Downloading Windows Server 2016 Essentials
Head over to Microsoft Technet, where you should find evaluation editions of Windows Server 2016 available to download. As with the previous release, you can choose to download a dedicated version of Windows Server 2016 Essentials but if you wish to check out the Standard or Datacenter editions, you can subsequently install the Essentials Experience role at a later date.
Technical Preview 5 is the current (and final) preview release ahead of launch, but this will be replaced with the final bits later this month. Evaluation editions usually last for 180 days before expiry, giving you plenty of time to try out the features.
The download requires registration, after which you’ll be able to grab an ISO file.
Create Your Installation Media
You’re free to burn this ISO to a DVD, but it’s probably easier to install the software using a USB flash drive. Microsoft’s Windows USB/DVD Download Tool offers a quick and easy way to create a bootable USB drive with the operating system bundled. Download the tool, start the wizard, point at your ISO file, then your USB drive and it’ll do the rest for you. The same tool can be used to create an installation DVD, if you have an optical drive available.
Begin the Installation
With your trusty USB/DVD in hand, create your VM or, if you’re installing on dedicated hardware, slot in your media and power up the PC. I’ll be installing Windows Server 2016 Essentials in a Virtualbox VM (so I can grab screenshots of the installation process). I simply created a VM (using the Other Windows 64-bit option) with 4 GB RAM and a 120 GB hard drive – more than sufficient for a quick installation. Obviously, you can vary your own configuration to your needs.
You’ll see a brief loading status bar (that was too quick for me to capture) before a familiar looking panel appears. I left the defaults with US settings, but you can tailor language and other regional settings should you need to.
Just like in previous releases, you’ll be presented with a large Install now button, alongside an option to Repair your computer.
Click Install now and you’ll be greeted with a reassuring screen informing you that Setup is starting.
Your next job is to activate the software. On the Technet page you visited to download the software, you should have spotted an activation key for the evaluation release. If you didn’t, at the time of writing, it’s NYK9H-Y2FDB-2XKGC-F2XHK-WTT88 but expect that to change at some point.
You can choose to skip activation, but you will be required to enter a key at some point, so why not get the job done up front? Enter the key and hit Next.