The Registry and System Tweaks for Customizing Windows Server 2008 as a Workstation

Posted on September 16, 2009 by Daniel Petri in Windows Server 2008 with 0 Comments

In my previous article titled “Customizing Windows Server 2008 as a Workstation – The Logic” I wrote about the reasons for trying Windows Server 2008 as your workstation, that is instead of using Windows Vista for that task. In order to make the necessary changes and tweak your newly installed system to have more “workstation-like” features, you will need to either manually edit the computer’s registry, use script that accomplish the same task, or use some sort of automated tweaking tool that’ll do it all for you. This is the first article of a 3-part article series.

Next, please continue to my “The Tools for Customizing Windows Server 2008 as a Workstation” for more interesting details.

I currently run Windows Server 2008 machine running on both of my laptops (a Dell XPS M1210 with 4GB of RAM and a 200GB fast hard drive, and a newer Dell XPS M1330 with 8GB or RAM and a 2358GB Solid State hard drive). I did not list ALL available tweaks or changes, I just wrote about the ones that I use the most and that help me get a better working experience with my own machines.

As always, reader feedbacks and recommendations are welcome. Please use the Feedback form for that and I will gladly add your tips to this growing list.

Please carefully read the following warning:

Warning!

This document contains instructions for editing the registry. If you make any error while editing the registry, you can potentially cause Windows to fail or be unable to boot, requiring you to reinstall Windows. Edit the registry at your own risk. Always back up the registry before making any changes. If you do not feel comfortable editing the registry, do not attempt these instructions. Instead, seek the help of a trained computer specialist.

So, let’s get down to the business, shall we? Tips listed in no particular order.

Note: Most of these settings have at least 2 or 3 ways to get to them. One is via the registry, the other is through Group Policy, and perhaps even through the Control Panel or other means. I’ve only listed what in my opinion is the fastest way. YMMV.

Another note: All the settings that can be configured through the registry can be combined into one large REG file which you can later use to apply these same settings to other machines.

Yet another note: Whenever you need to run something in a command prompt and do not succeed, try running the command prompt as an administrator.

runas_admin

And one final note: Most of the tasks described on this page can be performed by using a nice tool with a graphic user interface called “Windows Server 2008 Workstation Converter”.

Convert your Windows Server 2008 to a Workstation! » Blog Archive » Windows Server 2008 Workstation Converter:
http://www.win2008workstation.com/wordpress/2008/07/17/windows-server-2008-workstation-converter

Change Computer Name

After installing Windows Server 2008, you’ll find that the computer’s name has been randomly set. In most cases you’d want to assign it a more controlled name. To do so, please follow these steps:

Note: There are at least 3 or 4 methods to change the computer name. I chose one.

If the Initial Configuration Tools window opens when you first logon to Windows, click “Provide computer name and domain”. You can get to the same applet by typing sysdm.cpl in the Run command, or by clicking on the WINKEY+BREAK keys on your keyboard.You can also use Server Manager, or you can right-click “Computer” in the Start menu and select “Properties”.

In the System Properties window that shows up click  “Change”. Fill in the computer name (and if needed, the Workgroup name) and click  Ok all the way out. After you click the Close button you will need to  restart the computer.

change-comp-name

Change Registered Owner

By default, Windows Server 2008 installs without asking you for a registered owner name and company. Setting this information can help you when installing other products such as Microsoft Office 2007 and so on. If you need to add this, please follow these steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. Change the following registry value:

Value name: RegisteredOwner

Value data: Your_Name

4. Change the following registry value:

Value name: RegisteredOrganization

Value data: Your_Organization

5. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Create New User Accounts

I recommend NOT using Windows Server 2008 (or any other OS for that matter) as the built-in Administrator, mostly for security reasons. Unlike windows XP and Windows Vista that prompt you for the “other” user you want to use, in Windows Server 2008 that does not happen, and you need to create the additional user(s) manually.

Users can be created in at least 3, 4, 5 or even more methods. I will only list a couple of them:

Method #1 – By using the “Users” applet in the Control Panel

In Control Panel, click on User Accounts.

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Click “Manage another account”.

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Click “Create a new user”.

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Enter the user’s name. Select if the user will be an administrator of the computer, or not (i.e. a Standard User). If not, please read on to the next topic after creating the user.

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The new user appears on the list of users. Now you can make changes to it, set a password, change the display image and so on.

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Note: As mentioned above, there are other methods to get to the same place. For instance, type control userpasswords2 in the Run command and press Enter.

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Method #2 – By using Local Users and Groups

Open Server Manager (or directly use lusrmgr.msc). Navigate to:

Configuration > Local Users and Groups

Right-click on the right-hand pane and select “New User”.

create-new-users-1

Enter the user name, logon name and password for the new user, and click “Create”.

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Now you can start working as that user.

Note: If you get an error like this one:

The following error occurred while attempting to create the user myuser on computer APOLLO:

The password does not meet the password policy requirements. Check the minimum password length, password complexity and password history requirements.

create-new-users-3

Then this means that you’ve selected a password that does not meet Windows’ password complexity requirements, which (by default) are:

  • Passwords cannot contain the user’s account name or parts of the user’s full name that exceed two consecutive characters.
  • Passwords must be at least six characters in length.
  • Passwords must contain characters from three of the following four categories:

1. English uppercase characters (A through Z)
2. English lowercase characters (a through z)
3. Base 10 digits (0 through 9)
4. Non-alphabetic characters (for example, !, $, #, %)

A password such as “[email protected]” or “[email protected]” will be just fine. However, “123456” or “asdqwe” will not be fine.

To change this behavior and disable password complexity requirements (not recommended due to security issues of having a simple and plain password, or no password at all), open the computer’s Local Security Policy by running secpol.msc. Browse to Account Policy > Password Policy and compare the default settings with the settings in the following screenshot.

password-policy-1

When done, type gpupdate /force in the run command.

Disable CTRL+ALT+Delete Requirement

This setting allows a user to just type in his or her username and password without having to use the CTRL+ALT+Delete combination keys. While this setting is not recommended due to security reasons, it is easy to configure. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: DisableCAD

Value data: 1

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Note: As with other settings, setting can be configured through the computer’s Local Group Policy. Type gpedit.msc in the Run command and press Enter. Browse to Local Policies > Security Options. In the right pane  double-click “Interactive logon: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL” and choose “Enabled”.

disable-cad

When done, type gpupdate /force in the run command.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Allowing Standard Users to Shut Down the Computer

If you’re using a Standard User for your daily work on the computer instead of an administrator, you’ll find out that Windows Server 2008 will, by default, prevent such a user from performing several system tasks. One of these is the ability to shut down the system. To allow yourself permissions follow these steps:

Open the computer’s Local Security Policy by running secpol.msc. Browse to Local Policy >User Rights Assignment.

Look for “Shut down the system” in the right pane. Double-click it or right-click and select “Properties”.

allow-shut-down-1

Click “Add User or Group”. Type in the right user name and press “Check Name”. Click Ok.

allow-shut-down-2

The user should be added to the list. Click Ok.

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When done, type gpupdate /force in the run command.

Configure Auto Logon

Again, this setting is not recommended due to security reasons, auto logon is easy to configure. Note that by default, auto logon does not work for users that do not have a password set (even though you can work around this by modifying the Registry).

Follow these steps:

Type control userpasswords2 in the Run command and press Enter.

auto-logon-1

Uncheck the “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer” check-box.User list will gray out. Click on “Apply”.

auto-logon-2

A window will open, asking you for the Administrator’s password. You can change the default user name to use with auto logon. Type in the user’s password and confirm it, then click Ok.

auto-logon-3

Restore my Desktop icons

Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 hide your desktop icons by default. In Windows XP/2003 you could revert to the “Classic” Start menu and get your icons back (but also missed the “Regular” Start menu as a result). In Windows Vista/2008 doing so will only return the Internet Explorer icon back, not the rest of the desktop icons.

To get them back run the following command in the Run option:

Click on the necessary check-boxes and apply.

tweaking-win-2008-1

(Yes, you can do the same by using the mouse and right-clicking on the desktop, but if you copy the above text and paste it in the Run command, this is actually faster).

Enable Desktop (Vista) Experience

Since we’ll be using Windows Server 2008 for our workstation, it’s most likely that we’ll want to get the look & feel resembling Windows Vista. Although, if you want to get the Windows Aero theme, this will add extra CPU and memory usage to the machine. Adding this theme requires a few steps, the first of which is enabling the Desktop Experience feature. Adding it will also add additional programs such as Windows Media Player, Windows Defender and a few other add-ons. To do so, follow these steps:

Note: This will not add the Vista Sidebar by default. To do so, read on.

First, make sure you’ve got the most current driver for your graphics card installed.

Next, go to:

Start > Server Manager > Features > Add Feature > Desktop Experience.

Click Next all the way till the end of the installation. You will need to reboot in order for settings to take place.

install-desktop-expr-1

You can also install this feature by running this command (remember “Run As Administrator”):

Enable Themes

After installing the Desktop Experience and rebooting the machine, you will need to enable the Theme service to automatically start. To do so, follow these steps:

Start >Run >”Service.msc” >Themes > Properties > Set to Automatic.

themes-set-automatic

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Next, if you want to, enable Windows Aero theme. Read on.

Enable the Aero Theme

By default, even after installing the Desktop Experience and starting the Theme service, the Windows Aero theme is not configured by default (remember, this is NOT Vista). If you want to have it, you need to enable it. To do so, follow these steps:

Right-click on an empty spot on your desktop and choose “Personalize”. In the Personalization window click “Theme”. From the drop-down list, select Browse.

enable-aero-theme-1

Browse to the %systemroot%\Resources\Themes folder, select the Aero.theme file (not the folder) and click Open.Windows Vista should appear on the list of themes.

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Now for the Glass effects. If you installed the correct drivers for your video card you can now enable transparency and Flip 3D with the Windows Aero Theme instead of the Windows Vista Basic theme. Back on the Control Panel\Personalization window, click Window Color and Appearance, click on “Open classic appearance properties for more color options”.

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In the Appearance Settings window select “Windows Aero” and click  OK.

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Visual Effects

If you need to see Preview Thumbnails in your Documents/Music/Video folders, you must enable visual effects. To do so, follow these steps:

Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System > Advanced System Settings > Advanced > Performance > Settings > Visual Effects

Enable Windows Audio

First, make sure you have proper drivers for your audio hardware. After installing the appropriate driver, enable the Windows Audio service. You do this by setting the startup type to Automatic. You can change this behavior by going to:

Click on Start >Run >”Service.msc” >Windows Audio > Properties > Set to Automatic.

audio-set-automatic1

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Enable Sound Acceleration

After performing the above tip, it’s time to enable sound acceleration.To do so follow these steps:

Go to Control Panel

  • If you use the Modern View, click Sound in the Hardware and Sound category.
  • If you use the Classic View, double-click the Sound icon.

enable-sound-acceleration-1

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Select the default playback device and click Properties. On the Advanced tab uncheck the “Give exclusive mode application priority” check-box. Save the settings by clicking OK all the way out.

enable-sound-acceleration-3

Next, you should add a registry key that’ll help multimedia applications get higher priority, just like they do in Windows Vista. To do so, follow the next steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: SystemResponsiveness

Value data: 00000014

Base: Hexadecimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Get rid of the Hibernation support

Windows Server 2008 acting as a workstation on a laptop computer will auto-enable hibernation support on your machine. Although this might be a good thing on a portable computer, you do NOT need it on a desktop machine. Furthermore, a very large file called HIBERFIL will take a lot of space on your system partition (as big as your installed RAM), and we really don’t need it to be there if we don’t require the hibernation support. Even on a laptop, sleep is often a lot better and faster than hibernation, although it uses some battery power. In any case, unlike Windows XP, in Vista/2008 you need to dig into a command prompt to get rid of hibernation support.

Open a command prompt window (Start > Run > CMD > Enter) and type:

(to get it back on, use “on“).

Notice that the HIBERFIL is gone from the system partition.

Other Power Options

Unlike in Vista, the Windows Server 2008 “Balanced” (default) power plan on does not turn off hard disks by default (which is a good thing unless you’re really trying to conserve battery power). You change the power options follow these steps:

Method #1 – Through Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Power Options > Change plan settings (which is easier to manage, but does not contain all the possible settings).

Method #2 – Through the powercfg command in the command prompt.

Disable the Memory Dump file creation

For workstations and laptops, unless you plan to have continuous Blue-Screens-of-Deaths (BSOD) and unless you have good debugging skills – you don’t need the memory dumping feature in case of a system failure.

Follow the next steps:

1. Right-click My Computer and select Properties (or press the Windows logo key and the Pause/Break key together).

2. Click on “Advanced System Settings” link on the left. In the Advanced tab, under the Startup and Recovery section, press the Settings button.

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3. In the System Failure section under the Write Debugging Information drop down list select None.

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4. Press Ok all the way out.

5. You may need to reboot in order to finish the configuration.

Disable Error Reporting

Disable this option and stop those annoying pop-up screens that ask you if you want to report this or other error to Microsoft. To do so, follow the next steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: DoReport

Value data: 0

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Disable Internet Explorer (IE) Enhanced Security

This is annoying and it does nothing. Disable it.

Open Server Manager and click on the “Configure IE ESC” link on the right-hand side of the right pane, in the Security Information section.

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As always, there’s a command that can get you to the same place. Execute it in the Run option:

I also found a nice script that you can use to perform the same action:

Disable Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration (IEESC) on Windows 2008 » Digital Formula:
http://digitalformula.net/infrastructure/disable-internet-explorer-enhanced-security-configuration-ieesc-on-windows-2008

Increase Internet Explorer connections

By default, Windows Internet Explorer 7 and earlier versions limit the number of files that you can download at one time to two. Windows Internet Explorer 8 limits the number of files that you can download at one time to six. This number needs to be changed. I change it usually to 10.

Follow the next steps for Internet Explorer 7:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. On the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: MaxConnectionsPer1_0Server

Value data: 10

Base: Decimal

Value Name: MaxConnectionsPerServer

Value data: 10

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Follow the next steps for Internet Explorer 8:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate and then click the following registry subkey:

3. On the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: iexplore.exe

Value data: 10

Base: Decimal

4. Locate and then click the following registry subkey:

5. On the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: iexplore.exe

Value data: 10

Base: Decimal

6. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script (add a “;” to, or remove the part you’re NOT using):

Add Notepad to Start menu context menu

This is a nice tweak that I’ve been using for a while. It’ll add Notepad to the Start button’s right-click context menu. To do so, follow the next steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. On the left pane, right-click shell, point to New, click Key, and then give the key the following registry values:

Key name: Notepad

4. Click on the Notepad key. In the right pane, double-click on the (Default) REG_SZ value, and when the Edit String window opens, give the key the following registry values:

Value name: &Notepad

5. Locate the following key in the registry:

6. On the left pane, right-click shell, point to New, click Key, and then give the key the following registry values:

Key name: Command

7. Click on the Command key. In the right pane, double-click on the (Default) REG_SZ value, and when the Edit String window opens, give the key the following registry values:

Value name: &Notepad

8. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Add phantom devices

This is another tweak I’ve been using for a while. It’ll add older and un-used (Phantom) devices to the Device Manager, allowing you to delete those in case you need to manually do so. To do so, follow the next steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices

Value data: 1

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Disable IPv6 over all interfaces and prefer IPv4 to IPv6

We usually do not need IPv6, so unless you actually use it, I tend to disable it from all adapters. However, since you cannot uninstall it and un-checking the check-box in each adapter isn’t enough, you need to manually edit the registry. To do so, follow the next steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: DisabledComponents

Value data: 000000ff

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Enable SuperFetch

As a workstation, enabling SupertFetch on Windows Server 2008 will give you that additional bit of responsiveness. The SuperFetch services is disabled by default in Windows Server 2008 and when you try to enable it you will most likely get an error message similar to this: “The operating system is not presently configured to run this application”. You will have to make two registry changes to enable this service. To do so, follow the next steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: EnablePrefetcher

Value data: 3

Base: Decimal

4. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: EnableSuperfetch

Value data: 3

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Next, click on Start >Run >”Service.msc” >Superfetch > Properties > Set to Automatic.

enable-superfetch

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Configure Processor Scheduling

As pointed out in a comment on my previous post; On Windows Server 2008 background services are given preference over interactive programs. You can change this behavior by going to:

Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System > Advanced System Settings > Advanced > Performance > Settings > Advanced > Processor Scheduling

Setting this to Programs will make foreground programs more responsive.

processor-scheduling

BTW, you can get to the same window by typing SystemPropertiesPerformance in the Run command.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Enable Hard Disk Write Caching and Advanced Performance

This setting will make your hard disks faster, but might cause loss of data in case of a power failure. So use with causion and at your own risk.

Open Device Manager from Server Manager (or type devmgmt.msc in the Run command). Find your Hard Disk and select properties.

In the Policies tab, click to select “Enable write cachinf on the disk” (if not already selected), and also “Enable advance performance”. Click ok.

enable-drive-cache

Disable Shutdown Event Tracker

Since I am using it as a workstation I do not want to keep a track of all the shutdowns. The Shutdown Event Tracker is the pop up that you get asking you for a shutdown reason. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Start Registry Editor.

2. Locate the following key in the registry:

3. If it doesn’t exist, on the Edit menu, point to New, click DWORD Value, and then add the following registry values:

Value name: ShutdownReasonOn

Value data: 0

Base: Decimal

4. Exit Registry Editor.

Note: As with other settings, setting can be configured through the computer’s Local Group Policy. Type gpedit.msc in the Run command and press Enter. Browse to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System.  Double-click Display Shutdown Event Tracker and select “Disabled”.

disable-shut-down-event-tracker

When done, type gpupdate /force in the run command.

Add this to your settings.reg script:

Offline Files

While not critical for my personal use, some people need this. I haven’t actually tested this myself in Windows Server 2008, but note that if you have Remote Desktop enabled on the machine, you may find that Offline Files might not work on the client side.

To get Offline Files to work in Windows Server 2008 follow these steps:

Go to Control Panel

  • If you use the Modern View, click the Network and Internet section and click on the “Enable Offline Files” button.
  • If you use the Classic View, double-click the Offline Files icon. Click on the “Enable Offline Files” button.

You must reboot the machine for settings to take place.

enable-offline-files

After the restart you can go to the folder that you wish to make available offline, right click on it and select “Always Available Offline”. A local copy will now be made and you’ll be able to access it even when disconnected from the network.

Enable Windows Search

Windows Search is not enabled by default in Windows Server 2008. However, since we’ll be using it for our workstation, it’s most likely that you’ll want to be able to search through your mailbox in Outlook or through your documents and other files.

Important note: While Windows Search is built-in into Windows Server 2008, it seems that the Microsoft Windows Search downloadable add-on does a better job, especially in Outlook 2007. Get it from here (a 32-bit and 64-bit version is available).

Windows Search 4.0:
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/desktopsearch/choose/windowssearch4.mspx?tab=Install%20It

If you choose not to install the separate Windows Search tool, to get the built-in Windows Search to work in Windows Server 2008 follow these steps:

Start > Server Manager > Roles > Add Roles > File Services. Click Next.

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Click Next.

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Under “Role Service” click to select “Windows Search Service”. Click Next.

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In the “Select volume” window, click to select what drives you want to index. They should be the drives that contain your documents and other stuff that you want to search through. Click Next.

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To finish installation, click “Install”.

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Enable Wireless Support

Wireless support is not enabled by default in Windows Server 2008. However, since we’ll be using it for our workstation, it’s most likely that we’ll want to be able to connect to wireless networks and be able to manage these connections properly. To get Wireless support to work in Windows Server 2008 follow these steps:

Start >Server Manager >Features >Add Feature >Wireless LAN Services

install-wireless

You can also install this feature by running this command (remember “Run As Administrator”):

As mentioned above, reader feedbacks and recommendations are welcome. Please use the Feedback form for that and I will gladly add your tips to this growing list.

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