Windows Server 2012 R2 Installation Options and Features on Demand (Part 1 of 5)

This 5-part blog post series details the concepts, processes, and operations of Windows Server 2012 R2 installations options and the underlying technology, Features on Demand, as the following:

  1. Introduction (This article)
  2. Using DISM Command Line
  3. Using Server Manager PowerShell Cmdlets 
  4. Switching Server Installation Options
  5. Minimizing Server Footprint   

A quick review of these capabilities in Windows Server 2012 is available at


Either Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard or Datacenter Edition is available with two installation options, Server Core and Server with a GUI, as shown below taken during a server setup process using a Windows Server 2012 R2 evaluation iso file.


Server with a GUI is an installation option that many IT professionals are familiar with. It has the desktop shell and GUI components with applications including Server Manager, Internet Explorer, File Explorer, Microsoft Management Console, etc. While Server Core, first introduced in Windows Server 2008, is an installation without GUI components and intended for running with limited server roles and features.

Prior to Windows Server 2012, an installation option is committed at the server setup time. The selection of an installation option made during the setup process cannot be changed, once a server installation is completed. In other words, if Server Core is selected as the installation option, once it is installed, an administrator will not be able to change a Server Core installation into a Server with a GUI one without reinstalling the server. This limitation has been removed in Windows Server 2012 and later.

Either a Server Core or Server with a GUI installation of Windows Server 2012 R2, an administrator can change from one to the other, and back and forth as needed. In fact, there is another installation option called Minimal Server Interface which is configurable after an installation is completed and basically a Server Core installation with Server Manager and MMC. And an administrator can switch among the three installation options: Server Core, Minimal Server Interface, and Server with a GUI in an ad hoc fashion as illustrated below. This ability of changing a server installation option without reinstalling the server itself is a benefit from a capability called Features on Demand.


[To Part 2, 3, 4, 5]