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I'd like to start a process when the PC starts up but before the user logs in. Then, after the user logs in they see the console/gui for already running process. If they logoff, the process will continue to run in the background until they log back in again.

Is this possible in Windows Server 2008 R2?

It seems perfect for daemon/server applications.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

That's exactly what "services" are for in a Windows system.

Regarding the console/GUI thing: there was an option for services to enable them to interact with the system's console, so a service could have been allowed to display windows on the system. But this feature has been removed in Windows Server 2008, so, no, in Windows Server 2008 R2 there's no way for a service to display any window on the desktop. The only solution is using a control application which somewhat "talks" to the service and monitors/configures/manages it (such as MMC consoles).

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Which is really the way these things should have been done all along -- having the service do its' own GUI would only allow interaction from session 0, which plays badly with Fast User Switching and presumably with Remote Desktop. The only reason I am aware of for allowing GUI directly from a service is to allow debuggers to be attached at service startup using "Image File Execution Options" in the registry. I wonder what they added to replace that in 2008? –  SamB Nov 28 '10 at 18:15
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