Customizing Windows Server 2008 as a Workstation – The Logic

As the general discontent of Windows Vista was growing on more and more people, I decided to write a series of articles about one alternative to using the modern-day Windows ME counterpart. No, I did not turn to Linux (well not yet, anyway, but who knows, the day isn’t over yet…). I refer to what has become a widely accepted replacement to Windows Vista – using windows Server 2008.
You see, when using the right tweaks such as installing the Desktop Experience feature, adding a few missing utilities, (read more below), you can turn Windows Server 2008 into a more than adequate Vista workstation replacement, one that’s faster and more scalable than the original. How much faster? Read below.
Or as Mary Jo Foley has written in one of her articles: “I’ve suggested to a number of folks at Microsoft that perhaps it might be a good idea if they took the core of Windows 2008 Server and re-marketed it as Windows 2008 Workstation, simply because it seems that a large number of companies are much more likely to adopt Server before it adopts Vista, and it simplifies things from a management and administration perspective if the Server and Workstation OSs are closely aligned with each other.”
Server 2008: The Windows Workstation we always wanted | All about Microsoft |
Even though both operating systems now have the same kernel, according to various blogs and reports, and also based upon my personal experience, Windows Server 2008 is surprisingly faster than Windows Vista SP1. And when I mean “faster” I mean that Windows Server 2008 can get up to 17% faster. The reasons for that may include the fact that Windows Server 2008 lacks the DRM (Digital Rights Management) which is found in Vista, or perhaps due to their fixing of the Direct2D toolkit to Direct3D. Furthermore, we must take into consideration the additional time (and incentive) that Microsoft has put in to get Windows Server 2008 robust and fast, as expected in business environments which require high-performance software and hardware. Whatever they did, it seems to be working far better and smoother than Vista (and yes, we’re talking on the same hardware here).
You can read a nice test run by the guys at the
“Clearly, there is more going on within Server 2008 than simply a few boot-time kernel switches. The very tangible performance disparity between our “Workstation” 2008 configuration and Vista, even with Service Pack 1 installed, shows that Microsoft is capable of squeezing more out of the shared “Windows 6.1” code base if/when they choose to do so.” Windows “Workstation” 2008 – Vista Done Right?:
Here are some additional blogs and posts about this issue:
iTWire – Windows Server 2008 in ‘workstation’ mode – a suitable Vista replacement?
Windows “Workstation” 2008: One week later | Windows – InfoWorld:
And of course, this one:
Convert your Windows Server 2008 to a Workstation!:
However, note that there are also some people claiming that going this way is a total waste of time. For example, see the links below and judge for yourself (I would have too, but reading the comments on ZDNet’s site is so un-intuitive and time wasting clicking operation that I simply gave up after a while…)
Windows “Workstation” 2008 better than Vista? OK then, show me the money! | Hardware 2.0 |
The myth of Windows “Workstation” 2008 | Hardware 2.0 |
Saying that Windows “Workstation” 2008 is faster than Vista doesn’t make it so | Hardware 2.0 |
Looking into the future, Windows 7, Microsoft’s next client operating system version, seems far more robust and has quite a few GUI and better – performance improvements. I am closely watching the progress made on the OS and have already began writing articles about it.

How to obtain Windows Server 2008?

Many system administrators have access to the OS through their MSDN license, or received a copy at the recent “Heroes Happen Here” event to celebrate the launch of the Windows Server 2008, and can happily play with and modify Windows Server 2008 into a desktop operating system. Of course you can use a trial edition (good for up to 180 days) of Windows Server 2008 if you can’t get your hands on any other version.
Download details: Windows Server 2008 Enterprise:
Note: I will not play along with readers asking question such as “Where can I download Windows Server 2008 from?”. If you’ve got it, fine. If not, don’t use illegal methods to obtain it. In any case, make sure you clearly understand the license implications of running Windows Server 2008.

So what do I get in return?

Mostly speed and endurance. While my Vista laptop had to be rebooted every week at least once, after switching to Windows Server 2008 I found that the laptop could be put into sleep mode dozens of times without the requirement to reboot it in order to gain back system resources. For me (as well as for others – see links below), the operating system itself never feels as sluggish as Vista does (even right after a cold reboot). It doesn’t seem to  start to slow down after days of continuous running and sleep cycles. Perhaps this is because of “better memory management or simply a more mature, polished code base” as some put it.
I found that running my virtual machines (I use a lot of these for my lab environments as well as for screenshots I need to the articles on this site) has improved. First, the use of resources by the system itself seems a lot better that when I used Windows Vista SP1. Next, VMware Workstation, which is my personal preferred virtualization product choice, deals a lot better with multiple virtual machines running at the same time.
Needless to say, you can now use your workstation to run applications that have previously unable to use on your machine. Applications such as Hyper-V, SQL Server and others.
Note: Running Hyper-V on a laptop incurs some issues such as losing the sleep/hibernate capabilities of the laptop (this means that you must shutdown and restart each time), restart times are longer – takes in the order of 2 minutes depending on hardware, and having the Side bar missing (which is not a big deal as most people have already learned that the Sidebar is a huge hog of resources).
Other people report drastic improvements in applications such as Visual Studio 2008.
In any case, it’s worth noting that YMMV, as seen from this (year old) post. I expect there have been changes in the driver install base for most laptops and desktops since then. But read along anyway:
XP vs Vista vs sp1 vs 2008 vs 32 vs 64 benchmarked – Notebook Forums and Laptop Discussion:

Any drawbacks?

Well not really. However there are some issues you might want to consider before formatting your computer.
First, there’s the price issue. If we only explore legal methods alone, considering that most new computers come pre-installed with Windows Vista (unless you’ve used your right to downgrade to Windows XP), you will need to somehow obtain Windows Server 2008. MSDN or Technet subscribers can easily download the bits in form of an ISO file to burn and use (based on their individual license agreement and limitations). IT administrators probably have a copy of Windows Server 2008 alongside with a valid product ID sitting somewhere in a CD-box, and it’s reasonable to assume that only experienced people with IT skills will actually go through the steps to convert a workstation from Windows Vista to Windows Server 2008. Additionally, these IT professionals have probably got their hands on a copy of Windows Server 2008 from one of the many world-wide “Heroes Happen Here” launch events that took place late 2007 and early 2008. So getting a copy isn’t a big deal. In any case, if you do NOT have a legal copy of Windows Server 2008, using this guide will probably triple your licensing costs from around ~$200 for Windows Vista Ultimate, to ~$700 for the Standard edition of Windows Server 2008 (prices may vary).
Being an IT pro is not something anyone can accomplish. Converting a Windows Server 2008 machine to have Vista-like capabilities is not extremely hard to accomplish, but I won’t expect my mother to be able to do it, not would a person with very little or no IT capabilities and computer understanding.
Next, it’s the drivers issue. While most Vista-capable computers will quite likely run Windows Server 2008, and while it’s most likely that drivers written for Windows Vista will work in Windows Server 2008, there are some known issues, especially with Bluetooth drivers. Installing Bluetooth is not an option, and the device remains undetected in Device Manager. This prevents you from having the nice integrated BT solution, and have to install vendor-specific stacks that don’t seem to work for everything or everyone.More about that in a future article.
Lastly, there’s the “not made for server operating systems” software issue. Some software vendors such as Anti-Virus, personal firewalls, and various productivity software (not to mention games) will not allow their software to be installed on a Windows Server version operating system. Some of these software can be fooled by using the Compatibility Mode, but most will not be fooled and will require you to obtain a server-specific version of their software. This is also true for OEM vendor tools. One example is Dell’s Quick Set with simply won’t work on Windows Server 2008 (found a way to make it run on 64-bit Windows Server 2008? PLEASE, let me know…). In any case, most restricted tools can be replaced by other, sometimes even free, versions. More on that on the next article.

You got me listening. So how do I start?

As mentioned above, converting a Windows Server 2008 installation to act more like a workstation is not too hard. I will walk you through most of the important steps in part 2 of this article. However, it’s worth noting that those interested in making the switch should check out, where you can find many tips and techniques that’ll help you do the task.
So please, read on my “Customizing Windows Server 2008 as a Workstation – The Registry and System Tweaks