Five weeks ago, when Microsoft announced seismic changes to how it developed, tested and released Windows Server, the company also touted the impending delivery of the first previews of the software.
Microsoft followed through with that promise last week when it issued Server's initial Insider builds, yet another in a line of moves to give customers early peeks at under-construction code and rope them into serving as unpaid testers.
IT professionals can now try the latest in Windows Server, just as they can kick the tires of Windows 10 and Office 365. Here's how.
Register as an Insider
To participate in the Windows Server preview, you must first register. You have two options:
- Windows Insider, the same program that provides previews of the Windows 10 client operating system.
- Windows Insider for Business, the spinoff that Microsoft launched in April. Like the generic Insider, this one, which targets business IT professionals, also delivers Windows 10 betas.
The registration requirements may determine which you select; while Insider asks for a Microsoft account's credentials -- which could be a work, school or personal username/password combination for accessing Microsoft's services -- Insider for Business demands the corporate credentials stored in Azure Active Directory, the cloud-based identity management service.
Also note the Warning below.
Register a Windows 10 device with Insider
To provide feedback to Microsoft as you work with the Windows Server preview, you'll need access to the Feedback Hub app, which is available only on the Windows 10 client OS.
Register the Windows 10 device, likely a personal computer, with either Insider or Insider for Business. Instructions can be found here. The latest Windows 10 Insider build can be downloaded from here after signing in with the credentials used to register with the program.
Download Standard Core and Datacenter Core preview and matching symbols
The first preview, released July 13 and tagged as build 16237, can be downloaded from here. Future builds will be listed on that same page as well.
Also available there is the Server Symbols .msi-formatted installation package that matches build 16237. That package can be installed locally for debugging offline or via a slow Internet connection.
Warning: Microsoft said that there was "a temporary issue with access to the Windows Server Download page using AAD [Azure Active Directory] accounts." Users should instead use an Insider account activated with a Microsoft Account to retrieve the Server preview.
Grab authentication keys
The two following keys, which Microsoft also posted in the blog touting the first Windows Server preview, will be valid throughout the pre-release cycle and can be used an unlimited number of times.
Server Datacenter Core: B69WH-PRNHK-BXVK3-P9XF7-XD84W Server Standard Core: V6N4W-86M3X-J77X3-JF6XW-D9PRV
Retrieve container images
To preview the Nano Server configuration -- which Microsoft has just designated as devoted exclusively to containers -- users should steer to Docker Hub, the popular repository, specifically to the Nano Server sections Microsoft established.
An image is also available for Windows Server Core for use in containers.
Review Microsoft's data collection and privacy promises
Although the company's statements:
"Many features that transmit data to Microsoft are enabled automatically. You will not have the option to turn off the transmission of data for certain features in the Program software and services. To stop the transmission of all data, you must completely uninstall the Program software and services from all of your devices."
That matches the data collection Microsoft does from Insider on Windows 10, where the usual options customers see -- to restrict some of the telemetry -- are unavailable to beta testers.
Turn to support
Microsoft has set up a Windows Server section for Insiders on its Tech Community website where testers can ask questions. Answers are usually provided by other users.
Microsoft makes it clear that it doesn't owe Insiders any official support, saying on this page, "Microsoft is not obligated to provide any support services for this preview software."