Connecting Client PCs to Windows Server Essentials 2016

Connecting a PC to the Server Domain

The Windows 2016 Server Essentials Dashboard supports a wide variety of client operating systems – both Windows and OS X/Mac OS variants. As discussed, not all client operating systems are able to join the server domain and feature support will vary depending on the client OS. Let’s briefly recap the list of supported platforms:

Windows 7 operating systems

  • Windows 7 Home Basic SP1 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Professional SP1 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Enterprise SP1 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Starter SP1 (x86)

Windows 8 operating systems

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Professional
  • Windows 8 Enterprise

Windows  8.1  operating systems

  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1 Professional
  • Windows 8.1 Enterprise

Windows 10 operating systems

  • Windows 10 Home
  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Windows 10 Enterprise
  • Windows 10 Education

Apple Mac client computers

  • Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard
  • Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard
  • Mac OS X v10.7 Lion
  • Mac OS X v10.8 Mountain Lion
  • Mac OS X v10.9 Mavericks
  • Mac OS X v10.10 Yosemite
  • Mac OS X v10.11 El Capitan

Other platforms (with the relevant permissions) may be able to access shared folders and other data on the server via SMB links, but they cannot be monitored and managed from the Windows Server Essentials Dashboard.

To kick off, we will go through the process of adding Windows-based computers that have the ability to join a domain.  I’ll use a Windows 10 Pro PC for this walkthrough.

To start the domain join process, we need to open a web browser (Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome) from the computer that you want to connect to the server. Type in http://<servername>/connect in the browser bar where <servername> will be replaced by your actual server name.

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The web page that opens allows you to download a small “connector application” (called ComputerConnector) which walks you step by step through the process. Run the application once it has downloaded.

The Connector Configuration wizard starts by showing you the inevitable license agreement, which you’ll need to accept to continue.

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The Connector software will then be installed on the client – note that if you have any Windows Updates installing when you try to install the Connector, installation will most likely fail.

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The next dialog requires you to enter a network user name and password. This is a user account held on the server; not your local PC account user name/password. If you have not yet set up any additional users on the server, skip ahead to our later chapter that deals with Users, and we’ll walk through creating a new user account.

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The process continues and finishes up, at which point you must restart the computer. Once past this point the first time, you are asked if you are setting up one account or more.

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If you choose the second option, you are taken on a slight detour to determine what accounts you want to add to the computer and which account will be the local administrator account.

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Simply highlight the network accounts you wish to use on the client and click the arrow to move them over to the Selected users panel. Click Next and you’ll then be asked to select accounts to be configured as local administrators on the client. Check the relevant boxes and click Next.

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Enter a computer description, if needed, for easy identification later. If you’ve previously set a description for the PC (in the Control Panel’s System area) this field will be populated for you.

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Select a backup option (I recommend you select the first option, so the computer is woken for backup, but note that not every PC will sleep once the backup is finished). You can amend this option at any time.

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Click Next and the Connector Configuration wizard will finish up.

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Once completed, click on the Finish button to take you to the Windows 10 sign-in screen. This screen has now changed to indicate you are signing in using a network account rather than the “old” local or Microsoft account.  If desired, you can sign into the PC using your old local account which can be particularly useful if you’re working off-site from where the Essentials server is located.

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You’ll experience a Déjà vu moment on a Windows PC, as you are taken back through the “We’re getting your PC ready” sequence once again.

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Finally, we are up and running once again on the client computer, except we are now using the network user account rather than the local user account.  If this computer has been actively used, you will quickly find out that shortcuts to your applications, your old user settings, and data are no longer available to you. This is a brand new account.

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In Windows 10, you’ll need to visit Start > All Apps and then scroll down to W to see the entry for the Windows Server Essentials Dashboard. Alternatively, just use the Search box to find it.

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Clicking the Windows Server Essentials Dashboard entry takes you to a Dashboard sign-in window. Enter your server administrator username and password to view the Dashboard. Note the Options drop-down menu too, which exposes settings for remembering your user account details (not a great idea if this is a shared PC) and the ability to select which third-party add-ins to load into the Dashboard. The latter is most useful for troubleshooting add-ins which may be causing Dashboard issues.

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The Windows Server Essentials Dashboard loads up. Note that it runs as a Remote App, rather than natively on the Client PC. This means that you actually control the Dashboard instance running on the server. Only one instance of the Dashboard can run at any given time (which prevents conflicts, obviously) so if the Dashboard is already open on the server, it’ll be closed before you are presented with the console on a client PC.

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11 comments

  1. I had to leave a comment to thank you so much for these 4 part series on Windows Server 2016. Very well thought and written. It was a life saver for someone new to the Windows Server world like myself. Incredible job. Many thanks!

  2. I decided to use the “third way” (not joining the domain) in my clients because I access them via RDC when traveling. So they all have static IP addresses with my internet provider DNS servers (adapter Internet Protocol v4 TCP/IPv4 settings). I noticed that when I turn on the server (I just use the server for back ups) all the internet provider DNS in the adapter settings disappear (and of course I start to have problems accessing sites until I put the DNS servers back in). Anybody noticed that problem? Any solution? I spent hours researching the internet without success (I’m not a network expert btw!).

    1. I googled a bit more and I found the solution for the problem here:
      https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2862551
      From the article above:
      To skip the automatic DNS detection on a client that is managed by Windows Server Essentials, run the following command on the client computer from an elevated command prompt:
      reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows ServerNetworkingServerDiscovery” /v SkipAutoDNSServerDetection /t REG_SZ /d true
      You can also change the behavior of all clients that are managed by a Windows Server Essentials server. To do this, run the following command on the Windows Server Essentials server from an elevated command prompt:
      reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows ServerNetworkingClientDns” /v SkipAutoDnsConfig /t REG_DWORD /d 1

      Life is good!

  3. Hi terry, Thank u for posting the steps. It seems very similar to 12 r2 essentials that i recently setup. I actually followed your above instructions including setting up the client restore option (which i had neglected to setup earlier) for 12 r2. Thank u. One think missing from 12 r2 essentials is dedup. Can you check if it is there is server 16 essentials? It would be under server manager, then the tab server roles, file and iSCSI services, and under it as an option called “data duplication”. If it is there, that would be one benefit to migrate to 2016. Thank you again.

      1. Thanks Terry for checking on it. So it appears that 2016 essentials has that same limitation as 2012 r2 essentials.

  4. Hi Terry, in this article you list the connector as compatible with “MacOS v10.12 Sierra” however in your other article “Connecting Apple Macs to Windows Server 2016 Essentials” you mention specifically that it is not. It may be good to update this article as the connector currently does not work on Sierra.

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