Alongside Microsoft's Oct. 1 release of the Windows 10 Technical Preview, the company offered early previews of the next iteration of Windows Server and System Center. With final releases not expected until the summer of 2015, these extremely early technical previews are a marked departure from the norm for Microsoft.
Far from being feature complete or even stable, the Windows Server Technical Preview nevertheless presents a way to become familiar with new features coming down the pike, and to put the UI changes through their paces.
As you'd expect, Windows Server Technical Preview largely builds on virtualisation, storage, networking, and management capabilities introduced with Windows Server 2012. But it also holds a few nice surprises. Here is a quick tour of the highlights -- for now. We're sure to see much more in the coming months.
Start menu and the UI
Debate over the switch from the Windows 7 Start menu to the Start screen in Windows 8 has been nonstop since day one, but if the Start screen proved to be a bad fit for laptops and workstations, it makes even less sense for servers. Fortunately the new Start menu isn't limited to the Windows 10 client, but is also present in the Windows Server Technical Preview. While server users won't benefit much from Windows 8-style live tiles, the new Start menu (accessed by clicking the Windows button) is unobtrusive and familiar.
The other big changes in the UI are focused on multitasking. First is support for virtual desktops (not to be confused with remote desktops), which can be used to group like applications into separate desktop instances. The ability to snap windows to the edges of the screen is also enhanced in the technical preview. Instead of simply splitting the screen in half like in Windows 7 and Windows 8, you can split the screen into quarters. This feature is clearly more beneficial to desktop users (hopefully most of your server management isn't done from the console), but anything that makes an admin's workflow smoother and more efficient is welcome.
The command line and PowerShell
Thanks to PowerShell, more and more admins are driving their Windows servers from the command line. Microsoft is improving the experience there too. In current versions of Windows, selecting text or doing a simple copy and paste into the Windows command line is not only a pain, but can introduce line breaks, tabs, and inconsistent or unexpected characters. These inconsistencies are gone in the Windows Server Technical Preview. Now when you paste incompatible special characters such as slanted quotes into the command line, they are automatically cleaned up and converted into their command-line-safe equivalents.
Microsoft is aware that PowerShell is a major selling point of the Windows Server platform right now and is taking measures to ensure the whole experience is optimised and pain free. The Windows Server Technical Preview includes PowerShell 5, which is a significant release offering critical new features, as well as updates to features that have been around for a while. The biggest new feature in PowerShell 5 is OneGet, which brings package management capabilities to Windows.
Another major new area of improvement is the ability to manage network switches from within PowerShell, a nod to Microsoft's efforts to leverage automation throughout the data center. Other PowerShell enhancements include updates to Desired State Configuration and the ability to natively manage zip archive files.
Like the old Windows 7 Start menu, the new Start menu in Windows Server Technical Preview offers fast access to all apps and files.
Windows Defender, Microsoft's free antimalware solution, was originally licensed only for home use, then integrated into the OS with Windows 8. The Windows Server Technical Preview includes Windows Defender natively, though the UI element is optional. Many corporate customers will likely prefer an enterprise antimalware solution, but there are clear benefits to having Windows Defender enabled natively. Having antimalware protection from the get-go is a big deal, and the ability to manage it through PowerShell is another notable win for system administrators.
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