Sounds easy enough, right? Well, good old MS decided to make even this simple task require an extra step. In my case, I was working with a client where I needed to turn on these features to satisfy a web application requirement. At the time of discovering this, my primary desktop was and still is 2008R2 – hence why I was so baffled. Probably like most admins, I hate having too much junk load on startup; for me, it’s AV, APC, and Raid Tools. One of the first things I disable is the annoying popup’s that windows server displays such as the server manager dashboard. I just don’t see the need for this. Every time I reboot my Server I don’t need to waste 5 mins waiting for this dashboard to load in the rare instance that I might have some epiphany that I now need to add a new role for the feature to my sever. This, however, was my downfall, I’ll explain below.
So, to make a long story longer, I simply added the Desktop Experience feature to the server that I had just finished configuring to look and feel as much like Windows 7 as I could. This feature requires a reboot to take affect, so I rebooted thinking nothing of it. However, to my surprise, the IE features like flash were still not working. Going back to the server manager I noticed that the Desktop Experience Feature was still unchecked. Being that this machine was a VM, and not my VM, or even part of my domain, I immediately suspected GPO foul play. So, I dumped an effective list of GPO settings with GPRESULT and found nothing of interest. I enabled the feature again, rebooted, and this time watched the VM boot via the Hypervisor. What I noticed was that on startup the new feature failed to install and windows rolled it back. To be honest this had me stumped for a while if I had to bet I would have put my money on Group Policy. The answer, however, was so simple yet so frustrating I felt compelled to write this blog.
In short, the fact that I disabled the annoying Dashboard on startup is what did me in. Below you will see the setting I am referring to. Starting with 2012 Server this Dashboard is now required to load at startup for many windows features to be enabled and even disabled. For example, I tried removing a bunch of features from this test VM and sure enough, after a reboot, they were right back. I tested this on 2012R2 and can confirm this bizarre behavior, 2012R1 or whatever else you would like to call it I did not personally test. I would suspect it would behave the same but who knows with MS these days. Don’t even get me started on having to insert a DVD to install .net 3.5 on 2012R2. Can you say hello Windows 95?