Windows Server Core Thoughts

I recently read this article from Redmond Magazine and, ignoring the clear bias towards Microsoft, I put my objectivity to the test to read about a new version of Windows, shipping along side Vista, called Server core. Based on the reading this is a tremendous shift in idea for Microsoft. As the company that, for the most part, defined the Consumer Desktop Experience, to seemingly take a step in the Linux direction and create an OS that is “bare bones”, in fact reading the article I was reminded very clearly of the old days of DOS.

“Server Core can only act as a file server, domain controller, DNS server or DHCP server. As such, it’s far from being a full-fledged Windows operating system (although Microsoft is considering other roles for future versions). Besides these four core roles, Server Core also supports Cluster Server, Network Load Balancing, the Unix subsystem, the new Windows Backup in Longhorn, Multipath I/O, Removable Storage Management, BitLocker drive encryption and SNMP. Server Core also supports Remote Desktop administration, although you’ll only get a command-line window when you connect. “

“That’s about it. There’s no Internet Explorer, no Outlook Express, Calculator or Windows Paint, no Wordpad, Windows Messenger or Media Player — just the basics. Microsoft did add Windows Notepad to Server Core at the request of several sneak-preview customers, but even that’s a stripped down version. You can’t, for example, use the “Save As” function, because Server Core doesn’t have dialog boxes for functions like Open and Save As. “

Pretty stripped down for a Microsoft Operating System, the installation footprint is around 1GB, compare that to 5GB for Vista. But of course the cost of this is the lack of features which, when factored in with the target user group for this product, makes quite a bit of sense. However, what is currently lacking, and is considered to be a necessity is the .NET Framework. With the majority of new Windows apps (including management utilities) being written in .NET, it is clear that any OS from Microsoft should support .NET managed code. At the present time, as the article points out, a stripped down version of .NET is still in the works, thus the current version of Windows Server core doesn’t not feature .NET.

Given this setup, Microsoft will have no choice but to provide a reasonable set of command line apps to allow administrators the ability to perform essential tasks, and also allow them to create their own scripts, which, with the absence of .NET, is a very big challenge. The article details many of the scripts that the OS already features such as those for product activation, system patching, driver loading, and the tasks associated with the various roles the server can take on, most of which are written using VBScript. However, as afore mentioned we can expect to see a very stripped down version of .NET on this OS in the near future.

If you ask me, I wonder about this move. Yes its intriguing in a sense to see Microsoft making a bold push into a market heavily dominated by Linux and Unix. I almost wonder if they are doing so as a contingency in case Vista fails. I have said it before, as an optimist I am giving Microsoft a chance to prove itself with Vista and its new product line. Based on other articles I have read I feel the company is moving in the right direction so that product quality is increasing. However, should Vista fail, it will likely be the beginning of a long and painful death for Microsoft Windows. Notice here I say Windows, and not Microsoft as a whole. This is because Microsoft would likely continue to produce Office and other server products for a variety of platforms. It is no new fact that Microsoft has better profits with Office then they do with Windows. It will be interesting indeed to see what becomes of Microsoft should Vista be a failure. While I think XP was a good step in the right direction, Vista needs to be more so for Microsoft to maintain what credibility it has left.


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