Windows Server 2019 – Navigating the interface

How to Create a Droplet with DigitalOcean

Unfortunately, Microsoft turned a lot of people off with the introduction of Windows 8 and Server 2012, not because functionality or reliability was lacking, but because the interface was so vastly different than it had been before. It was almost like running two separate operating systems at the same time. You had the normal desktop experience, in which all of us spent 99.9% of our time, but then there were also those few moments where you found yourself needing to visit the full page Start menu. More likely, you stumbled into it without wanting to. However you ended up there, inside that fullscreen tablet-like interface, for the remaining 0.01% of your Server 2012 experience you were left confused, disturbed, and wishing you were back in the traditional desktop. I am, of course, speaking purely from experience here. There may be variations in your personal percentages of time spent, but, based on the conversations I have been involved with, I am not alone in these views. And, I haven’t even mentioned the magical self-appearing Charms bar. Some bad memories are better left in the recesses of the brain.

The major update of Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 came with welcome relief to these symptoms. There was an actual Start button in the corner again, and you could choose to boot primarily into the normal desktop mode. However, should you ever have the need to click on that Start button, you found yourself right back in the full page Start screen, which I still find almost all server admins trying their best to avoid at all costs.

Well, it turns out that Microsoft listened and brought some much-needed relief in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. While not quite back to the traditional Start menu that existed back in 2008, we have a good mix of both old ways and new ways of launching the tools that we need to access on our server platforms.

As far as the graphical interface goes, Windows Server 2019 is mostly unchanged from Server 2016, because we have not seen a major interface update on the client operating system. As you already know, each new version of Windows Server has received updates to the point-and-click interface based on what the latest Windows client operating system is at the time, and this is the first time in many years that a new server operating system has been released while the client operating system is still hanging out on the same version—Windows 10. If you are comfortable navigating around in Windows 10, you will be well-suited to Windows Server 2019.

For anyone who is new to working within Windows, or is just looking for some tips and tricks to get you rolling, this section is for you. 

The updated Start menu

As sub-versions of Windows 10 have been released, there have been small ongoing changes to the Start menu. All in all, I consider many of the changes to be backpedalling from the Windows 8 fiasco. We are now back to a real Start button that launches a real Start menu, one that doesn’t take over the entire desktop. To be honest, personally I almost never open the Start menu at all, other than to search for the application or feature that I want. We will cover more on that very soon. However, when I do open up the Start menu and look at it, there are a few nice things that stand out.

  • All of the applications installed on the server are listed here, in alphabetical order. This is very useful for launching an application, or for doing a quick check to find out whether or not a particular app or feature is installed on your server.
  • The left side of the Start menu includes a few buttons for quick access to items. Probably the most useful buttons here are power controls for shutting down or restarting the server, and the Settings gear that launches system settings.
  • By default, the right side of the Start menu shows some bigger buttons, sometimes called live tiles. Pinning items to be shown here, gives you an easy-access location for items that you commonly launch on your server, and having the larger buttons is useful when you are controlling your server from a touchscreen laptop or something similar.

You can see all three of these functions in the following screenshot:

Now, that is a breath of fresh air. A simple but useful Start menu, and more importantly one that loads quickly over remote connections such as RDP or Hyper-V consoles.

The Quick Admin Tasks menu

As nice as it is to have a functional Start menu, as a server administrator I still very rarely find myself needing to access the traditional menu for my day-to-day functions. This is because many items that I need to access are quickly available to me inside the quick tasks menu, which opens by simply right-clicking on the Start button. This menu has been available to us since the release of Windows 8, but many IT professionals are still unaware of this functionality. This menu has become an important part of my interaction with Windows Server operating systems, and hopefully it will be for you as well. Right-clicking on the Start button shows us immediate quick links to do things like open the Event Viewer, view the System properties, check Device Manager, and even Shut down or Restart the server. The two most common functions that I call for in this context menu are the Run function and using it to quickly launch a PowerShell prompt. Even better is the ability from this menu to open either a regular user context PowerShell prompt, or an elevated/administrative PowerShell prompt. Using this menu properly saves many mouse clicks and shortens troubleshooting time.

Alternatively, this menu can be invoked using the WinKey + X keyboard shortcut!

Using the Search function

While the Quick Admin menu hidden behind the Start button is useful for calling common administrative tasks, using the Search function inside the Start menu is a powerful tool for interfacing with literally anything on your Windows Server. Depending on who installed applications and roles to your servers, you may or may not have shortcuts available to launch them inside the Start menu. You also may or may not have Desktop shortcuts, or links to open these programs from the taskbar. I find that it is often difficult to find specific settings that may need to be tweaked in order to make our servers run like we want them to. The Control Panel is slowly being replaced by the newer Settings menu in newer versions of Windows, and sometimes this results in the discovery of particular settings being difficult. All of these troubles are alleviated with the search bar inside the Start menu. By simply clicking on the Start button, or even easier by pressing the Windows key (WinKey) on your keyboard, you can simply start typing the name of whatever program or setting or document that you want to open up. The search bar will search everything on your local server, and present options to you for which application, setting, or even document, to open.

As a most basic example, press WinKey on your keyboard, then type notepad and press the Enter key. You will see that good old Notepad opens right up for us. We never had to navigate anywhere in the Programs folder in order to find and open it. In fact, we never even had to touch the mouse, which is music to the ears for someone like me who loves doing everything he possibly can via the keyboard:

An even better example is to pick something that would be buried fairly deep inside Settings or the Control Panel. How about changing the amount of time before the screen goes to power save and turns itself off? The traditional server admin will open Control Panel (if you can find it), probably navigate to the Appearance and Personalization section because nothing else looks obviously correct, and still not find what they were looking for. After poking around for a few more minutes, they would start to think that Microsoft forgot to add in this setting altogether. But alas, these power settings are simply moved to a new container, and are no longer accessible through Control Panel at all. We will discuss the new Settings screen momentarily in this chapter, but ultimately for the purposes of this example you are currently stuck at the point where you cannot find the setting you want to change. What is a quick solution? Press your WinKey to open the Start menu, and type monitor (or power, or just about anything else that would relate to the setting you are looking for). You see in the list of available options showing in the search menu one called Choose when to turn off the screen. Click on that, and you have found the setting you were looking for all along:

You will also notice that you have many more options on this Search screen than what you were originally searching for. Search has provided me with many different items that I could accomplish, all relating to the word monitor that I typed in. I don’t know of a more powerful way to open applications or settings on Windows Server 2019 than using the search bar inside the Start menu. Give it a try today!

Pinning programs to the taskbar

While Windows Server 2019 provides great searching capabilities so that launching hard-to-find applications is very easy, sometimes it’s easier to have quick shortcuts for commonly used items to be available with a single click, down in the traditional taskbar. Whether you have sought out a particular application by browsing manually through the Start menu, or have used the Search function to pull up the program that you want, you can simply right-click on the program and choose Pin to taskbar in order to stick a permanent shortcut to that application in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen. Once you have done this, during future logins to your session on the server, your favorite and most-used applications will be waiting for you with a single click. As you can see in the following screenshot, you also have the ability to pin programs to the Start menu, which of course is another useful place from which to launch them regularly:

Many readers will already be very familiar with the process of pinning programs to the taskbar, so let’s take it one step further to portray an additional function you may not be aware is available to you when you have applications pinned.

The power of right-clicking

We are all pretty familiar with right-clicking in any given area of a Windows operating system in order to do some more advanced functions. Small context menus displayed upon a right-click have existed since the mouse rolled off the assembly line. We often right-click in order to copy text, copy documents, paste the same, or get into a deeper set of properties for a particular file or folder. Many day-to-day tasks are accomplished with that mouse button. What I want to take a minute to point out is that software makers, Microsoft and otherwise, have been adding even more right-click functionality into application launchers themselves, which makes it even more advantageous to have them close at hand, such as inside the taskbar.

The amount of functionality provided to you when right-clicking on an application in the taskbar differs depending on the application itself. For example, if I were to right-click on Command Prompt, I have options to either open Command Prompt, or to Unpin from taskbar. Very simple stuff. If I right-click again on the smaller menu option for Command Prompt, I have the ability to perform the same functions, but I could also get further into Properties, or Run as administrator. So, I get a little more enhanced functionality the deeper I go:

However, with other programs you will see more results. And, the more you utilize your servers, the more data and options you will start to see in these right-click context menus. Two great examples are Notepad and the Remote Desktop Client. On my server, I have been working in a few text configuration files, and I have been using my server in order to jump into other servers to perform some remote tasks. I have been doing this using the Remote Desktop Client. Now, when I right-click on Notepad listed in my taskbar, I have quick links to the most recent documents that I have worked on:

When right-clicking on my RDP icon, I now have quick links listed right here for the recent servers that I have connected to. I don’t know about you, but I RDP into a lot of different servers on a daily basis. Having a link for the Remote Desktop Client in the taskbar automatically keeping track of the most recent servers I have visited, definitely saves me time and mouse clicks as I work through my daily tasks:

These right-click functions have existed for a couple of operating system versions now, so it’s not new technology, but it is being expanded upon regularly as new versions of the applications are released. It is also a functionality that I don’t witness many server administrators utilizing, but perhaps they should start doing so in order to work more efficiently, which is why we are discussing it here.

Something that is enhanced in the Windows 10 and Server 2019 platforms that is also very useful on a day-to-day basis is the Quick access view that is presented by default when you open File Explorer. We all know and use File Explorer and have for a long time, but typically when you want to get to a particular place on the hard drive or to a specific file, you have many mouse clicks to go through in order to reach your destination. Windows Server 2019’s Quick access view immediately shows us both recent and frequent files and folders, which we commonly access from the server. We, as admins, often have to visit the same places on the hard drive and open the same files time and time again. Wouldn’t it be great if File Explorer would lump all of those common locations and file links in one place? That is exactly what Quick access does.

You can see in the following screenshot that opening File Explorer gives you quick links to open both frequently accessed folders as well as links to your recent files. A feature like this can be a real time-saver, and regularly making use of these little bits and pieces available to you in order to increase your efficiency, demonstrates to colleagues and those around you that you have a real familiarity and comfort level with this latest round of operating systems:

Comments are closed.