How-To Geek

Using Server 2008 R2 as a Desktop OS: Installation and Setup (Part 1)


In this four part mini-series we are going to look at using Server 2008 R2 as an everyday operating system. In this article we will help you get the OS installed, install the Windows Desktop Experience and get your wireless working.

Editor’s Note: this is obviously a very geeky topic, and the average user would want to stick with Windows 7. If you do a lot of server maintenance and other tasks, however, it could be useful to run Windows Server as your desktop.


Installing Server 2008 R2, can be done on almost any machine that can run Windows 7. The installation process is almost identical to that of Windows 7 as well, however if you are still a little bit unsure of the steps you can always check out our guide over here.


Installing the Windows Desktop Experience

The Windows Desktop Experience brings a whole bunch of stuff that is included with Windows 7, to Server 2008 R2. This makes it feel more like a Desktop OS, as opposed to a Server OS. To be more precise it installs the following components:

  • Windows Media Player
  • Desktop themes
  • Video for Windows
  • Windows SideShow
  • Windows Defender
  • Disk Cleanup
  • Sync Center
  • Sound Recorder
  • Character Map
  • Snipping Tool

To add the Windows Desktop Experience open the Server Manager and right-click on Features and select add Feature from the context menu.


This will bring up a list of the Features that can be installed on Server 2008 R2, since we know exactly which we want, we can go ahead and check the Desktop Experience, this will bring up a required Features dialog, click on the Add Required Features button and we are good to go. Click next to continue.


After you have read the overview of your installation, you can click install.


The installation is very quick, once it has completed you will need to restart you machine. This can quickly be done by clicking on one of the links.


Once Windows begins Shutting Down it will add all the components to your installation.


That’s all there is to installing the Windows Desktop Experience, this will come in handy for future articles.

Why Wont My Wireless Work?

If you are following this guide on a laptop or even a desktop with a wireless card, you might be surprised to find that your wireless card is picked up and the driver gets installed but is disabled by default. To make things even worse when you try enable it, it just stays disabled. This is by design as you will almost never see a server using a wireless network, so they decided to make the WLAN AutoConfig Service completely optional. It can, however, be installed easily, again using the Features section of Server Manager. Once you have clicked on Add Features, scroll all the way down and select the Wireless LAN Service then click next and then install.


You should reboot your PC again at this point. Once you log back on to your PC you should see that your Wireless is now working.


You network icon should also change


This is just the tip of the iceberg, in the upcoming articles we will look at getting the Aero Themes, making the Sound work, enabling search and fixing a some annoyances, stay tuned 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 12/20/11

Comments (20)

  1. MJ

    Really nice. This can be useful for students which can get free and genuine licenses for Windows Server 2008 R2 from dreamspark:

  2. iam_urz

    great start. now what about the product keys?

  3. Jonathan

    When I try to install desktop experience to my 2008 r2 workstation, it acts like it is going to install and it will restart. Then i will log back in and it will try to install desktop experience again (on its own then want to restart) It will do this 3 times until it notices that its not going to work and it will stop trying to install it. Is there anything I can do to get this working right?

  4. Taylor Gibb

    After it reboots and you log back in, it should do some config, but it shouldnt need to restart again.

  5. Jonathan

    Yes it shouldn’t but it does and I don’t know why it is having issues for such a easy install. It just stays in a reboot cycle for 3 times and then gives up and doesn’t install it. I have found others on some forums that have had the same issues as me, but no one has answered how to fix it. I am working on it right now trying to figure it out. Any help will be appreciated.

  6. spin498

    Isn’t this overkill? I can’t find a version for under $700 here in Canada.

  7. mgo

    “Installing Server 2008 R2, can be done on almost any machine that can run Windows 7”

    -Shouldn’t the article have mentioned that a 64 bit capable machine is necessary?

  8. K@RiS

    As nice as this looks on the surface, could you list the benefits of using WS2K8 R2 as a desktop please?

  9. Out_Cold

    @SPIN498: Although the retail cost of 08 may be that pricey, a seasoned geek can resourcefully obtain a ligitimate or illigitamite license for next to nothing. I’m not suggesting you to go steal a license, but ask your IT department or talk to your computer professor. If you are really desperate, google “windows loaders” at your own risk.

  10. spin498

    OUT_COLD that’s two interesting suggestions. Unfortunately, I’m retired, so I’m both my own IT dept. and my own computer Professor. I still have contacts at the old place, I might be able to work something out.

  11. Taylor Gibb

    @mgo i should have probably pointed this out =D sorry about that :)

  12. dima

    I fail to see a point of using Server edition as a desktop OS. It’s optimized for servers for a reason, why would one want to add all the crap to it instead of just using Windows 7? Can anyone enlighten me?

  13. John Davies

    Whilst it may be useful or nice to have some Win7 features on a Server 2008 box surely this is mainly meant to allow for XenApp Published Desktops to provide the end user with a similar look and feel in a corporate environment comprising Thick, Thin and VDI…..

    Are you going to include using Hyper-V and SCVMM instead of VMWare Workstation later parts of this article?

  14. rangerevo8

    Does it work with NVIDIA graphic card and latest gaming stuff ? (Or was it suitable for running games?)
    Was planning to combine server (hyper-v) with gaming machine.

  15. SergeantFTC

    @MJ: Agreed. That’s where I got my copy. Dreamspark Rules!

  16. TBerg

    This is a GREAT article for me. I am taking 2 Server classes next semester. (One being Linux Server using Knoppix, and the other being Windows Server using ’08 R2.) I am also contemplating running a HP Proliant G3 DL380 for the semester. This is going to be fun semester for me. Please do get into the hyper V and etc.. -Although you do have a point about the Wireless on a server. I noticed a lot of people asking WHY waste time with this article, but for those needing certification or learning -this is GREAT! I got 3 systems on my network at home right now, and this came at just the right time! Dreamspark IS awesome, but MSDNAA is even better;-) If your college don’t have MSDNAA bug them to GET IT! (Microsoft Developers Network Academic Alliance -or something like that) Taking one computer class at the community college where I attend opens up the gate for a WHOLE BUNCH of absolutely free Microsoft software. -I even get Visual Studio Ultimate for free. I encourage everyone to take a class here and there -it can only make you worth more, and it’s even great for people like the retired guy… Something to do!

  17. Jon L

    “What is the point of running server 2008 as a desktop?”

    I didnt plan to do so but when my main pc , a vista 64 went south during a rather busy time the only availiable machine was a test 2008 server, complete with domain!

    As i never turn off the main pc as it takes too long to boot if I have to respond it stays running for years. My dell optiplex 300m pentium with wi 2k kept going for 10 years before I changed it…

    The main advantage seems to be that it seems to handle the memory better without having to reboot as frequently. I have to boot the current win 7 roughly once a fortnight to get it back into line whereas the server desktop would keep going for months.

    As i have an awful lot of stuff open all the time restarting can be a lengthy business….

    Biggest problem I had was that some apps are designed so they wont install on a server (microsoft office 2010 being an example unless you pay £1.5k for 5 user sw “assured” licence.) and I hadnt got around to finding a way to spoof the server into an apparent workstation when i moved to the current win 7.

    I must admit I thought this Aero business was just a gimmick but it really IS usefull on a full desktop so getting that on a server desktop is a good bit of work.

  18. David C

    As Jon pointed out above, if you use Microsoft Office 2007/2010 forget about using those on Windows 2008 Server R2. I think most of us are running these programs so don’t waste your time on this unless someone has a workaround. I am a Technet subscriber and brand new keys come back as too many activations already on those keys. Not the case…never been used.
    Everything else worked fine. You couldn’t tell that it was the server os. I will stick with Windows 7 and Windows 8 with xampp for a web server platform.

  19. Taylor Gibb

    I use Office 2010 fine on my machine running 2008 R2

  20. ColdEmbrace

    I’m running Server 2k8 on a desktop as an actual server, it’s fun for me to use to learn on and my domain whilst completely overkill is worth it.

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