Exposing Yourself to the interwebs – Deciding OS configurations

Although I work for a “high tech” company, I am by no means a system administrator.  I do not consider myself to be a seasoned IT pro.  I am a coder/architect/hacker, raised in the finest traditions of getting things done by flinging code at problems.  So, here I am contemplating how best to properly configure my various machines on hand to achieve a variety of goals.  What to do?

Some goals I have.  I want to run a directory service at home.  For my personal domain (nanotechstyles.com), I want to have a local Active Directory, and within my house I want to ‘domain join’ my various machines.  I started out by building my Shuttle PC, and putting the Hyper-V Server 2012 on it.  The plan here was to then install a version of Windows Server 2012 R2.  Here’s a sidetrack though…

Did you know that Hyper-V Server is essentially a free OS?  Whah?  Yah, it is the core hypervisor, plus an instance of server core.  That’s just enough to get you going so that you can install stuff into VMs like Windows 8, Windows Server, and the like.  But, it’s actually enough to run the likes of TINN.  So, I can totally run a whole set of networking services with nothing more than the Hyper-V Server on the box.  Given that Linux is usually playing the role of “free bare bones OS, just SSH into the box”, I find it a bit funny that Microsoft has essentially the same thing, but it’s not advertised as such.

At any rate, I first installed Hyper-V Server, which has no UI to speak of.  You can configure this thing using PowerShell.  If you’re IT saavy, you can probably whip together the various scripts required to get this setup going with all sorts of VMs and the like.  I set this box up a week ago, and played around from the command line for a while.  I browsed the interwebs looking for scripts and whatnot to help me get the OS instances installed.  Now I’m reconsidering my choice.  All I’m going to do is install an instance of Windows Server 2012 R2 on the machine, so why bother with this bare bones configuration in the first place?  I must admit my CLI foo is weak.  I craves me a GUI to fondle and fiddle with.  So, I think I’m going to repave the machine, and just go ahead and install Server 2012 R2 on it as the primary thing.  I still get Hyper-V anyway, so I can still put other OS images on the box, but I can cut the nonsense with the CLI and just get on with my business.

At the same time, I ‘refurbished’ the tower that the Shuttle PC replaced.  I’ve determined that although this box is 4 years old, it’s still quite serviceable.  I took out the primary hard disk, and stuck it into one of those aluminum disk cases so now it’s serving as an external USB 3.0 disk drive.  I stuffed a Samsung 256GB SSD drive into the tower, and repaved with the just released Windows 8.1.  Although I already had some graphics cards in the machine previously, I added another dual monitor card so I could have 3 displays connected to the thing.

What’s this machine to be used for?  Well, I didn’t upgrade any other parts of the configuration, so, it still only has 8Gb of RAM.  I figure since I’m not a gamer, this will make a sweet setup as my “command central”.  I can program on this machine.  With the three monitors, it gives me: 1 (portrait mode) Sublime Text, 2 (landscape) web browsing, etc, 2 (landscape) Netflix.  Now I don’t have to watch Netflix on the Mac while programming on the PC.  I can just have that sitting off to the side on one of the three monitors.

Using 8.1 is interesting.  I have it on the Surface RT, and there it’s only used for playing a few games and browsing the internet.  For a tablet, it’s fine.  It gets the job done.  On my work laptop, I have 8.0, and like most people introduced to something new, it was kind of annoying at first.  The laptop has a touch screen, and I tend to touch it every once in a while to do a swipe or two.  For some reason though, Lenovo just can’t get the touch pad right, so it’s caused more annoyance than help, so I’ve turned off the touchpad swiping, which is kind of a bummer.

Now, on the big rig, having 8.1 on a triple monitor display, where touch is not a factor, what’s the experience?  Well, the key is to get used to the lucky charms.  Those magical parts of the screen where the mouse tracking will bring up one set of ‘charms’ or another.  I’ve just now learned that to close apps, I can move the mouse to the upper left corener, and right-click on the presented thumbnail to close the app.  Eh.  Nice to know, not changing my life significantly, but convenient at times.

It’s also true that you can bring up the “start” screen on any of the three monitors.  This is actually kind of convenient as I can leave one screen with the start screen up, and use that to launch whatever apps I want with a quick click on an icon.

So, this setup is turning out to be workable.  It’s not a question of “is it better than the mac” for me.  It’s about using whatever tools are available to do the job.  To run my home domain, Windows Server is a good choice.  As my primary development desktop, although I’ll use the Mac to do Android, iOS, MacOS, and Linux, my tower does great for Windows development, and I actually prefer sitting in front of these three monitors to get a lot of other stuff done as well.

There you have it then.  Lack of Command Line Interface skills leads me to install a UI enabled Windows Server 2012 as the domain controller et al.  My desktop, is Windows 8.1.