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InfoQ Homepage News Windows Server 8 Marks Shift Towards GUI-Less Future

Windows Server 8 Marks Shift Towards GUI-Less Future

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Microsoft has alerted Windows Server developers and administrators that the platform's future will be one in which the traditional GUI applications will no longer be supported. The Server Core installation option, originally debuting in Windows Server 2008, will become the preferred installation option for Windows Server 8. Server Core offers increased security and performance benefits over the historical full server with full graphical shell option.

Microsoft's Jeffrey Snover, Distinguished Engineer and Lead Architect of Windows Server, and Andrew Mason, Principal Group Program Manager presented the session “Windows Server 8 apps must run without a GUI - learn more now” at Build 2011. This new focus on a GUI-less future for Windows Server was prompted by several goals, including improved security, reduced storage requirements, and easier remote server administration.

Before Windows Server 2008 the full GUI environment was the only install option available for Windows Server platforms. Windows Server 2008 saw the introduction of Server Core, which allowed an administrator to decide between that or the full GUI at the time of initial installation. Unfortunately this meant that if a server's role changed in the future, a fresh installation was needed. With Server 8, this is changing as administrators will be able to switch between a full server UI install or a Server Core-based install at any time.

Despite the shift, Microsoft embraces of the uses of GUI-based management systems, but intends for those systems to be run on a client machine separate from the server. This separation allows administrators to benefit from the benefits GUIs without introducing greater security risks to the server platform. Examining the performance of a Server Core installation versus a traditional full GUI install under Windows Server 2008, Microsoft found that the need for critical patches was reduced 50%-70%. Microsoft feels so strongly about the improved security with Internet Explorer's removal that it has also removed User Access Control from the Server Core installation.

A recent study by Danish firm CSIS researched the vulnerabilities introduced by typical desktop applications, indirectly demonstrating how preventing their execution on a server would increase security. Common GUI-based applications Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash, for example, were responsible for 48% of the most common exploits used by malware writers.

Beyond the security benefits, the Server Core installation option simplifies multi-machine automation, lowers the installation footprint, and improves performance. To assist administrators with this change in philosophy, PowerShell support has been expanded to include over 2300 cmdlets with Windows Server 8.

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