I recently decided to try out the new Windows Server "8" Beta. I can only assume from Microsofts insistence on putting quote marks around the 8 indicates that they intend to change the name at some point and the 8 is purely a nod to the fact it uses the same Metro interface used in Windows 8.
I'm running it in VMware ESXi 5 (With the patch from November, there's a good guide over at virtuallyGhetto on getting it installed) with 2 virtual CPU cores and 8GB of RAM. Despite objections from the installer, you can in fact use the VMware guest OS tools for 2008 R2 quite happily (just run the installer in compatibility mode)
At a first thought, the idea of having the Metro UI on a server operating system sounds incredibly daft. But in practice, it makes very little odds one way or the other.
If you're like me, you use Server 2008/7 primarily by hitting the start key on your keyboard, typing the first few letters of the application you want to run or the setting you want to change, and selecting the item you want from the list of results. In practice this doesn't change much with 8, it just looks different.
The only practical difference is that Settings are shown separately from Apps, and it's not quite clever enough to automatically show you the list of settings when there are results there but no matching apps.
That minor detail aside, it's not a significant impact. The solid colour background means it behaves very nicely over Remote Desktop.
One of the things that did mildly irk me is the lack of the Desktop Experience feature. On previous Windows Server versions this allowed you to enable Aero, which was nice if you either wanted to use the server OS as a development machine / workstation, or to give remote clients the Aero effects when using Remote Desktop services.
On the subject of the user interface though, it remains characteristically minimal but clearly leans more towards the style found in the rest of Windows 8. The option for a 'classic' user interface (which while missing from Windows 7, remains present in Server 2008 R2) is nowhere to be seen and by all appearances has been completely replaced with this new style with very thick borders...
Amongst the welcome changes though are a new server manager, which has a host of features to make it much more convenient to manage multiple servers.
You can add servers either via Active Directory or just by adding its Hostname/IP. It's very simple and convenient so you'll find no objections here.
I was surprised to find that the IIS manager remains exactly the same. It's the same version of IIS found in 2008 R2 making it look somewhat out of place compared to the new server manager.
The new task manager is entirely pleasant, no complaints here. Anyone who's used the 'current' task manager on anything with 8 or more logical processors will attest to how useless it becomes without taking over your entire screen when you want to examine the load on individual cores/processors. It's nice for having a quick glance at going on without having to use the comparatively heavy Resource Monitor (Which like IIS, remains unchanged at the moment)
I'm sure the changes in user interface will prompt the usual truckload of complaints, but I'm hard pressed to find anything actually 'wrong' with the changes. I was expecting to end up on IIS 9 but maybe that's for the final release. If the Beta is at all representative of the direction the final release is moving in then I'm reasonably confident that the result will be decent.