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Five Things to Know About Longhorn Server Core

By Jonathan Hassell
January 23, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - I’ve written about Server Core before -- in my Longhorn Server review of Beta Version 2. It's Microsoft’s great new addition to the Longhorn Server product. Essentially, Server Core is a slimmed-down, appliancelike version of Longhorn Server that functions in a couple of limited roles and does nothing else.

Server Core, as I see it, has three main advantages: it’s extremely focused, which means it does what it does very well, resulting in better performance, resilience and robustness than a full-fledged operating system. It also has limited dependencies on other pieces of the Windows puzzle, in that the Core is designed to work without a lot of other software installed; it can generally work by itself. In comparison, many of the previous Windows components aren’t really necessary -- like Windows Explorer or Internet Explorer, for example -- which is something that can’t be said for Windows Server 2003.

All of this translates into a far smaller attack surface than the standard Windows Server product, given all of the material that's been stripped out.

But there are some aspects of Server Core with which you might not yet be familiar, as well as some interesting facts and limitations of the "core"-based approach to computing. I’ll take a look at them here.

Server Core has no graphical user interface

This is probably the most unsettling but, upon reflection, most interesting and welcome difference with Server Core over the traditional Windows server operating system. When you boot Server Core, you’ll get a colored screen that looks like a single-color desktop, which might fool you into thinking that you installed the wrong version. But you’ll quickly be corrected as you get a command-prompt window that appears and then all activity stops. It looks a lot like regular Windows if you open Task Manager and kill the explorer.exe process.

Indeed, you can open Notepad -- just about the only graphical application installed -- but you can open it only from the command line, and you can’t save as another file; there is no support for displaying those sorts of Explorer windows. Essentially, you’ll need to think back to your DOS days to get accustomed to administering Server Core. The command line is very, very powerful -- in many instances you can accomplish more with commands, options and switches than you can with the GUI -- but it can be intimidating to start.

Server Core, while great, has limited scenarios in which it can be deployed

At the most fundamental level, Server Core can only be a file server, domain controller, DHCP server or

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