I have been a fan of Windows Home Server since the 1.0 beta days, using it at home in a production fashion. I stuck with the platform into the Vail days (Windows Home Server 2011), even with the removal of Drive Extender, because the media components and remote access capabilities are very nice to have, although not ideal.
Last week, however, as part of a major alignment of server SKUs, Microsoft announced that Windows Home Server is now dead-end, as are both Small Business Server SKUs.
The replacement, such as it is, is Windows Server 2012 Beta Essentials. I say it that way because there’s a lot of stuff not there, especially if you are an SBS person. However, for BA’s customers, this is not an issue – the move to Office 365 is happening so rapidly that this won’t be an issue.
In any event, because I am a happy WHS user, I wanted to see what the replacement would be like. There’s an excellent series by Terry Walsh at wegotserved that makes a good case that you can use the Windows 8 client to fill the need, and ArsTechnica made a similar point in their “death of WHS” post (where I got the tombstone picture above). But I want to see what the “official” replacement looks like, so I decided to spin up Hyper-V on my Windows 8 Release Preview machine and play a little.
To start, you’re going to want a VM with at least 2 GB of memory and 160 GB of hard drive space. You also need to have a NIC, either legacy or Hyper-V synthetic, that has a working network connection. The official specs are on the download page and at least at some level, they aren’t lying. I didn’t do that, so let’s see what goes wrong before showing it work correctly so you can learn from my mistake.
I initially configured a VM with dynamic memory from 512 MB to 2 GB, an 80 GB hard drive, and no network connection. Let’s see what happened.
I started by booting off the DVD, which works automatically because I don’t have another OS so the standard DVD boot sector that Microsoft uses doesn’t ask if I want to boot of the DVD; it assumes I do, and it’s right.
Before the next screen there is a very quick loading screen, which is fast enough on my VM that I couldn’t get a screenshot – but it is a little different than the Windows 7 version of the same thing, so someone spent a little time on that at least. There are I’m sure other changes that are not as visible.
I included the Hyper-V chrome in the screenshot just to show that was really what I was using. You won’t really see it much from now on.
I next got the standard first Windows Server 2012 installation screen. I left the defaults as they are right for me.
Is it just me, or is the lining up of the Windows Server 2012 banner with the drop-downs both right and wrong? It looks silly to not be centered but then it would look wrong relative to the dropdown placement. Don’t know if there’s a “right” answer here. Anyway, I next get the
Install now and
Repair your computer options. So far, if you’ve installed Vista, Server 2008, or later, nothing particularly odd here.
I then clicked the Install now button – yay! But no:
I got this error:
Windows cannot open the required file D:\Sources\install.wim. Make sure all files required for installation are available, and restart the installation. Error code: 0x800705AA
What does this mean? Well, after some Bing searches I find that it is telling me that Setup is out of memory. It appears dynamic memory support is not in WinPE. Learn something new every day. It’s an edge case so I can’t be annoyed about it. We’ll just change the memory to be fixed at 2 GB and move on.
So I reset the VM, this time getting the standard boot sector prompt for booting from the DVD that we’ve all come to know and love since Windows NT 4.0:
I pressed a key and went back through setup again. This time I got a successful “
Setup is starting“:
And then get asked for the product key. The public download page has the shared key for all beta installs (it’s the same TechNet gives me – I checked).
There is a weird bug exposed if you try to copy and paste the key from the web page – somehow Setup gets confused about the dashes and ends up losing text box available length, so you can’t actually put the whole key in. If that happens you need to reboot and go through it again. So to save you the trouble, here’s the key without dashes, which you can copy and paste into the VM:
Next up is the license agreement. As I always say, I just accepted it, ignoring the “first born son” part because they almost never enforce that provision:
Oh, which type of installation? Well, since the hard drive is empty, this is seems very stupid. There’s only one right option – the second “
Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)” option. Why isn’t Setup smart enough to see that no attached hard drive have anything on them so there’s nothing to
Upgrade? Well, actually, there’s a good reason, as we’ll see. Anyway, I chose the desired option of
Where do I want to install Windows? On the single empty hard drive of course. This is why Upgrade makes sense on the previous screen, though – if I needed to load a storage driver to see my Windows installation, this is where I’d do it. So Setup has no way of knowing at the previous screen if there is an OS somewhere it just can’t see yet. Tricky tricky…
Then comes the setup status that is also essentially unchanged since Vista / Server 2008.
The first boot process does its stuff…
Then I was logged in automatically as
And finally the installation “continues”…
But uh oh, again not following directions burned me:
Yes, this says 90 GB, when the requirements say 160 GB. Whatever. And yes, there is a grammar issue – “
Some issue were found” indeed. I am very sad this screen was ever public which such an obvious issue. Some SDET or something somewhere needs to be slapped.
So I went through it all again, this time using a larger hard drive (120 GB). Once I made it past this part, I finally got to something fun.. Or not. Remember when I said I didn’t have a network connection?
Oops! Just to make sure that my Hyper-V synthetic card is visible to the OS, I used the old Shift-F10 standby to get a Command Prompt, then ran
ipconfig to see the disconnected card:
So now it’s a question of connecting the card, running another
ipconfig to make sure I now have an IP address, and hitting the
Restart button. The OS went through a standard reboot, and an again automatically logged in (hey, it recovered!) with setup. Finally I seemed to be getting somewhere:
Screen clipping taken: 7/13/2012 10:34 AM
The time zone was Pacific Time by default (of course) so I hit “
Change system date and time settings” and the standard dialog we all know and love (?) came up:
I selected “
Change time zone“, set the time zone appropriately, then pressed “
OK“, and then “
I now got a very interesting screen – “
Clean install” or “
Server migration“. In this case it’s clean but it’s clear that if you were moving from SBS you’d want to do a migration:
I may go back later and do a migration but at this point I wanted to see something – anything – installed so I did a clean installation. I next had identification information requested:
Note that when I put in a company name a sane domain name was suggested. Also note that I was giving a NetBIOS domain name, not a DNS domain name, which is interesting. The server name was NOT set sanely, which is also interesting and a bit of a letdown after seeing a sane domain name selected.
Just for kicks I clicked the “
What should I know before I personalize my server?” link and got a nice long page telling me that domain names can only be 15 simple characters etc. etc. which is right for a NetBIOS domain name:
Also note the odd UI issue of black text on the dark title bar making the title unreadable. Again I expected better for the first public release. Small but obvious UI issues like this one and the grammar issue above significantly undermine confidence in the QA process and thus the product as a whole. Anyway, moving on… The next question is for the name of an administrator account. Of course I tried
Administrator but that would be too easy – the default
500) account is disabled automatically after installation (that information is in the help if you click “
How do I choose this information?” although the help doesn’t explicitly say something like “
Administrator is reserved and cannot be used.“) If you try to use it Setup yells at you:
So I picked something different:
Now it’s time for the peon… I mean standard user account:
Hey, it’s update configuration time! I used the recommended settings because I’m a good little admin:
Also note the bottom point – the feedback features are turned on by default in the beta just like the other 2012/Windows 8 beta releases. After that, it’s back to hurry up and wait:
Let me say at this point I would find the experience much more pleasant if the initial setup dialogs checked things like memory, network, hard drive space, and so on, and asked me the other questions, before they do. That would let the installer answer everything, click a button, and walk away, knowing it will all work. I was just installing Ubuntu the other day and was very annoyed that it kept stopping at seemingly random (of course not really) times to ask for yet more information and thought, “glad I don’t have to deal with that with a Windows Server”… surprise!.
After a while and at least one reboot (I admit I was not watching 100%), I started to log in again and this time, it was as my new administrator account in my new domain:
And it’s ALIVE:
At this point, it’s time to connect a client, so I just spin up… oh… well, I have a Windows XP VM handy… oh, that’s no good according to the specs, and that one feels like a hard stop, so at this point I created a Windows 7 VM. It’s easy enough to do and I won’t bother going through details here as that’s not the point of this already very long post.
It was about this time however I realized that the server might be doing DHCP (uh oh!) so I checked… and it isn’t, which is actually the correct behavior. I don’t want it to, so yay for that. I suspect no one would want it to by default since you have working Internet somehow, presumably with a router handing out DHCP.
I think this is far enough for a single post. I’ll do later posts on the client connectivity and the dashboard experience very soon.
Michael C. Bazarewsky
Principal Consultant, Server and Security