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Install Windows server from local console, not Remote Desktop

Lesson learned, courtesy of contributor Serdar Yegulalp: Wait until all the post-install actions are concluded before trying to use Remote Desktop.

I recently set up a new test server with Windows Small Business Server 2003 (SBS 2003) and ran into an interesting problem.

When I started the test, I only had one monitor on hand (and no KVM switch), so during the first phase of the install I plugged the monitor directly into the server-to-be and popped in the SBS 2003 CD. Everything was going fine. But once I reached the desktop I jumped the gun. I set up the machine to allow Remote Desktop access, disconnected the monitor so I could use it with my main machine, and continued the rest of the setup process from a Remote Desktop session.

What I thought would make my life easier turned out to be a terrible mistake. I'd forgotten about the setup scripts for Windows SBS 2003, and how SBS requires multiple reboots and reconfiguration of the network settings. Not only does this kick you out of the Remote Desktop session (as a reboot would in any case!), but if you try to log back in, you'll face a situation where you have the local console already running the setup scripts and where no interaction is possible.

If you try to reconnect, you get a Remote Desktop session that launches its own instance of the setup scripts. (In theory, it might be possible to work around this, but it's easier to do things right the first time and not try to contrive a solution to a problem that doesn't need to exist at all.)

As a result of this mess, the setup scripts created a damaged system configuration: The post-install claimed certain files couldn't be copied, and the system log was riddled with error reports. Rather than fight the terrible odds of working my way through such a mess, I reconnected the monitor and reinstalled from bare metal. This time, I waited until all the post-install actions were concluded before trying to use Remote Desktop again. The install concluded perfectly and I haven't had a problem since.

One way to get around this problem is to insure that the Remote Desktop connection you set up forcibly overrides any local console logins. If you create a Remote Desktop Connection (.RDP) file and edit it in a plaintext editor, you can add the line

connect to console:i:1

to insure that the connection in question always connects to the local console. (Be sure not to edit the password section of the file!)

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators.

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