How-To Geek

Using Server 2008 R2 as a Desktop OS: Themes (Part 2)


One of the first thing you might want to do, once you have installed Server 2008 R2 is get the Windows Aero features back. The classic theme just does not fit everyone’s taste, so here is how to get all that Aero goodness back.

Note: The rest of this article assumes that you have completed the Installing the Windows Desktop Experience section in part 1 of the series.

Installing Drivers

Whether your graphics are powered by Intel, AMD or NVidia you are going to have to head to your manufacturers website and download the proper drivers for your device. Server 2008 R2 does in fact include video drivers, but these are basic drivers that will not let you get the Aero experience we are looking to get. Although the rest of this guide will work with out doing this step, you will only be able to get the Basic Themes, that is, no Aero features such as transparency.

Enabling Themes

As with most things that are not required for Server 2008 R2, the components required to have non-classic themes are disabled by default. Even though we have installed the Windows Desktop Experience in the first part of the series, the components were installed but not enabled. In order to get the Themes working we have to manually set the Themes Services to start up every time Windows boots. We do this using the Services MMC, the quickest way to get there is to press the Win + R key combination, type services.msc and hit enter.


Scroll down until you get to the Themes Service


Double-click on it, to open its properties


As you can see, by default, the Themes Service is disabled, so go ahead and change it to startup automatically


Click ok, then go ahead and reboot your PC. When its back up and running, right-click on the Desktop and select the Personalize from the context menu. Once the Personalization dialog opens select the Aero Theme.

HTG - DC1 - Windows Server 2008 R2 x64-2011-12-18-09-44-58

You may think that’s all there is to it, but there is still one last thing that needs to be done. We need to optimize Windows for appearance. To do that, again, press the Win + R key combination, this time type sysdm.cpl and hit enter.


When the System Properties dialog opens, switch over to the Advanced tab and under the performance section click on the settings button.


You will need to switch the radio button over to the option that says Adjust for best appearance then click on ok.


Now you will have all the eye-candy that you are use to in Windows 7.  Stay tuned for more Smile

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+

  • Published 12/23/11

Comments (17)

  1. moraldo

    Why you want to have themes on a server?

    Microsoft is going in the oposite way with Server 8 with GUI a option and having PowerShell 3 the main way to manage it.

  2. Cambo

    You should also point out that this WILL NOT work if you’re using Server 2008R2 as a VM, as there is no direct access to the video card- at least on ESX or XenServer.

    However I agree with moraldo. 2008R2 is designed to be a server, not your “every day” work machine.

  3. Jase

    Great! Thanks for this! Just what every sysadm needs, instructions on how to make a server even slower and make administering from a terminal window or server console an even slower and more unpleasant experience (on slow hardware) than it already is.


  4. jeff

    It title clearly says: Using Server 2008 R2 as a Desktop OS: Themes (Part 2)
    If you apply this to your production servers, thats your problem. If you want to- say run it on you laptop or desktop with hyerpv or vmware and have a pleasing desktop enviro, this is for you.

    Thanks for the info auth.

  5. Taylor Gibb

    @Jase i dont know what kind of sys admins you know, but i know i would never do this on a production server, if you did the Microsoft Certifications in a legitimate manner they would know all about the modular nature in ’08 and wouldnt even think of doing this on their production server. As a side note, Servers arent ment to run on slow hardware ;) maybe its time to upgrade ;)

  6. Taylor Gibb

    @Cambo Yeah this is true, if you run VMWare Workstation you can enable accelerated 3D graphics

  7. Jase

    @taylor Maybe my tone of sarcasm wasn’t picked up on ? I think this post is completely pointless and cannot see why anybody would want to make 2008 their desktop os of choice. And who would do this on a production server? Only somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

    As for slow hardware, if you want to try and talk my client into spending £5000+ on a new server in this economy, good luck :)

    No flaming intended here. My previous post was just meant as a lighthearted prod at the original poster as to the utter pointlessness of this post. IMHO.

    Maybe I’ll write up a post about how to make 2003 server streamlined for gaming …

  8. Taylor Gibb

    @Jase or maybe you can stream the games off an SMB share ? ;)

  9. Jase

    Great idea @taylor!
    I’m gonna call a meeting and see if my techs can figure it out. We’re gonna own that market :)

  10. moraldo

    A better way to have a pretty interface to manage a lab Windows Server is using RSAT (Remote Server Administration Tools) on a Windows 7.
    And you can use a old machine (not too old) for 2k8 R2 (using Server Core)

  11. Truefire

    There’s already a website on this:

    @Jase The reason is you can get the server edition of Windows for free from Microsoft as a student. Can’t afford Windows 7? No problem. Website:

  12. john3347

    If Aero, desktop themes, etc. makes Windows 7 sickening and makes third party software necessary to get a familiar classic looking interface, maybe Windows Server 2008 R2 in default configuration is what I have been yearning for. I have downloaded Windows 8 Developer Preview, but not installed it on anything yet because it appears to just continue the “junkification” of Windows. I’ll try the server OS as a desktop OS on a spare computer and see if it may not be what I am looking for. Thank you for this series.

  13. Jase

    @Truefire. I stand corrected, I didnt know 2008 could now be obtained freely, so booooo to me.

    From briefly looking at the link you posted, it seems the point of the exercise is to make it like Windows 7, but ” a bit more realtime”. I suspect the walkthroughs will have you stripping services and what-nots to within an inch of its life to prevent it consuming copious amounts of RAM and requiring server grade drive controllers to give any level of decent disk access speed. But surely when you come to install your favorite free antivirus, disk partition software, backup software, games for windows and indeed drivers, that’s where you are gonna wish you’d just paid your £70 for Windows 7 and saved yourself a whole load of bother :)

    But I am of course uneducated on the scene, having not tried it, but unless you can hack server 2008 to say “Hi I’m Windows 7 Home Premium” when you query it’s major/minor release codes, it all sounds a bit expensive …

    … and if such a hack is possible, then I’m in, sounds great :)

    much love, no flaming intended!

  14. Jase

    @taylor just noticed you are the original poster ! No offense intended, hope none taken :)


  15. Taylor Gibb

    @Jase :) none taken, its all part of the job. Each geek to his/her own :) im actually a Server Engineer, well MCSE, so i user Server 2008 on one of the two laptops i carry around, i didnt think this post would apply to 99% percent of you guys, but for the 1% like me, who like huge geek cred :) this is uber l33t :)

  16. Jase

    @taylor yeah, i can see the geek kudos for doing this. so fair play ! Happy christmas :)

    [ and i have to admit to downloading a copy of the oem project by neige. The geek in me is more than a little curious :) ]

  17. halladayrules

    @Jase kudos to you for trying out the workstation project. Neige is a very cool dude. I communicate with him regularly on the win2008workstation forums a lot. I like to consider him a long lost brother, in the IT geek world. I rebuttal to those who claim that R2 doesn’t make a good workstation. The truth is there is very little difference between the two, rather functionality that sets them apart. The hardest thing you will find is not the fact that certain software/drivers won’t work, but rather lack of vendor support for said application. For example Intel makes a driver for “7 only” and refuses to install on R2. The problem is NOT that it is isn’t compatible with the OS, but rather the vendors choosing not to support it.

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