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I am trying to set up a Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual machine set up with an Italian version of Windows for testing. I can download Italian install media from my MSDN subscription, but I've also seen that I can install an Italian language pack on a standard English Windows system. Is there a difference between these 2 methods? Is the foreign language install a different OS than the standard with language pack?

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The actual Windows OS is language-neutral since version 6.0 (Vista/WS2008); the various localized installation media simply have a pre-installed default language pack, to which you can add additional ones later. If you don't install any additional language pack, you can only use the language that has been pre-installed.

Installing from an English media and adding the Italian language pack has the exact same end result as installing from an Italian media and adding the English language pack: you can switch between the two languages using the regional settings in Control Panel.

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Dumping my answer in favor of yours. :) – Katherine Villyard Jan 4 at 23:00
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I can't speak for Windows Server 2008, but at least with Windows 7/8, it doesn't have the exact same end result as the language selection in the Control Panel is only for a user. Text outside of user land (such as "Shutting Down" or "Installing Updates, do not turn off the computer") remains in the language of the localized installation media. – Falken Jan 5 at 8:44
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You can change system-wide language settings (as well as default language settings for new user profiles) from the administrative settings sub-section in Regional Settings. – Massimo Jan 5 at 15:35
    
I was trying to test and installer that was not installing for a customer with Italian OS. I tried with the Language pack and it did work, but I had only applied the language pack as the display language for the current user. After seeing your comment about system-wide language settings, I was able to reproduce the issue. – Brian Jan 6 at 16:38

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