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Evaluating Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 2

WIndows Server 2016 Technical Preview 2 - Control Panel System

As with any new server operating system release, I look at the various features to see what’s been improved, changed, added or removed. Since the most likely use of an on-premise Windows Server is filesharing and Active Directory services, I look at those.

Active Directory

Most of the tools here are the same. I created a domain (reboot required), add users, and Windows did what you might generally expect it would. The tools are all similar from Server Manager to DHCP, to DNS Server. I also noticed the ADSI tool was installed by default.

As you might expect, Windows XP (or older) clients were not able to join a Windows Server 2016 domain. I tried a few things and wasn’t able to figure out if there was a setting that made this possible. I was able to connect via peer-to-peer (with lower authentication levels) and map a drive. At least that’s still possible on XP.

Network Controller

A new server role to configure and monitor network connections seemed like a great idea. After installing the role, I didn’t see much in the way of tools to configure the features. My guess is this will be filled out in later releases (and little can be done with a single physical connection).

Project Spartan Browser on WIndows Server 2016

Project Spartan

I was keenly interested in “Project Spartan” (the codename for Microsoft’s next browser). Since it wasn’t launchable in the Administrator context, I created a limited user and managed to run the browser. Appropriately named, Spartan appears to be a serious re-think of what Internet Explorer was. Clearly, the look of this browser is inspired by Chrome, but also, the blocky, flat title area is unique. I used spartan to open pages, download files, and do most of what I needed without issues.


As always, the thing that seems to help (and hurt) Microsoft the most is backwards compatibility. In many ways, I use the GUI as a crutch, and because I can have it, I take it. The way Linux allows you to get into a shell, do what you might need (like test a browser), and then drop back to a command line with a simple keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-Alt-F1) – where you could start and stop the shell at will.

There are definitely cases where the UI is needed over that of other things. In application testing, third party remote access tools, and generally any power graphical tool (like Total Commander) will put a shell to shame. I was happy to see that my remote access tool of choice (ScreenConnect) worked well when Windows Server 2016 had the full GUI installed.

And, the welcome return of booting to the desktop and access to a start menu is part of this release. Windows Server 2012‘s Metro (or Modern) apps screen was the most jarring and absolutely useless addition to an operating system that I’ve seen in a long time. Going through roles and services, I noticed some holdovers too. WINS Server is still an installable role. Changing the server’s name still requires a reboot. Most of the common controls look the same as previous Windows versions.

Missing or Removed Features [1]

I’m not yet sure if these things are going to be added for the final, or they’ll be casualties of Microsoft’s need to push server core on the masses. At first, I couldn’t find the Snipping Tool, but I eventually found it. Here’s what seemed to be missing:

1. Anti-Virus is enabled by default, but no UI is installed for the product (found in Add Roles/Features)
2. Any sort of GUI for the Network Controller interface (maybe this will all be the command line?)
3. Many GUI elements associated with control panel, such as display changes, customize notifications screen

Stuff I didn’t test but wanted to try

1. Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE Tunnelling) –  This lightweight tunnelling feature seems to have some promise as an option for connecting branch offices. I didn’t have the infrastructure to test this.
2. Cloud-based tools revolving around Azure – Some of this may really be compelling in a bunch of branch markets, but it’s still a challenge to evaluate their usefulness (at this point).
3. Hyper-V – This included a large number of new features and enhancements, but my server did possess the CPU features for virtualization. That will have to wait for another test.
4. Security Configuration Wizard –  This is also missing, but it made sense.

I made a massive group of screenshots while testing the various roles and features. If you’d like to see everything, check out the image gallery here.

Clearly, this Technical Preview is an early look at Windows Server. Lots of code is missing, and some features aren’t so easy to get at or fully implemented. Microsoft appears to be pushing for a couple of things: Bring cloud-based (and Azure) features into premise servers, and taking away the need for GUI administration. The idea that we can complete, and remotely administer a Windows server from a command line is something many don’t associate with Windows. Could Microsoft change that?

As with my previous look at Office, I created a large number of screenshots. Get them all here.

Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 2 (formerly Windows Server 10) expires on October 2, 2015. Server 2016 is expected to see a general release sometime in 2016. More on what’s new.

1. A more detailed list can be found here.