Core Configurator 2.0 puts the GUI back in Server Core

The Server  Core installation for Windows 2008 is, for me, one of the more daring things Microsoft has ever done with its server OS line. Here we have an edition of Windows Server that is so minimal it doesn’t even

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ship with a copy of Explorer; it’s something you set up and forget about, or administer remotely when you need to administer it at all.

But if you strip a system down to the point that it doesn’t even come with most of the default admin tools commonly shipped with Windows Server, how do you administer it? The command line is there, but it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with for extended periods of time, especially if you have a lot of different jobs to accomplish.

To alleviate the annoyances of setting up Server Core, programmers Tony Ison and Andrew Auret knocked heads and created a utility called Core Configurator 2.0 to handle the job. It’s a GUI-based program that’s delivered on an .ISO, meaning you can either burn it to a CD or unpack it onto a flash drive and install it directly from there. (One of the program’s options is to load automatically at startup, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of launching it by hand each time.)

Once installed and running, Core Configurator 2.0 presents you with five basic categories of editable options:

  • Computer Settings
  • Network
  • Licensing
  • Control Panel
  • Hyper-V

Each option sports a whole submenu of choices on its own. For instance, the Computer Settings sub-window lets you change the server role, modify the services list, edit domain settings or set up remote management options.

The other options are equally detailed, so you might want to spelunk through them to see where everything is. Note, however, that the placement of individual options can be a little counterintuitive at first glance. For example, iSCSI configuration is listed under “Storage settings” -- but it’s in the <i>Network</i> menu. This makes sense if you think about it, but obviously you won’t find it if you start by looking in the Computer Settings pane (and it may not be clear why at first). Fortunately, the program’s main menu bar provides you with quick access to many common system tools like the command prompt, Task Manager, Registry Editor and System Information utility.

Another sub-option worth talking about is Core Configurator 2.0’s Licensing submenu, which provides you with a slew of common functions for managing the license of a current instance of Windows Server. This comes in handy if you’ve set up a provisional instance of Server Core and want to license it legitimately, change the KMS server that it will pull licensing data from, or clear the product key and forcibly reset the machine’s licensing and activation status.

All the activities performed through Core Configurator 2.0 are written to a log file, so you can determine exactly what was done and when. Note that this log is plaintext and isn’t stored as one of Windows’ own logs, so you can read it with nothing more than an instance of Notepad or any other plaintext editor.

Finally, Core Configurator 2.0 is an open source utility that’s issued under the terms of the Microsoft Public License.

Figure 1. Core Configurator 2.0 (click to enlarge)

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for more than 15 years for a variety of publications, including InformationWeek and Windows Magazine.

This was first published in October 2010

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