The current release of Microsoft Windows Server arrives today. That is, a new revision number becomes the effective release of Windows Server. This means starting September 4, 2012 with the official product launch, a 28-month calendar starts counting down. The end of mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 R2 is January 2015 and the end of extended support is January 2020.

While you can keep using Windows Server 2008 R2 in a supported manner for some years to come, a horizon on the product lifetime becomes a business planning decision. Figure A shows the old (left) and new (right) “About Windows” dialogs you get when you run “winver.exe”.

Figure A

The current version of Windows Server revs from 6.1 to 6.2

There are probably new features in Windows Server 2012, like Hyper-V Replica Machines and Direct Access that could save money and make your organization more responsive and/or competitive. So because you need both to start thinking about migrating in a year or two, and you may already have a use for Windows Server 2012 features, it won’t be long before you need to join a Windows Server 2012 computer to your Microsoft Active Directory (AD) domain.

Installing Windows Server 2012

Windows Server 2012, released to manufacturing (RTM) version, was made available before official launch as a bootable installation DVD for Microsoft Volume License customers to download. After product launch, the operating system will become available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers, and retail customers. You can select to download either Windows 2012 Standard or Windows 2012 Datacenter; the DVD image download (.ISO file) is the same for both Windows 2012 server editions.

When you boot this DVD, you have a simple list of four choices of OS to install (see Figure B), which is down from eight in Windows Server 2008 R2. (Enterprise and Web editions of Windows Server were dropped.)

Figure B

Windows Server 2012 installation DVD is simplified to four OS choices.

Your first Windows Server 2012 computer is likely going to be a Hyper-V virtual machine (VM). Presently, Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V can host Windows Server 2012 VMs, while not all hypervisor platforms can. You attach the Windows Server 2012 DVD ISO as virtual media to the VM and boot the VM normally. Installation could not be faster or easier. Compare the Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 login screens side-by-side in Figure C.

Figure C

(Left) Windows Server 2008 R2 and (right) Windows Server 2012 logon screens.

Windows Server 2012 VMs running as guests on a Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Hyper-V host require no special handling to work with Hyper-V 2008 R2, that is, Windows Server 2012 VMs already contain the integration utilities to work with Hyper-V 2008 R2 Hyper-V. Windows Server 2012 VMs boot up quickly, providing dynamic memory status to Hyper-V in about 30 seconds, as compared to Windows 2008 R2 VMs which can take over one minute to register their dynamic memory status with the Hyper-V host.

Join the domain

Once you have the Windows Server 2012 OS installed, you will probably want to join the computer to your lab or production domain. A previous TechRepublic post by Scott Lowe covered the domain join, which is the same task in previous Windows Server releases, except that the quickest way to do so is a little different. I find the Windows 2012 Server Manager | Local Server view very convenient for administration tasks like modifying domain membership, Windows firewall, and NIC teaming. To join a domain, just click the current domain or workgroup name in Server Manager.

Windows Server 2012 computers can join a Windows AD domain running at the Windows 2003 or higher domain and forest functionality level. Once you join a Windows domain with a Windows Server 2012 computer, the OS name and version will appear accurately in your existing Windows Active Directory Users and Computer as seen in Figure D.

Figure D

Windows Server 2012 in the Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory Users and Computers console.

Log off and shut down

Windows Server 2012 adopts the new Windows 8-style (“modern”) user interface and in doing so relocates most familiar functions to new positions. After years of being able to issue logoff, restart, or shutdown commands one click away from the Start button, Windows Server 2012 can be disorienting due to the lack of a “Start Button”.

Logging out of Windows Server 2012 is done from the “Start Menu” or Task Manager. Access the Start menu by either (1) clicking the outside corner of the small unmarked tile in the lower left corner of the Windows Server 2012 screen, or (2) by hovering over the upper right or lower right corner of the screen to make the Charms pane visible and clicking on the Start menu charm (looks like a window). From the Start menu, clicking your user name in the upper right corner exposes a small drop-down menu to sign out or lock the computer. Hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete also provides a one-click Sign Out option.
To shut down Windows Server 2012, a quick way is from the Tasks control in the upper right of the Server Manager | Local Server console. Figure E shows the Shut Down Local Server task available in Server Manager. An alternative method is to again hover over the upper right or lower right corner of the screen to make the Charms pane visible and clicking on the Settings charm (looks like a gear). In the lowest row of icons that will appear, select the Power icon, where Shut down and Restart can be found.

Figure E

Shut down computer from Server Manager (tasks link circled at upper right). (Click to enlarge.)