When deploying your Windows server, you can choose either Server with Desktop Experience or Windows Server Core. Read on to find out which one of these installations is right for you.

One of the best things about having your own dedicated server is the flexibility it provides, whether you need a particular operating system, or a custom software configuration.

In the case of Windows Server 2019, you have two installation choices:

  • Server with Desktop Experience
  • Windows Server Core

But what are the actual differences between these installation options? And which one should you choose to suit your Windows Server applications?

Windows Server 2019 vs 2016

Windows Server contains a number of new features compared to the 2016 edition:

  • Storage Migration Service makes it easier to migrate data, security, and configurations from legacy systems (such as Windows Server 2016 Core) to Windows Server 2019
  • System Insights brings local predictive analytics based on AI
  • Data deduplication for ReFS helps to maximise the use of free space
  • Cluster-wide monitoring monitors usage in real time and alerts you to incidents
  • Virtual network peering provides high-speed connectivity between two virtual networks.

There are plenty more features including a whole host of security enhancements and feature improvements. Microsoft has published a full list of the differences between both the latest Windows Desktop Experience and Windows Server 2016 (core included).

What is Windows Desktop Experience?

Server with Desktop Experience installs the standard graphical user interface, usually referred to as GUI, and the full package of tools for Windows Server 2019.

With a Desktop installation, you get a GUI that works the same way as the desktop version of Windows, plus a full range of software components that allow your server to fulfil a large number of server roles).

What is Windows Server Core

Windows Server Core is the minimal installation option that comes without a GUI. Instead of the traditional desktop interface, a Core installation is designed to be managed via the command line using Windows PowerShell.

While Core includes most of the standard server roles, it leaves out many support features that aren’t required for the most common applications.

Windows Server Core: smaller footprint, less vulnerable

One of the main reasons behind the development of Server Core is security. Core installations are smaller, with fewer services running and less code overall. This means that Server Core presents a smaller ‘attack surface’, or in other words, fewer entry points for attackers to exploit.

One advantage of turning off unneeded functionality can be reduced vulnerability to malware attacks and other online threats – although it’s important to remember that vulnerabilities can still be present on Windows Server Core.

Due to its smaller footprint, it’s also easier to manage, with fewer patches and updates being released. This means fewer restarts – and when you're dealing with servers, you'll want to minimise downtime.

When to choose Server with Windows Desktop Experience

A Windows Server 2019 Desktop installation is only really required if you need the full desktop GUI, or the associated management tools.

For more details, Microsoft provides a list of applications that are available/supported or unavailable on Desktop and Core installations.

It can make perfect sense to go with Desktop, however. If you simply prefer a traditional desktop GUI and out-of-the-box setup process, or if you need accessibility tools and audio support, a Desktop installation is definitely the way forward.

When to choose Windows Server Core

For most users, Server Core is recommended. If you’re confident using Windows PowerShell, a GUI isn’t required for the majority of server roles. It also tends to be better suited to remotely managing a server. It’s also worth noting that most of the applications that are technically unavailable on Core can still be run remotely from a client Windows machine.

Core generally requires less management as there are fewer services and features to maintain, and fewer things that can go wrong. Plus, there are the security benefits of a smaller potential attack surface.

Another advantage of Core is reduced storage requirements and memory usage – this offers minor performance and cost benefits on a single server, but over multiple machines it can add up dramatically.

Whether you opt for full-fat Desktop or no-frills Core, at Fasthosts we offer a choice of operating systems across our dedicated server range – including Windows Server 2019. Contact our experts to discuss how we can provide your ideal server today.