -Remove option with Features on Demand.


After you pull both off and reboot, you’ll login to this:


If/When you need the UI again.  Use SCONFIG option 12:


Once again, there are a LOT of other options and considerations.  Please make sure you read the URL I referenced earlier to get more information on other scenario’s and best practices.


Comments (2)

  1. Ken says:

    Administrators have been asking Microsoft for years to implement a non-GUI version of Windows Server and IMHO, rightfully so.  I'm sorry that you see this as a step backwards.  I assure you that it's not.

    Some of the advantages of going with Server Core are distinctly outlined in this blog post.  Sure, there are SMB's and even very large companies that will stick with full GUI – that's why it's an OPTION.  I recommend that you spend some time with Server 2012, particularly the way you manage servers in this new paradigm.  It's a little easier this time around to manage servers with no GUI and if any of those benefits are attractive to you or your business then why not try it?  The best part is – you can always go back.

  2. Keith B. Rosenberg says:

    I do not see many SMBs going fully command line. How 1980s. How Novell before they crashed and burned letting MS get ahead of them in the Server GUI game.

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