By default Windows Server 2003 comes stripped down, with things such as the Windows XP theme disabled, Internet Explorer locked down, audio disabled, and Direct X disabled as well. This is ideal in a server situation where those services are not neccessary. However, it takes very little time to tweak Windows Server 2003 into a fully functional workstation.
Tweaking Windows Server 2003 in 6 Easy Steps
1. Disabling the Manage Your Server page.
The very first thing you'll want to do is disable the Manage Your Server window. At the bottom left corner of the screen you'll see a checkbox that says "Don't display this page at login." Simply check that box and exit the window.
Disabling the Manage Your Server page on Windows Server 2003
2. Disabling the Shutdown Event Tracker.
The next step is to disable the Shutdown Event Tracker. This annoying feature requires you to manually type in the reason you're shutting down Windows Server 2003 each time. To disable this, and use the classic shutdown window, simply goto:
Start > Run > and enter gpedit.msc
Now click on Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System and on the right double click on Display Shutdown Event Tracker. This will load the Display Shutdown Event Tracker Properties window. Simply click on the Disabled radio button and click OK. You will no longer have to enter in a reason why you want to shut down Windows Server 2003 (Thank god!)
Disabling the Shutdown Event Tracker on Windows Server 2003
3. Enabling Windows XP Themes and Sound.
Windows Server 2003 actually ships with the Luna (Windows XP style) theme, but it is disabled by default. To enable it:
Start > Run and then type services.msc
Scroll down to Themes and double click on it. These will bring up the Themes Properties window. Click the Start button to start the service. Once the service is loaded, click on the Startup type drop down box and select Automatic. Finally hit OK and the Themes service will start each time Windows Server 2003 loads.
To enable sound, scroll down to Windows Audio in the services pane. Double click on that and then follow the same steps that you followed to enable the themes service (Start > Startup type drop down box and select Automatic > OK)
Enabling Luna Theme on Windows Server 2003
4. Enabling DirectX and Hardware Acceleration.
Of course, anyone who wants play games on their Windows PC needs DirectX and hardware acceleration enabled. To do that, simply right click on your desktop and select Properties. Click on the Settings tab, then Advanced and then Troubleshooting. Move the slider all the way to the right to Full, and click OK.
Now, to enable DirectX goto Start Menu > Run > and type in dxdiag and hit enter. It should ask if you want dxdiag to check for valid WHQL certificates, to which you should respond Yes. Next click on the Display tab and click the Enable buttons for DirectDraw, Direct 3D, and AGP Texture Acceleration.
After that, you should test to make sure that DirectX is working for you by clicking the Test DirectDraw and Test Direct3D buttons.
We'll also want to enable sound acceleration while we're here. Click on the Sound tab and move the Hardware Sound Acceleration Level slider all the way to right to Full.
Enabling DirectX on Windows Server 2003
Also, you may want to upgrade to the latest version of DirectX that is available for Windows Server 2003. Click here to download the latest DirectX for Windows Server 2003 directly from Microsoft. Now you should be ready to play the latest games (if you've got a decent graphics card.)
5. Getting Windows Server 2003 to Recognize Your Scanners, Digital Cameras, and WebCams.
Simply go back to the Start menu > click on Run and then type in services.msc again. This time we'll be looking for the Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) service. Once you find it, double click on it to load the Windows Image Acquisition Properties window. Once again, simply click the Start button to start the service. Once the service is loaded, click on the Startup type drop down box and select Automatic. Finally hit OK and the Windows Image Acquisition service will start each time Windows Server 2003 loads.
6. Making Windows Server 2003 run like a Workstation.
The last main tweak to get Windows Server 2003 to run like a workstation, is to change the way it handles programs and memory usage. By default it gives priority to background services, which is how a server should work. However, this generates poor performace for those not running their system as a server. To change this, simply right-click on my computers, and click on Properties. Next click on Advanced > Performance Settings > and the Advanced tab. Adjust both options for best performance of Programs, then hit OK.
Windows Server 2003
Running Windows Server 2003 as a Workstation Longterm
While Windows Server 2003 is not meant to be a gaming OS, or really a personal end-user OS, some people have their reasons for using it in that manner anyway. There are several issues that you'll encounter if you run Windows Server 2003 for any long period of time. One of which is that some programs refuse to install, even though they would actually run fine on Win2k3. One of those programs is Doom 3. The msi installer detects which version of Windows you're running, and for some reason they excluded Windows 2003 from the installer. Luckily, since it is an MSI file, you can edit it to allow you to install the file. Click here for instructions on how to install Doom 3 on Windows Server 2003, thanks to flexbeta.net. The instructions on that site apply to almost any MSI installer that refuses to install because of your OS. I've even used Orca to get Microsoft Virtual Server to install on Windows XP Home, although it required way more editing and global find and replacing than the simple Doom 3 example in that link (and note, Virtual Server requires IIS which is a pain to get installed on Windows XP Home.)
Other issues I've seen from people running Windows Server 2003 for long periods of time as a workstation, is that they had issues with the OS not detecting USB devices correctly. That may have been user errors though.
Anyway, hope this helps someone out there.