Windows Server desktop experience what is it

Windows Server Desktop Experience

What is Windows Server Desktop Experience?

Windows Server Desktop Experience is an add-on feature for Windows Server that enables administrators to install a full desktop experience on their server machines. It includes features such as a desktop environment, taskbar, Start menu, and support for desktop applications. This allows users to interact with the server as they would with a traditional Windows client operating system making it easier to manage.


How do I install Windows Server Desktop Experience?

Option 1. Enabling Desktop Experience post Windows Server 2016

During the installation wizard, the user will be asked what version of the Windows Server operating system they want to install. In this wizard administrators can click the version they want that is followed by the following text: “(Desktop Experience)“. Select this version and click on ‘Next’ and follow the instructions in the installation wizard.

The option to switch from Windows Server Core to Windows Server Desktop Experience was removed in Windows Server 2016 and hence not available anymore. Therefore it’s now impossible to switch between Desktop Experience and Core.


Option 2. Enabling Desktop Experience pre-Windows Server 2016

Per default, GUI was enabled when installing pre-2016 Windows Server versions. It was possible disable the GUI or not install it in the first place. After installing it was possible to enable Desktop Experience through role editing or a PowerShell command line. It’s worth noting that some versions of Windows Server don’t name the enabling of GUI ‘Desktop Experience’, some may simply phrase it as ‘Windows Server with GUI’ or ‘Full installation’.


What versions of Windows Server support Windows Server Desktop Experience?

The following versions of Windows Server support Desktop Experience:

  1. Windows Server 2019 Standard
  2. Windows Server 2019 Datacenter
  3. Windows Server 2022 Standard
  4. Windows Server 2022 Datacenter

Older editions of Windows Server may also have a GUI integrated, but this is not called Desktop Experience.

Are there any other options than Windows Server Desktop Experience?

When choosing a version to install there will be multiple options, some followed by ‘Desktop Experience’ and some just stating the name of the version you are trying to install. When the option without ‘Desktop Experience’ is chosen the ‘Core’ version will be installed. This version is command-line driven (PowerShell) and has no Graphical User Interface (GUI). This version requires less storage space and has a reduced attack surface.

Windows Server desktop comparison table