Desktop Experience

To fully get the Windows 8 experience to Windows Server 2012, Microsoft added the possibility to install this as a feature. This will install additional desktop applications and add several GUI improvements.

Installing this feature will have the following effects:

  • Applications added to the Start screen: Windows Store / Default Programs / Windows Media Player / Character Map / Disk Cleanup / Snipping Tool / Sound Recorder / Math Input Panel.
  • At startup, the Start screen will automatically appear instead of the classic desktop.
  • Charms bar (bar on the right side of the screen) will beside the buttons ‘Search’, ‘Start’ and ‘Settings’ also have ‘Share’ and ‘Devices’.
  • The Settings option of the Charms bar will also have the ‘Change PC Settings’ option which is a Windows 8 version of the Control Panel.
  • The context menu of the classic desktop will have the ‘Personalize’ option added.
  • Applications: Windows Mail, Windows Photo Viewer
  • Services: ActiveX Installer, Offline Files, Windows Image Acquisition (WIA), System Events Broker, Time Broker, WebClient, Still Image Acquisition Events, Microsoft Account Sign-in Assistant
  • Miscelanous: Various screensavers, Ability to burn .iso’s from Windows Explorer, Sync Center in Control Panel, Adobe Flash Player


1. Start the Server Manager and click the Add roles and features link in the Welcome Tile. If you already closed the Welcome Tile, make it visible again via the View menu or in the left panel navigate to Local Server, then in the right panel scroll all the way down to ROLES AND FEATURES, click the TASKS dropdown and choose Add Roles and Features.
Add Roles and Features in Server Manager

2. Skip the information page by clicking Next.
Beginpage of Add Roles and Features wizard

3. Select Role-based or feature-based installation as installation type and click Next.
Installation type in Add Roles and Features wizard

4. We want to install the Desktop Experience feature on the local server which is also selected by default so choose Next.
Select Destination Server

5. The Desktop Experience feature is not a Server Role, so skip the Server Roles page by clicking Next.
Skip the Server Roles page

6. At the Select Features page, expand User Interfaces and Infrastructure and check the Desktop Experience checkbox. Probably it will now ask you whether you also want to install the features required by Desktop Experience. Click the Add Features button to proceed. Now, click the Next button to proceed.
Desktop Experience feature in Add Roles and Features Wizard Features required for Desktop Experience

7. At the confirmation page, optionally check the Restart the destination server automatically if required checkbox as the Desktop Experience feature will need a restart to complete. You can also manually restart the server after the wizard completed.
Confirmation page

8. Wait while the features are being installed. You can also close the ‘Add Roles and Features Wizard’ window if you want; it will continue in the background.
Installation progress of Desktop Experience feature

9. After the installation has completed, your system will automatically restart if you checked the checkbox at step 7. Otherwise you can close the wizard and restart the server manually. In case you don’t know yet what possibilities there are to restart Windows 8 / Windows Server 2012, read the essentials page.
Installation finished

10. Wait while your computer finishes the installation and restarts.
Finishing installation of Desktop Experience feature

11. After logging in, the Start screen will appear with the new applications installed.
Start screen with Desktop Experience installed

12. If you now click the Desktop tile, right click somewhere at a blank spot and choose Personalize, the Windows 8 Theme can be selected. Everything will however still remain gray because the color schema is by default determined by the overall color of the desktop background, which by default is the gray Windows Server 2012 background. This behavior can be changed by clicking the Color option in the Personalization screen.
Personalization of classic desktop

13. Install a custom theme via the Get more themes online link in the Personalization screen.
Desktop Experience with custom theme


Continue to configure Windows Server 2012 to automatically boot to the Classic Desktop…

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25 Responses

  1. Renato says:

    thanks man

  2. mod88 says:

    Does it enable the Touch screen calibration feature?

  3. Stephen Owen says:

    Hi guys,

    great site! Does anyone know how to enable the Start menu themes? I’m hunting in a VM for the files which may be missing for this feature in Windows Server.


  4. Patrick says:

    Since we have disabled Server Manager to be started automatically after logging in an earlier step, Desktop Experience will not continue its installation after the automatic reboot: You have to open Server Manager and hold on . . . after a couple of seconds the install-dialog will apear for completing the installation of Desktop Experience.

  5. another visitor says:

    “In Windows Server 2012, admin rights are required to mount both a VHD and an ISO image.”

    Is there a group policy to allow non admin to mount iso? Can’t seem to find it.

  6. Russia says:

    ‘Change PC Settings’ missed

    Blame the registry key —>

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Server]

  7. DrewBai says:

    Ho can I get the system to let me use Windows App store?

    • Lotusisrael says:

      Check the next pages on this manual, or on the forum. You have to enable the User Account Control for the build-in Administrator account or create another administrator account. Besides this, all you need is a Microsoft ID (Outlook/Hotmail adress).

  8. Ronny says:

    how can i cange user-Image?
    (11. After logging in… Administrator Top-Right)

  9. amatesi says:

    guys, highly suggested app:
    Tiny Windows Borders, from

    to Reduce the Padding of your windows’ borders ;-D

  10. The_Lazy_Slug says:

    Has anyone else noticed that the ‘Change PC Settings’ option at the bottom of the Charms Settings menu is missing?
    All the other features have installed OK.

    Does anyone have an idea of how to fix this?


    • Arris says:

      After installing the ‘Desktop Experience’ feature, the ‘Change PC Settings’ option should be there.

      • The_Lazy_Slug says:

        Hi Arris,

        After installing the Desktop Experience, I get the Charm popup menu with the 3 icons that Server 2012 seems to get rather than the 5 Windows 8 gets. (From one screen dump, that seems to be normal.)

        However, if I click the ‘Settings’ icon, I get the normal list of items at the top and 6 icons at the bottom. Below them I’d expect to see ‘Change PC Settings’. Is that correct?

        (This is the second clean install I’ve done using Server 2012 Evaluation Build 9200, which I believe is the RTM build.)

        I’ll try again and install Desktop Experience as soon as installation completes rather than running Windows Update, which is my normal course of action.

        • The_Lazy_Slug says:

          As a follow up, it does seem to be either an update to my graphics card driver or Windows Update has indeed been causing the problem.

          I also have all 5 charms instead of 3 and the PC setting menu has now appeared.

          • The_Lazy_Slug says:

            As a further follow up, removing and reinstalling Desktop Experience (plus Media Foundation & Ink and Handwriting Services) cured the problem.

          • Arris says:

            Thanks for reporting back! 🙂 This might help other people.

          • Stefan says:

            I had the same problem. Looks like if you install Desktop experience and then do the Boot to Classic Desktop instructions the Change PC Settings disappears.
            Also I haven’t activated my Windows Server 2012 yet and if I access those settings it tells me they are disabled until I activate. This might have something to do with it also.

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