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Using a Windows Server 2008 VPS as your virtual desktop

Posted by Steve on August 12, 2014

Why would I use Server 2008?

Server 2008 gives you a lot more bang for your buck. Using Server 2008 over Windows 7 enables you to have up to two users logged in, viewing their own individual desktops at the same time. You are also able to utilise the extended roles and features of a server operating system otherwise unavailable. Server 2008 is also more secure, for example it encourages more secure passwords for each user.

Getting started with Server 2008
User management

For Windows 7 users, Server 2008 should look quite familiar as they are very similar in design (although Server 2008 is plainer – for now).

We’ll start by creating some user accounts as it is not advisable to use the administrator account for day to day operations.

Click Start and type ‘users’:

 

Click Add or remove user accounts.

Click Create a new account.

Name the account and choose account type, then click Create Account. Your new user will be created.

Click the user to edit more settings:

Repeat this for all of your users. At this point assuming you set at least one user up as an administrator, you can consider renaming the local administrator account. Any attacks on your server will usually be aimed at this account name. This will reduce the risk of attack.

Log in to your VPS as one of your new administrative accounts and return to the Manage Accounts settings as before and select Administrator:

Now click Change the account name.

Enter your desired username and click Change Name.

You can now sign in with the new account name:

Some creature comforts

When using Server 2008, you may notice that some security settings can be quite intrusive for the average user. You may also want to make the interface a little more appealing to the eye.

Security

User Account Control is an example of slightly intrusive security measures. Turning this down or disabling is only recommended for confident users.

Search User Account Control in the Start menu and click Change User Account Control settings:

You can then set your desired notification level and click OK:

You should also enable Windows Update. Click Start, enter Windows Update and select it from the menu:

Now click Turn on automatic updates:

Now click Install now:

Now you can install your Windows updates as you would on your PC:

Compatibility and interface

Next, some ‘features’ will need to be added to improve compatibility with some software you may want to install as well as adding the ability to make the user interface more appealing.

Open Server Manager with the icon in the taskbar ():

Now expand Features and click Add Features:

Here you can install the features for .NET Framework 3.5.1 still required by a large number of programs. You can also add other features as required. Select your desired features (prerequisites and required components will be added automatically) and click Next:

Proceed through the prompts and click Install:

Once the installs are complete, restart your server as necessary and you’re ready to continue.

Installing your software

Browsing the internet and downloading software

Internet Explorer is locked down security-wise in Windows Server. This makes it very clunky to use for day to day browsing. Although you can turn this security down, you can install another browser such as Google’s Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

You can either upload the installer for one of the above servers via remote desktop or install via the website using the following instructions.

First, open Internet Explorer:

Select Use recommended security… and click Ok:

Now close the prompts that will pop up:

Now browse to your preferred browser’s web page (in this example Google Chrome).

Add required sites, such as Google, to the trusted sites zone via the prompts as they appear:

Now click Add next to the domain as required. You can use and asterisk to add all subdomains for that domain to the trusted sites zone (shown below):

Other prompts can be closed.

You can now download and install your preferred browser:

You may need to add more subdomains to the trusted sites zone to allow this download:

Your download will appear to the bottom of the Internet Explorer window:

Once complete, you can run the installer.

Once installed, you can browse the internet normally:

Now that your preferred browser is installed, you can proceed to install your software as you would on your PC.

All done!

Once that’s all done, you can carry on using your VPS as a remote PC. You can treat the machine as you would any PC – installing software, creating and editing documents and so on.

I hope you have found this guide useful. Please provide any feedback you may have in the comments.

About the Author: This article was writen by Stephen Millinger, Technical pre-sales engineer.

Stephen joined 4D with 9 years of IT experience, having started his IT career fixing PCs and printers. Since then he has worked as a configuration engineer and a technical consultant, managing implementation support and upgrade of databases, software and servers (both physical and virtual). Outside of work he plays lead guitar for local Ska band “&friends” and volunteers as a sound technician at his local theatre.

Twitter Hashtag: #2008VDI

 

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