Welcome to the fourth part of our guide to Windows Server 2016 Essentials. If you’ve missed the first three parts of the series, be sure to catch up!

In the last part of the guide, we performed a number of initial steps to get the server ready for action. Having a server without clients that can access it, however, is simply an inaccessible box wasting your electricity.

As a domain controller (a technical term for a server that manages network access across a collection of devices, computers and services), Windows Server 2016 Essentials requires you (or rather, your computer) to join a domain so that you can have full access to the services and data that the server can provide.

The whole shebang is managed by a Microsoft service called Active Directory, which you may have heard of. Active Directory runs on the server and manages secure access to the server for network users, devices and more. In many small business networks, Windows Server Essentials is the “first” (and only) server on the network, so performs the daily duties of the domain controller. However, in larger, more complex networks, Windows Server Essentials may not be the “first” server. Another computer may already be acting as the domain controller – in this scenario, Windows Server Essentials may simply join to an existing domain.

As this book is primarily written to introduce Windows Server Essentials to new users in small businesses and homes, we’ll focus on the product acting as the first server in the organization – the domain controller. You’ll find a wealth of guidance available for more complex configurations at Microsoft Technet (https://technet.microsoft.com).

It’s time to begin the process of connecting your computers to the server domain.  As part of this process, you will also be adding at least one domain user account to each computer that supports joining a domain. Domain user accounts can be used to log into any computer on the network – they’re more powerful than Local user accounts which can only be used to log into a single PC.

This walkthrough is part of our 625 page guide to Windows Server 2016 Essentials. Pick up a copy today!

Not all versions of Windows can join a domain. You’ll generally find that Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows can join a domain-based network just fine. Home editions unfortunately cannot.

Don’t worry though, you can still connect computers that do not support joining a domain to Windows Server 2016 Essentials – but access to the server and resulting features will be limited. However, automated PC backups work fine, shared folder access is present and you can run the Dashboard without an issue (as long as you have server administrator access, that is). But domain-related features, such as Group Policy configuration, folder redirection and others, will not be permitted.

For example, in the following devices section the Essentials Dashboard, you will find two client computers.

Windows Server 2016 Essentials’ Devices Panel

The first one on the list is a computer running Windows 10 Home and the second computer is running Windows 10 Pro.  While the Windows 10 Pro computer can join the domain and install the Dashboard you will only be able to log on the Windows 10 Home computer using a local account (or a Microsoft account – but not a domain managed account). You can see under the Group Policy column that an upgrade is recommended – Windows 10 Pro computers cannot be managed via Group Policy.

We will explore this more in just a little while, but first let us go through the process of adding a computer with full “domain join” capabilities to the server.


Before doing so, remember the Golden Rule of any computer upgrade: BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER.  This may not mean every bit on the hard drive, but you really need to make sure you have any and all important data saved in the case of a major catastrophe.