Saturday, June 15, 2024

Microsoft, Please Release Windows Server as a Workstation

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As I write this column, I’m using the Milestone 3 release of Windows 7. While it’s still probably too early to make any sweeping judgments about a product that is probably close to a year from release, if current results are even a fleeting indication of what is in store, I’m not impressed. With the exception of a few tweaks, Windows 7 looks to be just another Vista.

Sure, there are a few things about Windows 7 that I like. I didn’t have to immediately turn off User Account Control because of constant nagging in Vista – it only asked me about something once when I was installing a bunch of applications.

Homegroup sounds interesting, but I’m not sure if it’s any better than standard workgroup networking or what value it brings to the enterprise, since it’s primarily targeted towards consumers. The Libraries function may be a good option for file organization but I don’t see it as a “must-have” feature.

Same with the new Taskbar and Start Menu – about which I will add that, as of Milestone 3, there’s no longer a way to configure it to make it look like an old-school Windows XP or Windows 2000 Start Menu. Microsoft has ripped that functionality out, and is forcing users to stay with the Windows 7/Vista-style Start Menu interface with Jump Lists, at least with the default policy and registry settings that ship with the software.

For those of us who have been using the old Start Menu paradigm since Windows 95, it’s a difficult adjustment. In fact I’d say it’s downright confusing and actually results in reduced user productivity. While home users might readily accept the change, from a corporate user standpoint, it might be a deal breaker.

The dark horse in all of this Windows 7 mania is the desktop’s counterpart – Windows Server 2008 R2, which currently boots up as “Windows Server 7” in the latest Milestone 3 version released at the last Microsoft PDC. Now, here is an OS that I can really sink my teeth into. A clean, simplified interface, all the tools and menus are exactly right where you want them, and none of that Aero and special effects garbage to eat up your memory and clutter up your work desktop.

Call me an ascetic, but when I’m doing work, I want to get work done. All the bells and whistles in Vista are simply an obstruction to doing that. Yes, I know you can turn them off with policies and componentized installs and such, but why go through all that aggravation just to strip something down when you can just ship a CD that already does this in the first place?

Back in February of this year I made a similar plea for Microsoft to do a quick turnaround on the current version of Server 2008 and provide a desktop license scheme for it. In other words, if you bought Vista licenses, you could run Server 2008 instead on your desktop PCs. While I think that there would have to be restrictions imposed, I really don’t think we’re talking about a major development effort here. The changes would include removing the ability to run the software as a Domain Controller and cutting the number of incoming connections. Also, the keycode to activate the product would need to set registry entries to make 3rd-party products aware it was running on a “Workstation” licensed build, and not the “Server” (like various virus scanners and such that charge much more for server-based versions).

We’re talking about a few weeks of development to tweak the registration and Windows Genuine authentication stack.

The idea of making Server 2008 into a workstation is not unique. Vijayshinva Karnure of Microsoft India blogged about transforming Server into a Workstation OS) for software developers and sysadmins that would want to run the OS on their laptops and desktops – particularly for its Hyper-V virtualization stack.

My brother Brandon, who lives in Los Angeles and works in the computer animation and entertainment industry as a subcontractor for various Hollywood film studios, recently built a quad-processor Xeon workstation with 16GB of RAM for running his high-end MAYA 3D rendering software.

While his workstation was certainly powerful enough to run Vista, he just didn’t want all the extra bells and whistles eating up his CPU or cluttering his workspace, all of which comes at a premium in his profession — chewed up CPU cycles and memory result in slower renderings, and with MAYA 3D, renderings are done in real-time. Instead of Vista, he built the system with Server 2008 – and all his software and drivers for his high-end hardware run perfectly fine. As it should, because it’s built around the same core OS as Vista.

Microsoft ignored me the last time when I asked for a Windows 2008 Workstation. With their latest efforts to “disappear” Vista from the consumer and enterprise consciousness by trying to get Windows 7 out the door at a breakneck pace, they might very well ignore me again. But this time, they may want to give it a second thought – with the move toward greener computing and netbooks in the consumer space, and the desire to move toward thin clients and virtualized desktops in the enterprise, a leaner, meaner OS such as Workstation 2008 may fit the bill.

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