Windows Server 8: The 4 best new Active Directory features

Among the key changes, you'll find an improved recycle bin and better password policy controls

With each new edition of Windows Server comes changes to Active Directory, usually in the form of slight adjustments in performance, schema inclusions, and sometimes new tools like the less-than-stellar Administrative Console and the Active Directory Recycle Bin in Windows Server 2008 R2.

But in the forthcoming Windows Server 8, you can expect some major changes. Here are the big four so far related to Active Directory.

[ Read InfoWorld's first-look review of Window Server 8 and the Test Center's list of top 10 new Windows Server 8 features. | J. Peter Bruzzese uncovers the best admin tools in Windows Server 8. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

Active Directory feature No. 1: dcpromo gives way to a new wizard

In Windows Server 8, I couldn't dcpromo my way to an Active Directory domain -- because it's gone. I ended up having to figure out how to use the new Server Manager to install the Active Directory services, then click around until I finally found a link that allowed me to configure the first domain controller.

The new wizard looks different from what I'm used to after 10-plus years of configuring Active Directory, but it seems to be a nice upgrade. I like that the installation process shows me all of the steps and lets me review the detailed results. I say "seems to be" because its prerequisites check wouldn't allow me to choose the Windows 8 forest and domain functional levels for an unknown reason (the 77 error code didn't mean much, which is all the wizard kept saying). I ended up using Windows Server 2008 R2 levels to start. I figure I can always upgrade them later, assuming error 77 stops rearing its ugly head.

Active Directory feature No. 2: Enhanced Administrative Center

Windows Server 2008 R2 introduced a new GUI for the Active Directory Administrative Center, which I gave a thumbs-down to because it was a bit clunky. Windows Server 2008 R2 offered the old tools for Active Directory control as well, so I was able to keep using the vintage tools I prefer. Windows Server 8 enhances the Active Directory Administrative Center, but it still feels clunky. Happily, I can still use tools like Active Directory Users and Computers in the Administrative Center's well-designed Exchange Management Console.

Obviously we are looking at pre-beta code, so my hope is someone from Microsoft will read this and polish up the new console before release.

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